Downtown Phoenix experiences major growth in restaurants amid challenges
Numerous restaurants have opened up in downtown Phoenix recently, but establishments are still navigating pandemic recovery and dealing with the impacts of inflation.
Restaurants such as The Desmond Spirits and Oven opened on North First Street this summer, and Wren and Wolf opened on North Central Avenue last fall despite the risks of the post-pandemic economy.
“We have been very fortunate as a downtown, especially when compared to our peer cities that, during the COVID era of, you know, dang near three years now, we are one of the few markets that saw actually an increase in construction, an increase in development, and that positive gain in bars and restaurants over that span,” Downtown Phoenix Inc. Chief Growth Officer R.J. Price said in an interview.
In the greater downtown area, which is 1.75 square miles, the total number of bars and restaurants increased from 141 to 217 between 2015 and 2022, with 15 new establishments expected to open soon, according to data provided by Downtown Phoenix Inc. Residential units have grown with it as well, with an increase of 7,405 units from 2015 to 2022, and 3,000 units are currently under construction.
Kaitlin Myers, who’s the co-founder of Culture Shock Hospitality, which operates Chico Malo and Wren and Wolf, said that the pandemic was difficult for business downtown due to the number of offices in the area being closed and the lack of residents.
“It was definitely tough with the first, we were closed from March to September, completely closed because being downtown there wasn’t very many residents to keep us afloat for a takeout, cause again, we’re event driven or we’re office driven for lunchtime and no one was doing those, either of those things,” Myers said in an interview.
The Arizona Restaurant Assocation said that roughly 10%-12% of restaurants in the state closed during the pandemic in 2020, ABC15 Arizona reported in January 2021.
While Myers said that her business has largely recovered from the pandemic, inflation is currently “very, very challenging” industrywide.
The Phoenix metropolitan area has an annual inflation rate of 13%, which is one of the highest in the nation, according to August data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, she said that being in close proximity to Footprint Center, which is the home of the Phoenix Suns, has been helpful in drawing customers.
Susie Timm, the founder of Knife and Fork Media Group, said that finding people to work in restaurants is also a top concern for the industry right now.
“Staffing is still the biggest challenge all restaurants are facing,” Timm said in an email statement. “It’s getting better, but it is still causing many restaurants to have shorter hours, limited menus etc.”
Still, the overlook outlook for downtown and the Phoenix area as a whole is relatively optimistic, despite the ongoing difficulties.
“We believe that the Phoenix market will bear our stronger than most because of our space to build, people moving here from other areas and the strong economic environment,” Phil Guinouard, a partner at the Phoenix Metro Chamber of Commerce, said in an email statement.