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Saturday, Jun 3, 2023

Fancy Eateries Ignore Santa Clarita

Carrie Rogers, economic development and marketing manager for Santa Clarita, admits that her city isn’t exactly a bastion of fine dining establishments. In fact, they’re few and far between. “Our residents still leave the Santa Clarita Valley to go to dinner,” she said. “We know residents are leaving.” Luring upscale restaurants to open locations in Santa Clarita has been a sore spot for the well-heeled bedroom community for years, despite its designation as one of the fastest-growing cities in Los Angeles County. The reason, say those familiar with the restaurant industry and local issues, is that bistros and high-end restaurants have been slow to realize the swift growth and affluence of the region’s growing population, which now has a median income of $91,400, among the highest in the county. The result is that while Santa Clarita is chock full of fast food restaurants and a smattering of middle-end casual fare largely the result of nearby Six Flags Magic Mountain and freeway traffic high-end eateries such as The Cheesecake Factory, Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine and Ruth’s Chris Steak House are nonexistent. Residents have taken notice. Rogers said a recent city survey of Santa Clarita residents found that many want upscale restaurants nearby, specifically The Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and Dave & Buster’s. But despite the demand and calls for a new restaurant, Howard Gordon, a senior vice president with The Cheesecake Factory said there are no plans to expand into the Santa Clarita Valley. “At this point, we are not planning to open a restaurant in Valencia,” he said, although he would not elaborate. Several other restaurants contacted for this story would not talk publicly about why they haven’t moved into the area. But Rogers said that the major issue is the lack of a sizeable daytime population, since many of Santa Clarita’s residents don’t work in the city and commute to the San Fernando Valley. For restaurants, that means a relatively muted lunchtime dining crowd. “Our daytime lunches aren’t significant enough,” Rogers said. “That really is critical for those restaurants.” Another issue is Santa Clarita’s population a group largely comprised of families who generally aren’t frequent haute cuisine consumers. Added up, the wobbly conditions make opening an expensive restaurant in Santa Clarita seem risky for many companies especially for non-chain restaurants. The independent ones that have staked a claim have largely struggled. Twin Palms, a Pasadena fine dining and entertainment restaurant, opened a location in Valencia Town Center several years ago only to quickly close and be replaced in 2002 by Cafe M & #233;lisse, a more informal offshoot of the tony Santa Monica eatery. That restaurant, in turn, closed after only about six months, said restaurant spokeswoman Marje Bennetts. “We opened in the spring and closed in the fall,” she said. Bennetts said that while business was always solid on weekends and the restaurant was busy, it fell off on weekdays and nearly ceased during lunch. Changing tides? Despite the previous market conditions, however, there are indications the trend is slowly changing, said Bert Abel, executive vice president of Castaic real estate brokerage NAI Capital, who handles various restaurant deals in the area. In June, George’s Bistro, another high-end Santa Monica eatery, opened a Valencia location. Nearby, the 300-seat Salt Creek Grille, a satellite location of a Dana Point restaurant, has been open for seven years. Abel said the shift might be a product of the sheer number of people moving into the Santa Clarita Valley, expected to increase from 213,178 people in 2000 to 352,382, according to the city. Another factor is the continuing tightening of the San Fernando Valley office market, which could force tenants to look north to Santa Clarita for space. And more offices means more hungry workers at lunch, said “That additional square footage is really going to put them over the top,” Abel predicted. Hotels will also likely be a factor in Santa Clarita, where plans are in the works for a 157-room Embassy Suites and 140-bed Courtyard by Marriott. Abel also just negotiated the sale of a golf facility on McBean Parkway near Valencia Boulevard to a developer who plans to build a seven-story, 200-room hotel with a 9,500-square-foot restaurant. That project, coupled with the new homes in the pipeline, makes Abel think that upscale restaurants will want to bank on the continued growth even though current numbers are somewhat soft. Abel said he is also in negotiations with Ruth’s Chris Steak House to open a location at Bridgeport Marketplace, a complex at Newhall Ranch Road and McBean Parkway he is representing. Abel said restaurateurs are starting to wise up. “The Santa Clarita Valley in general is right at the cusp of being at a point demographically that is a comfort level for these higher-end restaurants,” he said. “They need a very high-end demographic.”

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