DOWNERS GROVE – The power of Amazon and other online businesses has changed the competitive landscape in the retail industry, placing a greater emphasis on restaurants to help sustain the local economy.
In Downers Grove, restaurants are a vital component of the business community, as both sit-down and carry-out eateries experience success.
In 2017, restaurant and food service jobs made up 9 percent of employment in Illinois, according to the National Restaurant Association. The figure is projected to grow by about 8 percent over the next decade.
“Restaurants have always been an important target for us,” said Michael Cassa, president and CEO of the Downers Grove Economic Development Corp. “Attracting restaurants makes a lot of sense. Restaurant sales are up in Downers Grove.”
There are 155 restaurants in the village, and the development corporation has experienced considerable success luring new ones to the community over the past several months, Cassa said.
Outback Steakhouse opened in March at 2970 Finley Road, the former site of Cheeseburger in Paradise. Meanwhile, Mission BBQ opened its first Illinois location in February at 1570 Butterfield Road. The eatery replaces Ruby Tuesday.
Mission BBQ opened its first location on Sept. 11, 2011, and its owners are dedicated to military members and veterans. As such, patrons are invited at noon each day to stand and sing the national anthem, Cassa said.
“They’re doing great,” he said. “Their restaurant is always full.”
Replacing one restaurant with another is a logical and cost-effective option, Cassa said.
“When a restaurant space opens up, it becomes an obvious opportunity for another restaurant,” he said.
The infrastructure, including the dining room and kitchen space, are already in place, making a complete overhaul unnecessary, Cassa said. Conversely, retrofitting a retail space into a restaurant can be cost prohibitive.
“A restaurant, for example, needs a bigger water pipe than a regular business,” he said.
The addition of new eateries in Downers Grove is not limited to the Butterfield Road corridor.
Four fast-casual restaurants will anchor the new strip mall under construction at the northwest corner of Ogden Avenue and Main Street, which is being developed by Vequity Real Estate.
The restaurants that will open in the Downers Grove Town Center are Panda Express, City Barbeque, Mod Pizza and CoreLife Eatery, which makes healthy meals from scratch, Cassa said.
“They’re four distinct restaurants,” he said.
The village’s most recent business successes go beyond restaurants.
The addition of Ashley HomeStore, 2900 Highland Ave., has created a furniture row of sorts along Butterfield Road, Cassa said.
Art Van Furniture, 1021 Butterfield Road, and Penny Mustard Furnishings, 1207 Butterfield Frontage Road, round out the trio of furniture stores in the village. The stores benefit from each other, Cassa said.
“Furniture stores are a destination,” he said. “If you want to shop around, it’s easy to do that.”
Two other significant additions to the business community include the Lincoln certifed pre-owned dealership at 216 Ogden Ave. and UnitedHealthcare. The dealership, which relocated from Westmont, is open for business, although remodeling continues, Cassa said. UnitedHealthcare relocated its Chicago regional offices to Downers Grove.