Downtown development director gives bird's eye view of restaurant industry in downtown Johnson City

Brandon Paykamian • Mar 3, 2019 at 12:30 PM

In the last few years, Johnson City has witnessed a number of local restaurants emerging in the downtown district, including the Cuban fusion of Sabores, the savory barbecue at Southern Craft and Red Meze, a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant that recently opened its new Johnson City location in the downtown district. 

And we’re likely to see more places to eat, according to Downtown Development Director Dianna Cantler, who spoke to the Johnson City Press to give a bird’s eye view of the local restaurant industry in Johnson City, and in particular, downtown.

“We have three new ones that will be coming in the next year. With Walnut Street, we’re going to see more restaurants going in as well,” Cantler said. “Earlier this year, we were up to 14 locally owned restaurants in the downtown district.”

Cantler said the growth in the local restaurant industry – as well as the growth witnessed with breweries and taprooms in Johnson City – has created a downtown market conducive to continual growth.

And that market isn’t all about cutthroat competition between businesses. When visitors head to the district looking for their favorite spot to grab a bite, Cantler said they often head down the block to another location nearby if their first choice is too crowded.

“I think in downtown Johnson City, in particular, there is an atmosphere that is conducive to locally grown food and supporting local restaurants,” she said.

“I had an owner tell me one time that there's no business he would feel is a competitor. They support each other, and they also bring in people that are interested in supporting locally owned restaurants,” she said. “There’s this atmosphere that you know you’re going to get some great food no matter where you go in downtown Johnson City.”

The growth of the local food industry has not only made the downtown district “the place to be after 5,” but it has other economic implications as well, Cantler said.

“The benefit of the local restaurant movement is they are much more inclined to buy local-grown food or something more regionally sourced than a national chain that has a certain supplier they use,” she said.

When Johnson City residents support local restaurants, Cantler said that money often goes right back into the community.

“They’ve got a home here; their kids are going to school here,” she said of many Johnson City restaurant owners.

Aside from the economic impact of Johnson City’s local food movement, the growth experienced over the past few years has instilled more of a sense of pride in Johnson City. It’s also a contributing factor that Cantler believes has helped draw more people to the city to work in other fields.

“Locally owned restaurants are part of what makes a community vibrant, and vibrant communities, which tend to be their downtown areas, are talent attractors,” she said.  

Elise Clair, who co-owns Main Street Pizza and River Creek Farm, said she and Jamie Dove got into the local food resurgence in its early days years ago. The two business owners knew that resurgence would be critical to the momentum of redevelopment in the downtown district. 

“Our guests repeatedly choose these unique businesses to commune with their friends and family, an extension of the intimacy shared at home at the dining room table. Our neighbors have really stepped it up over the years as we've all gained food service experience and knowledge, and as Jamie loves to say, a rising tide raises all ships; this healthy competition drives better-quality products to all of our plates,” she said.

“While we know pizza will always be a crowd pleaser, we've been thrilled to see such growing demand for fresher, healthier dining choices and a movement of overwhelming support for local food sourcing initiatives,” she said.

“Our customers show us they care about where their food comes and who is preparing it, and it's certainly been keeping our seats full. Johnson City's yet to reach its full potential as a downtown dining destination, and the entire community is behind this forward momentum.”

Recommended for You

    Johnson City Press Videos