While I hope to never be the source of false rumors, for some reason I have heard from a number of different sources this week that Ruth’s Chris is considering bringing it’s steakhouse brand to Naperville. Today, I received my monthly issue of the Naperville Glancer, and the rumors were confirmed within an exclusive story about the exciting new development being planned for the corner of Van Buren and Main Street. While it difficult to contain my excitement for the new development now that we are seeing an architectural illustration for the first time, I will save my enthusiasm for another posting and focus on the downtown restaurant scene.
Someone should alert the Exhcange Club that Ribfest may begin to suffer from the year-round “Steakfest” which continues to expand in downtown.
While I am a carnivore who loves a big juicy rare ribeye steak and can attest to the quality of Ruth’s Chris product offering, one has to wonder how much of the midwestern marbled meat wonder the downtown restaurant market can support. As it stands, we have Hugos, Sullivans, Catch 35, Teds, Tango and Timpano in a three block radius if you are in the market for high-end beef, with steak-infused derivatives available in all shapes and forms in other downtown restaurants from fajitas to appetizer bites.
If we continue to add more restaurants to the downtown scene, I am in hopes that we might be able to land and support a true original. Downtown Chicago has Charlie Trotters as a culinary landmark and destination, why can’t Naperville land it’s own desination restaurant landmark. Don’t get me wrong, I love the restaurants in Downtown Naperville and my family does its share to support their missions, but when 10 West closed I grew concerned that our restaurant scene might end up as a carbon copy of any of a host of Chicago suburbs.
When you see the architectural illustration of the new development for the first time, you will see a strong European influence that leads me to think that a high quality French brasserie would be the perfect compliment to the new area. While Bistrot Margot had only a brief run in Naperville, I believe it had more to do with the food quality than Napervillians’ appetite for French cuisine. Mon Ami Gabi or Brasserie Jo would be two good examples from Chicago that I think would play quite well. A high-end Naperville French original would be even better.
Another thought, with the popularity of downtown driving commercial rent skyward, we may one day find ourselves in a position where restaurants which serve expensive fare and alcohol may be the only viable business model for downtown. I hope that we never get there and that the growth of unique downtown tenants as well as expanded arts offerings can start to keep better balance with the robust restaurant scene. Even more, let’s please not destroy the presence of unique small businesses in harming the “Naperville experience” that so many other Chicago suburbs are trying hard to replicate today.
The ultimate question that I think we should be asking ourselves is “What can you get in downtown Naperville that you can’t get anywhere else?”. As the list gets smaller we will become more and more vulnerable to competing neighborhing communities. I don’t think any of us want that to happen.
There are certainly no easy answers and maintaining Naperville’s popularity will continue to be a balancing act. Nonetheless, I have confidence in the leaders and advocates of our community to continue advancing a high degree of creative imagination in building downtown Naperville’s future. Overall, the new Van Buren and Main development project will be a strong example of our community’s cooperation and creativity. I look forward to writing more soon.
Ultimately, the “experience” will be the key measure.