Restaurants in deep-blue cities starved for diners while Florida is feasting

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

It’s famine or feast for American restaurants right now. 

Establishments in deep-blue cities that faced both excessive COVID-19 restrictions plus violent protests in 2020 are starved for diners, according to global data.

The same source shows that Sun Belt boomtowns in Florida, Texas and Arizona are busier than ever and enjoying a massive surge in restaurant business this year. 

The divide between the two is startling. 

MEET THE AMERICAN WHO CREATED THE NATION’S FIRST SPORTS BAR IN ST. LOUIS: WORLD WAR II VETERAN JIMMY PALERMO

The number of daily diners in the city of Minneapolis was down an average of 54.3% in July — so the city had less than half the number of people eating out, compared with July 2019, according to OpenTable. 

It’s the worst recovery of any city in the world tracked by the restaurant reservation service.

Charles Stotts and wife Kacey White, owners of Town Talk Diner on Lake Street in Minneapolis, watch as water pours out of their restaurant on Thursday, May 28, 2020. The building was looted the night before. "We have our whole lives tied into this restaurant," said Stotts. 

Charles Stotts and wife Kacey White, owners of Town Talk Diner on Lake Street in Minneapolis, watch as water pours out of their restaurant on Thursday, May 28, 2020. The building was looted the night before. “We have our whole lives tied into this restaurant,” said Stotts. 
(Andy Rathbun/MediaNews Group/St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images)

The state of Florida, meanwhile, has four of the top six surging cities in America, with the average number of people dining out in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Naples and Tampa up nearly 30% from July 2019 to July 2022. 

“Minneapolis needs to clean up its act,” Greg Urban, a Minnesota businessman who owns Wild Greg’s Saloons in Minneapolis, told Fox News Digital. 

He also operates three other themed nightlife hotspots in Austin, Texas; Pensacola, Florida; and Lakeland, Florida. 

“People don’t feel safe. They don’t feel safe coming to Minneapolis. It’s a public safety issue right now.”

Minneapolis enacted two years of onerous executive-order lockdown policies starting in March 2020. 

The mandates included two statewide periods of extended take-out only options for restaurants in the spring of 2020 and again in the winter of 2020-21. 

The city also enacted a vaccine mandate for restaurants in January 2022 that it lifted in February after facing a lawsuit from local businesses; it nearly voted to defund its police last year; and it’s in the midst of a massive crime surge. 

Minnesota nearly voted to defund its police last year. It's also in the midst of a massive crime surge right now.

Minnesota nearly voted to defund its police last year. It’s also in the midst of a massive crime surge right now.

“We’re just getting killed in Minneapolis,” said Urban. “People don’t feel safe. They don’t feel safe coming to Minneapolis. It’s a public safety issue right now.” 

The list of bottom 10 cities struggling to recover is rounded out by San Francisco (-45.9%), Portland (-45.2%), Seattle (-40.8%), Philadelphia (-39.2%), New York City (-37.9%), St. Louis (-28.2%), Washington D.C. (-27.3%), Baltimore (-24.9%) and Chicago (-22.8%).  

By contrast, many cities around the nation are thriving, especially in Florida, which is blowing well past the number of people who ate out in 2019. 

‘DEFUND THE POLICE’ ADVOCATE ILHAN OMAR’S CITY EXPERIENCES SHARP INCREASE IN MAJOR OF CRIMES, DATA SHOWS

Las Vegas topped the list in July, with the daily number of diners up an average of 35.7% compared with July 2019. 

Sin City is followed by Fort Lauderdale (+34.0%), Miami (+32.8%), Austin (+27.3%), Naples (+25.4%), Tampa (+22.3%), Nashville (+19.2%), San Antonio (+18.6%), Scottsdale (+18.0%) and Phoenix (+14.3) as the top 10 cities with booming restaurant scenes this summer.  

Wild Greg's Saloon in Austin, Texas, has been packed since opening in May 2021. Greg Urban also owns one saloon in Minneapolis and two in Florida. Business is down more than 50% at his Minneapolis operation, yet up more than 30% at his Florida establishments compared with pre-COVID numbers. 

Wild Greg’s Saloon in Austin, Texas, has been packed since opening in May 2021. Greg Urban also owns one saloon in Minneapolis and two in Florida. Business is down more than 50% at his Minneapolis operation, yet up more than 30% at his Florida establishments compared with pre-COVID numbers. 
(Courtesy Greg Urban, Wild Greg’s Saloon)

“The data set is based on a sample of approximately 20,000 restaurants that provide OpenTable with information on all of their inventory in states or metros with 50+ restaurants on the OpenTable network,” the reservation services told Fox News Digital. 

“We’re off to the races in Florida,” said saloon owner Urban. 

His own experiences mirror the data shown by OpenTable. 

The number of people dining out in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Naples and Tampa is up nearly 30% from July 2019 to July 2022. 

Business at his two Sunshine State hotspots is up about 30% over the pre-pandemic year of 2019, while down “in excess of” 50% in Minneapolis. 

He opened Austin in 2021, so has no pre-pandemic data with which to compare. 

Florida, he said, “is totally the place to be. The whole country flocked to Florida, and to a lesser extent to Texas to escape the lockdowns.”

FLORIDA RESTAURANT OWNER POSTS SIGN TELLING BIDEN SUPPORTERS TO ‘TAKE BUSINESS ELSEWHERE’

“Even the Democrat politicians went to Florida,” he added.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was photographed partying maskless in Miami in January 2022 while advocating lockdown policies and mask and jab mandates in her home state — and elsewhere around the country.

Ocasio-Cortez was spotted in Florida with her boyfriend in January 2022 amid a coronavirus spike in NYC, in a photo published by National Review. 

Ocasio-Cortez was spotted in Florida with her boyfriend in January 2022 amid a coronavirus spike in NYC, in a photo published by National Review. 
(National Review/Anonymous)

New York City alone witnessed about 4,500 restaurant closings, according to the New York State Restaurant Association.

Also, 50,000 fewer people are employed in NYC restaurants today than they were at the start of the pandemic, Andrew Rigie of the New York City Hospitality Alliance told Fox News Digital. 

“There was a lot of frustration with constantly changing city, state and federal regulations. It was an impossible situation.”

“There were certainly some [COVID] policies that made sense and others that didn’t make sense or went on way too long,” said Rigie. 

NEW JERSEY HOT DOG RESTAURANT DESIGNER DAWGS NEARLY CRUSHED BY COVID

“There was a lot of frustration with constantly changing city, state and federal regulations. It was an impossible situation,” he said.

Not in the Sunshine State.

“Florida quickly returned to normal and avoided the draconian lockdowns you saw in other parts of the country,” Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association spokesman Geoff Luebkemann told Fox News Digital.

A busy dining scene in Bal Harbour, Florida, in summer 2022. 

A busy dining scene in Bal Harbour, Florida, in summer 2022. 
(Jeffrey Greenberg/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“The public policies that Gov. [Ron] DeSantis enacted and in some cases led on attracted a lot of people and a lot of business here. It created buoyancy in the market, a sense that you could love your life normally in Florida.”

The state’s dining scene has been boosted not only by the influx of new residents and new businesses relocating to the Sunshine State, but by an increased desire of local residents to enjoy the state’s thriving dining scene.

Celebrated New York City eateries such as Carbone and ZZ Sushi Bar from the Major Food Group opened Florida locations for each brand in 2021 during the height of pandemic restrictions elsewhere.

Chicago casual-eats outpost Portillo’s Hot Dogs are among many others that made the move as well. 

The few eateries in deep-blue cities that survived onerous lockdown policies, mandates and defund-the-police movements still face a long road ahead. 

The Packard Building, an apartment building inside Seattle's so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, is seen damaged and vandalized in June 2020. Residents of the building appealed to city officials for assistance in the absence of a functioning law enforcement presence.

The Packard Building, an apartment building inside Seattle’s so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, is seen damaged and vandalized in June 2020. Residents of the building appealed to city officials for assistance in the absence of a functioning law enforcement presence.
(Toby Scott/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The average Seattle restaurant to survive the pandemic “is, on average, $160,000 in debt, equal to three years of profit,” reported the Washington Hospitality Alliance. 

The numbers are even in worse in Minnesota. 

MEET THE AMERICAN WHO INVENTED BUFFALO WINGS, DISRUPTED ENTIRE CHICKEN INDUSTRY

“About two-thirds of restaurants took on debt during COVID and the average amount was $500,000,” Hospitality Minnesota spokesman Ben Wogsland told Fox News Digital. 

He said he’s “not surprised” by the slow recovery in Minneapolis. 

Business travelers have still not returned to the city, he noted, while concerns over public safety linger. 

Vandalism is seen in Minneapolis after looting by rioters. The handwritten sign on the window reads, "We are new owners. Please don't spray paint on the property. We are trying to fix the neighborhood."

Vandalism is seen in Minneapolis after looting by rioters. The handwritten sign on the window reads, “We are new owners. Please don’t spray paint on the property. We are trying to fix the neighborhood.”
(Fox 9)

The state’s restaurant industry, he said, employs 25,000 fewer people today than it did in 2019. 

Government officials have touted various so-called bailout packages for the restaurant industry. In practice, they’ve proven a boondoggle. 

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

The Biden administration offered a $26.8 billon Restaurant Revitalization Fund in 2021. But 72 percent of applicants got $0 from the program — while the biggest dollars often went to the most high-profile chefs and businesses, according to the Small Business Administration.

Minnesota’s restaurant industry employs 25,000 fewer people today than it did in 2019. 

“David Chang’s Momofuku Group, which operates ritzy restaurants in New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Toronto, fattened itself on $6.9 million in taxpayer cash through the fund,” the New York Post reported last year. 

Maria Morillo, an immigrant entrepreneur who operates a pizza shop in a Manhattan housing project, received just $1,816.38 from the fund, the lowest amount of any eatery in the borough among the few that received funds. 

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR OUR LIFESTYLE NEWSLETTER

“I’m disappointed,” Morillo told The Post at the time. 

“We’re trying to run a small business here. But they’re not concerned about us at all.”

News Gaffer