The year is only two months old and it's already been an up-and-down 2013 for high profile Birmingham restaurants, leaving many residents wondering: when are we going to get a family restaurant?
"We made the decision to close because, with the high overhead and the changing dining landscape in Birmingham, we just felt it was something we had do," Tracy Wilson, general manager of the Dali Restaurant Group, told Downtown Birmingham/Bloomfield.
In Birmingham, it's a landscape marked by high-profile closures, followed quickly by new ideas from similiarly sophisticated eateries. From the last five months:
- March 2013: The Stand, described as a "modern gastropub", told the Birmingham City Commission they're looking at a fall opening in the Greenleaf Trust Building. "This restaurant is going to be nationally known one day," Chef Paul Grosz, one of the owners, told commissioners.
- February 2013: Crush receives an Economic Development License from the Birmingham City Commission. The restaurant will have 236 seats at 555 S. Old Woodward and serve steak, seafood and dozens of wines.
- January 2013: The Stand's opening comes immediately after the announcement that Zazios, the colorful restaurant currently occupying the Greenleaf Trust Building, would be closing. Zazios opened in 2010.
- November 2012: Stoney River Steakhouse receives approval to open in the former Max & Erma's location on Merrill Street. Stoney River's president says the restaurant will offer high-quality hospitality at a lower price point than most steakhouses, though entrees typically cost $40-$50.
- November 2012: Blue Ribbon Holdings representatives, which own both Stoney River Steakhouse and Max & Erma's, said Max & Erma's had "outlived its time in Birmingham," noting "We believe (Stoney River) restaurant will be more appropriate for the area."
The response to many of these openings and closings, however, reflected frustration, with many asking whether Birmingham is leaving families behind.
"I am so disapponted knowing that the council approved yet another 'UP SCALE' steakhouse for our once 'family friendly city,'" Charli Schulman commented in November 2012. "We need a nice family restaurant in our city, other than a Coney Island."
Many of those same sentiments cropped up when Barrio announced their closure earlier this week, both on Patch and on the Birmingham Patch Facebook page:
- William Brundage: "I believe that we need more moderately priced restaurants in Birmingham. I can appreciate a great steak and an impressive wine list, but I also enjoy the casual things in life as well. It's a balance and Birmingham is not balanced right now with its choice in dining."
- Courteney Gettel: "When is Birmingham going to learn that we really don't need $15+ a-plate restaurants? Four steak houses? REALLY?"
- Terry Matien: "Never been (to Barrio) but I sure wish Birmingham would open more family friendly restaurants. We have too many upscale places and steakhouses. With Max and Erma's gone, there's not much to choose from other than the diners."
- Lori Dempsey Hamilton: "The margins on family spots must not be high enough to satisfy the rent. That's a shame."
Still, others disagreed, noting that high-profile restaurants draw clientele from around the region and makes Birmingham a destination spot for dining.
"Birmingham doesn't attract what Birmingham residents think it needs," Clinton Baller comments this week. "It attracts and sustains profitable businesses. ... Birmingham is a mature enough market, with enough market freedom, that what you see is pretty much what you're going to get. My opinion: You ought to count your blessings."
"Everyone keeps begging for 'family friendly' but the real estate for rent doesn't allow it," Rosie Koul points out on Facebook.
Still, others have already suggested civic action. "We should probably rally some folks and go to the next city planning meeting and express some thoughts," Koul added. "This feels like a growing, gnawing concern for residents and those vested in the vibe that makes Birmingham."
What do you think? Does Birmingham need fewer upscale restaurants and more family-friendly dining spots?