The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to the restaurant business. Well over 100,000 establishments of various kinds — from fast-food outlets to pricey Michelin-starred dining rooms — have gone out of business permanently. Government restrictions, diners’ safety concerns, and a weak economy all contributed to the demise of such institutions as the well-loved Luby’s cafeteria chain across Texas, the iconic K-Paul’s in New Orleans, and the venerable “21” Club in New York City. (These are 50 of the most popular restaurants that won’t reopen after the pandemic.)
Remarkably, though, even as restaurants were closing right and left, new ones were opening. According to a Yelp report issued this April, more than 69,000 new restaurants and other food businesses came to life since the same time last year. That number admittedly represented a 14% decline from the 12-month period before that, but was still almost miraculous considering the financial difficulties nearly everyone was facing and that understandable lack of enthusiasm the dining public had for sitting down in a restaurant as the virus circulated.
Why did so many places open? For some proprietors, there was little alternative. They had signed leases or taken out mortgages and in some cases built out interiors and hired and trained staff in anticipation of launching last spring or summer. Opening on even a limited basis, for takeout and delivery, made more sense than letting spaces they were paying for stand empty. (The rapid growth of food-to-go is just one of the ways restaurants are going to change in 2021 and beyond.)
Some savvy entrepreneurs might also have seen the economic downturn that accompanied the pandemic as an opportunity to nail down prime real estate at bargain prices, and embraced the idea of temporarily limited service options as a way of bringing their kitchens up to speed.
But then there are also the famous chefs and accomplished restaurateurs who were fortunate enough to have available financing and optimistic enough to believe that things were going to get better — as indeed they have.
This list of some of the best restaurants that have opened around America since March of last year includes examples of all of the above.