The NYC food scene is teeming with “next big things.”
One pioneering concept brings a once-buried menu item to the forefront and the next thing you know, there’s a spin on that same concept on every corner. The Meatball Shop is a great example of a pioneer in the single-menu-item race, having spawned many imitators, including Meatball Obsession and the short-lived Meatball Factory. Viva Le Crepe was a pioneer of the crepe craze that brought concepts like Eight Turn Crepe, Crepe & Wine and others to market. Probably the most ubiquitous of these food trends have been cupcakes and frozen yogurt. Every neighborhood has their own fro-yo concept, whether it’s a one-off or a brand like Pinkberry, Red Mango, newcomer Orange Leaf or 16 Handles, who, in my opinion, is the current frontrunner to outlast the yogurt craze. As for cupcakes, Magnolia Bakery started it all, thanks to “Sex and the City,” and bakeries like theirs will continue to have a place in NYC and on tourists’ maps. Of the many cupcake concepts they’ve helped to create, Crumbs is a contender to outlast the buzz, as is mini cupcake concept Baked By Melissa.
As the market becomes saturated with cupcakes, frozen yogurt and other single-food shops, it creates the opportunity for a new concept to rise up and create a new wave of leasing activity. Right now, the main contender appears to be chicken. Korean fried chicken concepts have been around for a while, but now good-old American fried chicken is popping up all over the place in a higher-end presentation. Just look at the Village area where three different chicken concepts have popped up in the area between 1st and 14th Streets. You have Sticky’s Finger Joint on West 8th Street, slinging chicken fingers with all sorts of interesting topping combinations. The Nugget Spot on East 14th Street pairs nuggets and sauces with aplomb. Even an established restaurant concept like Blue Ribbon has gone and opened a chicken-only off-shoot on East 1st Street called Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken.
That’s not to say chicken is the clear frontrunner for food concept du jour. Some new ideas have recently come to market that, even though they currently only include one shop, have the potential to build a trend of their own. First is Empire Biscuit on Avenue A. Their customizable biscuit sandwich concept proved to be so popular that the restaurant had to close after their grand opening to retool and reorder supplies. Clearly there was an untapped market of biscuit fans out there just waiting for a concept like this. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more biscuit shops pop up in the near future, nor would it shock me to see the baked potato trend take off from the launching pad that is Potatopia on 6th Avenue. Jacket potatoes, or baked potatoes stuffed with various fillings, have been popular abroad for quite some time, and Potatopia is bringing the idea of a customizable potato to the States with pretty strong success.
As brokers, we are always on the lookout for the next concept that is going to spur activity in the market. At the moment, these are the ones I know I’m keeping my eye on.