Boone Restaurant Owners Befuddled With Top Five Ranking in Nielsen’s U.S. Restaurant Growth Index

Published Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm

By Jesse Wood

May 21, 2013. In April, Nielsen released the 2013 Restaurant Growth Index. Boone ranks in the top five, and local restaurant owners don’t necessarily agree. 

Joe Cafaro of Joe's Italian Kitchen, which is a member of Boone Independent Restaurants, shows off some of his good eats. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Joe Cafaro of Joe’s Italian Kitchen, which is a member of Boone Independent Restaurants, shows off some of his good eats. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Rising from 37 in 2012, Boone came in at number four this year in the RGI, “which charts restaurants openings and sales to identify the nation’s hottest markets,” according to a release from Nielsen.

The study listed Boone as having 170 establishments that averaged $1 million in sales per location. It noted that smaller markets that are tourist destinations with “high transience and heavy thru traffic” tend to rank higher in the index.

As for Boone, tourism and students drove its 2013 RGI index ranking.

“Boone, N.C., reached the [fourth] spot this year, rising from No. 37 in 2012. Boone is a tourist destination, drawing 225,000 each year. It’s also home to Appalachian State University, which has seen dramatic growth in the last decade and ranks in the top 5 percent for general business growth in Nielsen’s BGI. The influx of students and tourists helped drive up its 2013 RGI score,” according to the release.

The RGI is designed for companies to screen markets for attractive areas for growth and expansion. Apparently the study used some data from all of Watauga because it lists Boone’s population at more than 51,000.

John Pepper of Pepper’s Restaurant and co-founder of the Boone Independent Restaurants group said he and other fellow independent restaurant owners were befuddled at the ranking.

A scene from Joy Bistro, also a member of Boone Independent Restaurants. Photo by Ken Ketchie

A scene from Joy Bistro, also a member of Boone Independent Restaurants. Photo by Ken Ketchie

“We kind of don’t really see it. There’s definitely room for growth, but with our population so far, I don’t really see it,” Pepper said. “They should really come here this week of the year when our population is probably around 10 grand – when there are no students and none of our seasonal residents.” 

Pepper added that the ranking would probably entice – or at least cause a double look at our area from companies seeking new locations. Recently, Five Guys opened near Harris Teeter on Blowing Rock Road and Chipotle Mexican Grill has a restaurant slated to open in Boone later this year.

But, Pepper asked, how many more chains or fast food restaurants can Boone accommodate?

“The market for chain restaurants has to be saturated. I really don’t know how many more chain restaurants or fast food restaurants our population can support,” Pepper said, adding that he has seen a “little growth” recently but attributed that to consumer confidence.  

“I think people are eating out a little more, but I just don’t see a huge segment of growth up here. I think our population limits it,” Pepper said. 

Boone has a population of about 17,000 people. Now, how the ranking that lists Boone having a population of more than 51,000 affects Boone’s fourth-place rating is unknown. Messages left with media representatives for Nielsen were not immediately returned on Tuesday. 

Check out the rankings here: http://www.monkeydish.com/towns-with-potential/home

The Top Five Restaurant Markets Pulled Directly From Release

1. We have a new market in the top spot this year: Ocean Pines, Md., the No. 6 market last year. This market constitutes the eastern most county in Maryland, which includes the entire length of the state’s Atlantic coast, and is home to the popular vacation resort area of Ocean City. With a large influx of tourists, this market has very strong per-capita restaurant sales, which is what drives the RGI score.

2. Findlay, Ohio made it to the No. 2 spot this year, jumping all the way from the No. 99 spot in 2012. This market, which has strong ties to the Toledo metropolitan area, saw its restaurant sales nearly double year-over-year. Nielsen’s Business Growth Index (BGI), which tracks changes in the number and size of all businesses over time, ranks this market in the top 10 nationally for overall economic growth. Much of that growth has come from recent corporate developments in the town, which is now home to Marathon Petroleum and a global tech center for Cooper Tire and Rubber Co.

3. Liberal, Kan. took the No. 3 spot this year, as this market more than doubled its restaurant sales from 2012. Much like those in Findlay, businesses in Liberal have many openings, which, when coupled with a shortage of housing units, inspires visitors and temporary residents to eat out more frequently. The success of Liberal’s semi-pro Bee Jays baseball team, frequent national and state champions, also draws more visitors to the area.

4. Boone, N.C., reached the fourth spot this year, rising from No. 37 in 2012. Boone is a tourist destination, drawing 225,000 each year. It’s also home to Appalachian State University, which has seen dramatic growth in the last decade and ranks in the top 5 percent for general business growth in Nielsen’s BGI. The influx of students and tourists helped drive up its 2013 RGI score. 

5. Sevierville, Tenn.—gateway to Smoky Mountain National Park and last year’s #3 market—dropped to No. 5. The average restaurant sales per person for the market tipped $4,400 last year, but dropped to roughly $3,600 per person this year, which is still more than double the national average. More net restaurants (14) were added to this market year-over-year, creating a bit more competition.

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