Restaurants open, restaurants close. Food service, at whatever level, from fast food chains to elegant fine-dining places, is a volatile business. Today’s Michelin-starred, can’t-get-a-table hotspot might very well be gone by this time next year. A different one, perhaps with more accolades and even fewer slots for diners, could have taken its place. That neighborhood burger joint where you’ve been going to since you were a kid, meanwhile, is suddenly a Dunkin’ Donuts.
Statistics on the failure rate of new restaurants vary. A 2003 American Express TV commercial announced that “nine out of 10 restaurants fail in the first year.” A 2005 study dialed that back considerably, reporting that only 26.2% of independent operators closed the year they launched. In 2014, two economists, using microdata from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that tracked 81,000 independent full-service restaurants over a 20-year period, reduced the number further to only 17% — compared with 19% of all other service-providing startups.
As it turns out, only one of the saddest restaurant closings on this list came about within the establishment’s freshman year (and that was a reboot of a restaurant that’s been around for more than a century), though a couple barely made it into year two. Others lasted decades.
Why do restaurants close? Rent increases; business slow-downs due to changing tastes or changing neighborhoods; staffing difficulties resulting from a shrinking labor pool and too many new restaurants; expiring management contracts or changes of corporate direction; consumer boycotts of establishments associated with chefs accused of sexual misconduct… And sometimes, it’s just that the proprietors are getting tired, or feel that their restaurants have run their course, already having contributed all they have to offer to the culinary world.
Restaurant closings can be sad for a number of reasons. Some are venerable institutions that have become part of their communities, helping to define and unify them. Some open with great promise and predictions of a bright future, only to be brought down by poor business decisions or bad timing. Still others are unique in one way or another, bringing new kinds of food to underserved areas, then taking it away for no apparent reason.
Perhaps the saddest of all are the restaurants that close because the chefs or restaurateurs in charge have betrayed the trust of their employees, harassing and abusing them, thus driving customers away — and by extension not only impoverishing the culinary landscape but robbing hundreds of employees of their livelihoods. These closings are perhaps deserved, but that doesn’t make them any less unfortunate.
To assemble our list of the saddest restaurant closings of 2018, 24/7 Wall St. consulted scores of restaurant news and review sites and local and regional magazine and newspaper sites from across the nation.