Issue 30

Omaha – Most Restaurants per Capita?

Omaha – Most Restaurants per Capita?

It’s testament to the dynamic city we live in that Omaha makes a lot of ‘Best of’ lists. Best place to live, to work, to drink, to raise kids, to go to the zoo, to start over, to sing a song and pick a bushel of apples (alright, those last two were my own inventions, but you get the idea). As well, a quick search of the interwebs also reveals that Omaha has been at least mentioned in lists of cities that has the most millionaires, are the most affordable, most hungover, most business-friendly, and so on. To us that live here, it’s all quite flattering and a confirmation of things many of us have known for a while – Omaha is cool and a good place to do any number of things.

Another ‘Omaha has the most’ that I’ve heard bandied about, and, in fact, I’ve said it as well, is that Omaha has the most restaurants per capita. Since I’ve worked at Food & Spirits Magazine I’ve always wondered about this one. Not that I don’t think we have an incredibly dynamic and vibrant restaurant and dining scene, because I think we do. But because, in my personal experience, having lived on both coasts and in a number of different cities, it’s a claim I’ve heard many fine folks boast of concerning their particular locale. If you are in the restaurant business and are looking to upgrade your refrigeration system, you may want to take a look at retail refrigeration to make sure that you are buying one that works best for your restaurant.

I’ve also wondered about the accuracy of such claims when you really consider this wonderful city we live in. We’re not a city that attracts a lot of seasonal tourists. And many restaurant owners probably understand why a good sound system helps the restaurant customer experience. Yes, we attract a lot of people from out of town for the College World Series and the other various amateur sporting events that Omaha hosts. As well, the Henry Doorly Zoo brings in gobs of people and the Red Sky Music Festival is known far and wide (just a little joke on that last one). But hosting those events and having one of the best zoos in the country isn’t the same as a city nestled on the beach that triples in size over the summer months. As many people would enthusiastically tell you, I’m no genius, but it just seems to make sense that bringing in 400,000 tourists, who are going to spend as much as they can, for three or four months would create more restaurants than our relatively static population would be able to support.

My curiosity was recently reignited when I saw two more lists recently published on Huffington Post that identified cities with the most restaurants per capita. One list, created by the marketing research group, NPD Group (fun and weird fact – the NPD in NPD Group stands for National Purchase Diary). The other list was compiled by real-estate giant Trulia. The two lists couldn’t be more different – take a look;

NPD Group’s Most Restaurants/Capita

  • Juneau, Alaska
  • Salisbury, Maryland
  • Bend, Oregon
  • Panama City, Florida
  • New York City
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • Portland, Maine
  • Medford, Oregon
  • Santa Barbara, California

Trulia’s Most Restaurants/Capita

  • San Francisco, California
  • Fairfield, Connecticut
  • Long Island, New York
  • New York
  • Seattle, Washington,
  • San Jose, California
  • Orange County, California
  • Providence, Rhode Island
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Portland, Oregon

See there – much, much different conclusions. So, in an effort to get to the bottom of who REALLY has the most restaurants per capita, I decided to crunch the numbers and see for myself.

As I concluded nine hours later, it’s not nearly as easy as it sounds for multiple reasons: First off, the data to figure it out can be found on the interwebs, but it’s surrounded by all sorts of other data. You have to do some sorting and compiling. Second, you actually have to do MATH to figure this out – enough said. Third, it all depends on how you define your terms. What are you defining as a restaurant? What are you defining as an area – is it the city, the county, the metro area surrounding it? And finally, the results can simply be confusing and counterintuitive.

To compile our list of the most restaurants per capita I decided to use the United States Census Bureau for the population totals and the number of full service restaurants. The most recent data available from the USCB is from 2010.

The USCB’s definition of a full service restaurant:

“This industry group comprises establishments primarily engaged in providing food services to patrons who order and are served while seated (i.e., waiter/waitress service) and pay after eating. Establishments that provide this type of food service to patrons with any combination of other services, such as take-out services, are classified in this industry”.

To define the area, we used the United States Office of Management and Budget’s 366 Metro Statistical Areas (MSA). They defined the same areas as the data provided by the USCB.

”The U.S. Office of Management and Budget defines a MSA as one or more adjacent counties or county equivalents that have at least one urban core area of at least 50,000 population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”

So, what were the results of my research? In a word, confounding.

When I compiled the information for ALL 366 metro areas in the United States, here’s what I got;

  • Ocean City, NJ
  • Barnstable Town, MA
  • Myrtle Beach, SC
  • Pittsfield, MA
  • Glens Falls, NY
  • Kingston, NY
  • Portland, ME
  • Bend, OR
  • Atlantic City, NJ
  • San Luis Obispo, CA

115. Des Moines, IA

182. Kansas City, MO

187Omaha, NE

What the what, right? What the hell is a Barnstable? Portland, MAINE? No San Francisco or New York? Des Moines ahead of Omaha? Something smells rotten in Denmark. This list didn’t match up to any others I’ve seen and left me more confused than I normally am.

When I compiled the data for just the 100 largest metro the results were dramatically different;

  • San Francisco, CA
  • Bridgeport, CT
  • Scranton, PA
  • Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Providence, RI
  • Portland, OR
  • Hartford, CT
  • Seattle, WA
  • New Haven, CT
  • New York City

32. Des Moines, IA

54. Kansas City, MO

55. Omaha, NE

This list seemed to be a little more rational, but I’m not sure that it jibes with what I expected. Scranton? Really? It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of restaurants there when I watch The Office and we all know that The Office is a real-life documentary.

So, what’s up with the different results? I’m not entirely sure – I wish I was. Different methodology? Using different sources? Global Warming? Conspiracy or Sabotage? All those are possible and some even likely. And maybe that all speaks to a larger point that a great American writer expounded on ages ago when there were no such thing as mundane lists that compiled the most restaurants per capita or best city to be hungover in.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

That sage Mark Twain figured it out (via 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who Twain attributed the quote to) long ago.

Whatever the case, and wherever Omaha ranks, one thing I’m positive about is that Omaha truly DOES have a vigorous dining and drink scene that we can all be proud of. In nearly five years of running Food & Spirits Magazine, I’ve seen a lot of traction in our restaurant and bar community and there is a ‘buzz’ surrounding it. We all get excited about new restaurants opening, tasting menus and exotic foods. We post pictures on Facebook of the latest/greatest/best meal we’ve had and our newest culinary creation. For Christ’s sake, I heard someone talking about a bone luge the other day (look it up – half of you will drool and the other half will throw up in their mouth a little bit).

In the last year alone, we’ve seen a plethora of new dining and drinking establishments find a new home in Omaha or come under new, fresh ownership; The Pizza Pie Guys (3113 N. 120th Street), Swine Dining BBQ and their new dining location (204 E. Mission Avenue), Omaha Tap House (1403 Farnam Street), Corner Creperie (343 N. 24th Street), Baxter’s (6113 Maple Street), J’s on Jackson (1101 Jackson Street), Brix Midtown (3220 Farnam Street), Lenny’s Subs (3201 Farnam Street), Mantra (6913 Maple Street), Star Deli (6114 Military Avenue), French Bulldog (5003 Underwood Avenue), Lot 2 (6207 Maple Street), Shucks (1911 Leavenworth Street), Taita (6109 Maple Street), Joe’s Crab Shack (701 N. 102nd Street), Pageturners Lounge (5004 Dodge Street), Raising Cane’s (7060 Dodge Street), Saint’s Pub + Patio (120 S. 31st Avenue), Black Oak Grill (220 S. 31st Avenue), Bravo! Cucina Italiana (17151 Davenport Street), J. Coco (5203 Leavenworth Street), Dolce (12317 W. Maple Street), Railcar Modern American Kitchen (1814 N. 144th Street), Corky Canvas (3157 Farnam Street), Mai Thai (2279 S. 67th Street), Pana 88 (3201 Farnam Street), 13th Street Brickhouse (2202 13th Street), Mixed (2101 N. 120th Street), DJ’s Dugout (2102 S. 67th Street), The Diner (409 S. 12th Street) and Jerry’s Bar (6301 Military Avenue).

We’ve also got some new places on the horizon that we should see soon; Salt 88 (3623 N. 129th Street), The Benson Brewery (6059 Maple Street), The Berry & Rye (1105 Howard Street), Infusion Brewing Company (6115 Maple Street), Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop (2416 Lake Street), Borgata Brewing and Distilling (no address yet) and the Daily Grub’s Jack Taco Cart (will run on Benson First Fridays near the Petshop Gallery, from what I understand).

I’m sure that I may – unintentionally – overlooked a few but I think a point is still made; that’s a fine list of restaurants and bars and something we can all feel good about. I’ve been to many of them already and I’m looking forward to experiencing the others.

As they say, experience is the best teacher. And for my experience, I’ll take Omaha.

Erik Totten

Erik Totten

Erik Totten is the founder and publisher of Food & Spirits Magazine in Omaha, Nebraska. He's worked in publications for the last 21 years at all levels. As well as serving as a writer, designer, photographer and editor, he's also founded two publications which have allowed him to grow into being a publisher, which he would describe as his 'true calling'.

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