Food for thought

Restaurants and revitalization

From the D.C.-based Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space blog comes an interesting comparison of what works and what doesn’t work, specifically for restaurants as the catalyst for revitalization. In A real-life example of Richard’s Rules for Restaurant-Based Neighborhood Revitalization, a restaurant closing noted in the Washington Business Journal’sRestaurant closure leaves a bad taste on Georgia Avenue” is compared with a restaurant row success noted in The Washington Post’sH Is for Happening.”

I first read “H Is for Happening,” and having once lived and worked in D.C., my first thought was that the success of this concentration of restaurants on H Street could not translate to Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square, at least not yet. Washington, D.C. is a much smaller city than Chicago, and the stretch of H Street referenced is part of what most would consider “downtown,” right in the middle of a number of office buildings. I used to work just one block away, and there is a substantial daytime population to support lunch service and after-work service for office workers in the area, something Milwaukee Avenue currently lacks. [Correction: Richard Layman of the Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space blog clarifies that this stretch of H Street is in the NE quadrant of D.C., while I was thinking of the NW quadrant with my original reference to office buildings and daytime population.]

Logan Square example

Then I thought about Logan Square’s own restaurant row on California Avenue (see ABC 7’s “Unique Options in Logan Square;” another restaurant, Rustik, has since been added to the mix) and the concentration of restaurants surrounding the square itself. These restaurants seem to be doing well without a daytime population. What’s the magic formula? The original Richard’s Rules post sheds some interesting light on the type of restaurants necessary to be the catalyst for revitalization, such as type of cuisine and pricing.

While the formula might be a little different for the Logan Square community because of the large Latino population, anecdotally, my personal experience with El Cid on the square shows it to have followed Richard’s Rules quite well.

  1. It has food that is attractive to a large number of people; in this case, Mexican.
  2. It has good food; not stunning, but good.
  3. It has good service. You might have to wait for a patio table in the summer, but service is generally good, and owner Jose is a gracious and amiable host.
  4. It is competitively priced, with Especialidades de Casa (it just doesn’t seem right to use “entrées” for a Mexican restaurant) running $10-$14, and pitchers of margaritas, sangria and even beer available.El Cid 2
  5. It has an “interior” appealing to a variety of diners: The original first floor (right) is a casual dining area with a Mexican flavor, the outdoor sidewalk seating and patio are casual favorites in the summer, and the latest addition of the second floor lounge area is more polished and sleek.

In the early years, again when the patio opened, and again when the patio expanded, I was one of the patrons who frequented El Cid at least a couple times a month. El Cid has been at its Kedzie Avenue location for about a dozen years now. Except for the staple diner, Johnny’s Grill, restaurants on the square that preceded El Cid have all gone out of business. Several that have opened since seem like keepers, but El Cid was the first.

Potential Milwaukee Avenue restaurant owners take note:

…of Richard’s Rules!

El Cid fans, be sure to participate in the One Year Conversation Starter challenge.

Summer diversions elsewhere:


SummerDance in the Parks: merengue, cumbia y salsa! lessons and dancing at Humboldt Park
July 2
. Here’s the sound of Carpacho y Su Super Combo’s “Cerquita de Ti” to put you in the mood.


2 Responses to Food for thought

  1. The H St. in the article is NE not NW…

    but wrt Southwestern-Mexican cuisine, it has an advantage because it’s popular with other demographics, particularly white people. Maybe 18 years ago there was an article in the Washington Post about neighborhood change (back when DC’s population was closer to 70% African-American) and an African-American commenter said you can always tell when a neighborhood is changing with the arrival of Mexican (or El Salvadorean) restaurants, because African-Americans prefer Chinese food over Southwestern.

    Richard: Thanks for the clarification on H Street, NE. My mind just automatically went to NW.

    As noted, Logan Square has a large Latino population, so I think other Latin flavors may work as well. We have Puerto Rican, Cuban, Ecuadorian, Argentinian, etc. in the community, though not all on Milwaukee Ave. and not all catalysts for revitalization, but El Cid has stood out.

    As m d noted, the owner’s personal touch has gone a long way toward this. The first El Cid, a little further south of this one on Kedzie Ave. that I write about, has a different atmosphere and does not seem to have the same success and charm. ~ Lynn

  2. m d says:

    Yes, El Cid does seem to fit the criteria laid out in Richard’s Rules, but, as you point out, El Cid is located in a community that does not have a strong daytime population to draw from. With that said, it would be interesting to find out what are the other factors that have helped El Cid survive all these years, despite the lackluster performance of previous restaurants, such as Abril, that fit the same criteria, but did not last.
    I know Jose only a little, but one of the “charms” of his restaurant is his personality. He is very social and seems to know almost anyone who walks in the door. I don’t think I’ve been in the restaurant one time without seeing him sitting down with customers to find out how they are doing and what is new with them. This personal touch I think goes beyond the “good service” that Richard’s Rules spells out and is probably just one of the keys to his success. What are others? What can be gleaned from the success of El Cid to help other non-restaurant businesses (as well as restaurants) thrive in this community?

    m d: Please note that Richard has corrected me on the H Street location. H Street, NE does not have the daytime population that H Street, NW does. ~ Lynn

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