Feeding the Techies: Food in Midtown South
Karsten Strauss Jan. 22, 2013, 7:30 a.m.
In the past several years the story of Midtown South has been the influx of technology and media firms seeking to set up offices along Manhattan’s Silicon Alley. This new workforce crowd has brought with it different tastes in food – both culinary and culturally – and it turns our that restaurateurs may not have to pay an arm and a leg to set up shop near them.
Despite low vacancy rates and high rents for Midtown South office space, food retail is not the budget-crushing category one might think, said Douglas Elliman retail chairman, Faith Consolo. “You had some restaurants on the side streets that had been very successful – Artisanal being one of them – and you have a lot of availability of space and it’s affordable.”
Some areas, near lower Fifth Avenue below Flatiron, carry too high a price tag for some restaurants. Further north, restaurateurs could find strong positions with access to many diners, said Ms. Consolo. “If they go there they capture the Gramercy Park, The Murray Hill area, Turtle Bay and they get all of the really strong commercial—you’ve got the techies but you’ve got a lot of architects and designers over there and they have to have somewhere they can go to entertain.”
Restaurants must be cautious not to overpay when contemplating rents, given that industry’s traditionally narrow margins. With that in mind, parts of Midtown South maker perfect sense, Ms. Consolo explained.
“This is the difference between paying $100, $125 a foot versus $250 a foot—it makes sense,” she said. “And they’ve got a lot of big pieces of space and some development sites over there. They’re really buying not only the commercial market but the residential market as well, and the hotels so they’re going to get tourists, which they’ve never had before.”
The proliferation of tech, media and creative-industry employees also gives rise to the need for watering holes. “They do a lot of entertaining too,” Ms. Consolo explained. “That’s big bar business and that’s where your profit is.”
Relaxed but quality dining and active bars are attractive to workers in the fast-paced and growing tech and media industries and a notable nearby spot – technically in NoMad – is the Ace Hotel, with it’s The John Dory and Stumptown Coffee Roasters.
“This area doesn’t need any more fast food, fried chicken or cheap burgers,” said John D. Harding, a broker specializing in restaurant properties and the restaurant consultant to the 34th Street Partnership, Bryant Park and Chelsea Improvement Company. “There are still folks of all ages who want to get supersized but healthy eating is the password for many techies, including vegan, vegetarian and even organic alternatives.”
Notable spots in the broader Midtown South area include Blossom Du Jour at 617 Ninth Avenue, the Korean Han Gawi at 12 West 32nd Street, and Loving Hut at 348 Seventh Avenue between 29th and 30th, part of a chain opened by followers of Vietnamese spiritualis, Ching Hai. For vegan appetites, there’s Urban Kitchen at 391 Eighth Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets.
East on 27th and 28th Street offers an abundance of Indian cuisine and Shake Shack occupies Madison Square Park, near the Sloppy Joe-slinging Schnippers restaurant. Hill Country, a top rated barbecue eatery, is nearby at 30 W. 26th Street
“Another cuisine needed in greater abundance in Midtown South is Middle Eastern, including falafel and hummus,” Mr. harding said. The Chickpea chain has staked a claim on some midtown locations including on 22nd Street, 34th Street and West 31st Street, he said. In Hell’s Kitchen there are several options including Hummus Kitchen at 768 Ninth Avenue, Meze Grill at 934 Eighth Avenue, as well as Pita Grill and House of Pita.
“There are lots of very good, authentic Korean restaurants along the block of 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue with very fair prices,” Mr. Harding said. “The problem they have is their block has a trashy feel and the perception may be that it is only visited by Korean people and adventuresome tourists looking for an exotic meal and a good deal.”