Restaurants, bars and gentrification

Bisnow has an interesting article today about the ability of a few pioneering restaurants to “spur development in underserved neighborhoods”.

Now, before we dive in, we need to be clear that “underserved neighborhoods” are not empty places waiting for some new business to come in and put them on the map.

Generally speaking, these neighborhoods are full of normal people who have been living in them just fine for generations. To the extent that they’re “underserved”, it’s often due to long-term private and public disinvestment. And, to the extent that new restaurants introduce new people to those neighborhoods, there is the real possibility of kicking off cycles of gentrification, which often involves the displacement of some of those long-term residents.

All of that said, restaurants / bars do seem to have a unique power to attract new, affluent potential tenants to a neighborhood.

A salient example is Cafe Stella, which opened in Silver Lake in 1998.

Silver Lake, particularly the part to the north of Sunset, has had an artsy, interesting vibe at least since the 1920s. It has been an important center of gay life in LA since at least the 1960s (probably before). And there are tons of interesting, modernist houses dating to the 1950s and 1960s in the hills around Silver Lake reservoir, attesting to the (great) taste of at least some of its occupants.

But the Silver Lake that you probably know, the area around what became known as Sunset Junction, with the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, Black Cat, Sawyer, Kettle Black, Pine & Crane, Night Market, etc., really didn’t didn’t exist before Cafe Stella opened.

Stella was the pioneer that showed what was possible for retail along Sunset in the neighborhood. And, as other entrepreneurs recognized what was possible, they followed Stella.

The cluster of interesting restaurants and bars has made the area along Sunset a wonderful, vibrant, walkable area… making the apartments around there much, much more valuable than they would otherwise have been and thereby creating a ton of value for property owners.

Can you think of some other neighborhoods in LA that await their own Stellas?