crainsnewyork.com – The busiest place in town during lunch hour is the Chick-fil-A at the corner of West 37th Street and Sixth Avenue, where a fried chicken sandwich is sold every six seconds. To keep the frenzy from turning into a free-for-all, staffers are trained to be scrupulously polite. “I always ask them, ‘Did you bring your smile to work today?'” said the restaurant’s owner, Oscar Fittipaldi, who opened the Atlanta-based chain’s first standalone New York outpost two years ago.
The Garment District franchise sells more than 3,000 sandwiches a day, often with a side of waffle fries, and generates about $13 million in revenue, Crain’s estimated based on data from Fittipaldi. That means it sees the same revenue as Balthazar, the chic SoHo brasserie where the average check is $70, nearly seven times a typical Chick-fil-A tab.
The company wouldn’t comment on Fittipaldi’s revenue, but his success is clearly drawing a slew of followers. Chick-fil-A has plans to open roughly 12 more restaurants in the city, starting next year with a 5-story, 12,000-square-foot emporium in the Financial District. In September Taco Bell announced plans to triple its current 25-store city footprint, and Five Guys, which has grown to about 20 restaurants here since 2009, will soon be opening another one near Fittipaldi’s Chick-fil-A.
New York City is quickly becoming the capital of fast-food nation. More chains are moving in to replace diners and other independent restaurants forced out by relentlessly rising rents. Although many chains have broadened their menus and are experimenting with fast-casual dining, the bread and butter for most remains fried meat and a hefty soft drink.
“Fast-food chains used to draw a skull and crossbones around New York when they were looking for places to expand,” said Gary Occhiogrosso, who runs consulting firm Franchise Growth Solutions. “Now they all want to be here.”
In 2008 the Center for an Urban Future began tracking the growth of local chain retailers and restaurants, and counted about 5,400 city locations. By last year the figure had grown by more than a third, to 7,300. What struck Executive Director Jonathan Bowles was that one sector was responsible.
“All the growth is in food,” Bowles said.
Today New York is home to 3,419 chain-restaurant locations, according to the Department of Health. Leading the march is Dunkin’ Donuts, which has 596 city stores, a 75% increase since 2008. Over the past four years, meanwhile, the number of independent restaurants has declined by 8%.
While chains still represent a minority of the city’s 26,546 restaurants and bars, their growth is startling because fast-food purveyors have been a popular punching bag for city officials for more than a quarter century. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned trans fats from cooking oils and forced fast-food restaurants to post calorie counts for all menu items so people could better understand the health implications of what they were eating. Earlier this year the city also required restaurants to post sodium content.
We touched on this a bit in another article but this one goes into more detail.