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August 19th, 2009:

Chain restaurants in NYC: Saturation point or starting point?

The Center for an Urban Future has a new study out showing the number of chain restaurants and stores in New York City.  Here are some of the highlights for Manhattan.

(Here is the report for the whole city)

Store———– Outlets in Manhattan————–Outlets/Square Mile

Starbucks                            193                                    8.3

Subway                                153                                     6.6

Dunkin’ Donuts                105                                      4.6

McDonalds                         81                                         3.5

Baskin-Robbins                46                                           2

Burger King                       20                                          .87

Predictably, the hipster and neighborhood association crowds are outraged by the spread of affordable, air-conditioned stores like Dunkin’-Donuts and Mc Donald’s. Apparently when such places fill a vacant storefront or displace a sketchy tattoo parlor, it somehow ruins the character of the city.

I don’t buy it.

What the naysayers don’t understand is that chain restaurants help spread the things that make America great. This is both true overseas—where a Mc Donald’s is a familiar place of refuge—and in our own backyards.

Sure Bob’s Sketchy Super Burrito/Pizza Palace might have “character.” But that so called “character” is often little more than a hot, grimy restaurant with bad service. What’s more, the so-called “character” and “uniqueness” of Bob’s Sketchy Super Burrito/Pizza Palace is undermined by the fact that it is indistinguishable from the countless other “independent,” “neighborhood” burrito/pizza palaces across New York.

Chipotle, on the other hand, succeeds not because it is part of some nefarious chain, but because it embraces the things that make America great: Its restaurants are clean and air-conditioned. The food is goodconsistent and affordableRefills are free. And the sales clerks don’t try to enforce credit card minimums.

I think of the 3.5 Mc Donald’s restaurants and 4.6 Dunkin’ Donuts per square mile in Manhattan not as a saturation point, but as a starting point.

In a city where no one drives things need to be close—and right now, the things we want are often not close enough.

While there is a Mc Donald’s and Starbucks convenient to my apartment, Dunkin’ Donuts is nowhere to be found. And when it comes to Pizza, forget it. The only place on my block serves horrible, greasy pizza and tries to enforce a $20 minimum on credit card purchases.

So if you’re looking to open a pizza franchise, consider this an open invitation. Union Square needs you.

And to all the Mc Donald’s and Starbucks* managers in New York: God Bless You and God Bless America!

*Please just try and keep the bathrooms clean

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#6. Chargebacks and Credit Cards

€1. Pay toilets

€4. Inadequate air conditioning

5 Things about New York that make America Great

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