By Karen Axelton
What’s the latest trend in the food industry? According to the New York Times, it’s ultraniche restaurants. Restaurants specializing in one type of food—and I don’t mean just Italian or soul food, but a single entrée, like meatballs or fried chicken—are springing up all over New York.
In fact, says one food expert cited by the Times, single-food restaurants are popping up across the country. (Maybe the popularity of cupcake shops started the trend?). However, cautions John D. R. Walker, a professor at the school of hotel and restaurant management at the University of South Florida in Sarasota, single-entrée restaurants are most likely to succeed in big cities, where there’s a critical mass of population with a craving for one item.
What’s behind the one-item trend? One factor is the rise of food bloggers, TV shows spotlighting particular cuisines, and ratings and review sites like Yelp!.com. The result has been detailed obsessing over the “best” pizza, lobster roll…you name it.
The Times cautions that not every food is suited for success as an ultra-niche restaurant. Successful foods tend to have a nostalgia value (like fried chicken), remind us of childhood (like mac and cheese or ethnic foods our mothers made), be “cravable,” and be customizable with a wide range of flavors via toppings, sauces or add-ons.
For operators in tough times, such simple menus offer some big advantages, including streamlined operations and lower overhead. With our fascination with food showing no signs of abating, and the recession not showing much sign of going away, perhaps now is the ultra-niche restaurant’s moment of glory.