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Birmingham City Center as a Dining Destination

27 June 2005

Live blogging from Operation New Birmingham‘s *** What’s Cooking’ Downtown *** luncheon, “Cooking With Gas Luncheon,” sponsored by Alagasco , at The Harbert Center in downtown Birmingham, Alabama:

Frank Stitt, renowned restaurateur said, “It used to be that residents of Birmingham would have to venture down to New Orleans for a great meal. It’s not required any more.” Two guests from New Orleans were featured speakers, imported to share their view of establishing downtown dining as a destination.

Ti Adelaide Martin, co-owner of Commander’s Palace:

  • “You’ve got it all going on” – in regards to Birmingham’s restaurant scene
  • Commander’s Palace is 125 years old, we’re just not sure what date in 1880 it was started
  • restaurants are low-margin businesses, but if you can get one going it’s like a license to steal
  • In Dallas, [our sister restaurant] stayed in downtown so long it’s cool again.
  • Cafe Adelaide is at the edge of the warehouse which was a bad location but now a year later is starting to be the place
  • restaurants make things happen – they’re the catalyst for renovation of a district
  • To the Mayor… “you can’t make it hard on us… make parking free at night… make it easy to get a permit… put on LOTS of lighting”
  • To the audience… “we were raised to be ambassadors for our city, you can do the same”
  • To the landlords… “don’t be so greedy… building the success of the restaurant will raise property values”
  • To the restaurateurs… “play nice… support each other… [in New Orleans] we have a very friendly, yet competitive environment”
  • The view is always better from the high road

Melvin Rodrigue, GM and COO of Galatoire’s:

  • Frank Stitt is a wonderful ambassador, he’s the guy you see in New York, he’s the one who’s put you on the map
  • Birmingham, believe it or not, is a city that has very close ties to Galatoire’s — before moving on to Chicago and ultimately New Orleans, the founder ran a Galatoire’s Bar and Inn here in Birmingham (circa 1880’s)
  • Galatoire’s is now 100 years old
  • We have a great following from here in Birmingham – some will fly in on Friday afternoon, eat dinner and show up again for lunch and dinner on Saturday — they’ll do it two or three times a year
  • “Regular customers” are a big part of destination dining… tourism is wonderful but locals need to be supported
  • Our 5-page menu never changes… in fact, one waiter doesn’t even bring it to the table – he just says “let me tell you what you want to eat today”
  • When you can get other people to talk about you, you’ve created a grassroots campaign of advertising (aka “PR” and “word of mouth”), because you’re making people want to make the pilgrimage to where you are
  • The private dining experience in the 2nd floor was originally discontinued in WWII, but after a $3M renovation reservations and private parties are commonplace
  • The restaurant industry is the second largest private employment base next to the government — 8 out of 10 salaried employees were once paid by the hour
  • “Restaurants are a barometer for whether or not an economy in the entire city is on track” – as heard from a NY senator
  • The restaurateur is the pioneer… everything else that happens around there is a given

P.S. —> This is my first effort at live-blogging, a concept of which I became aware when I recently gave a presentation to <ipsa>… so please be kind. :^o

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 July 2005 4:07 pm

    Curtis – you’ve inspired me to start my blog I’ve been talking about for a year or so now. Thank you.

  2. 9 March 2007 2:11 am

    Did the speakers offer any ideas on how to create a culture of service in a town’s restaurant industry? My girlfriend even comments on how hard it is to find restaurants that offer good service in her website for Birmingham tourists ( http://www.birminghambykim.com ) and I have noticed the same problem in Mobile but not in Biloxi or Pensacola.

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