Not so long ago, the Oklahoma City food scene consisted of major chain restaurants along high traffic thoroughfares, Okie-Mex dives that were almost indistinguishable from the last, and a few mom & pop spots and oil overlord-backed steakhouses.
Nowadays, it's easy to eat at a new local restaurant every single week. If you follow any local food bloggers, influencers, are our social media addicted mayor, your feed is no doubt clogged with the hottest and hippest new spots. But even with a growing population and younger diners who want to see and be seen at soft openings, we gotta wonder how large this bubble is going to get.
Banquet Cinema, which introduced the mix of dining and a bar with a two-screen theater to downtown, is showing its last film on Saturday.
Owners Hunter Wheat and Lacey Pritchard opened Banquet Cinema in February in a decades-old former Pontiac and Chrysler showroom and garage at 800 NW 4.
The corner is within walking distance of where dozens of modern homes have been built in Midtown and the West Village mixed-use development along Film Row.
But much of the surrounding area set for development is still in planning, including 700 West, a mix of 138 apartments and 4,000 square feet of retail set to be built immediately east of Banquet Cinema.
Wheat said this week the concept itself proved confusing to patrons.
“The biggest challenge has been that the movies have done really well, but people were confused they didn’t need a ticket to come into the space,” Wheat said. “And then were those going to the movies and not knowing there was this whole dining experience up front.”
There's a lot of reasons why Banquet wasn't able to succeed, but the most curious one to me is a reflection of the broader OKC hospitality industry: Do we have too many new places? The location, though not ideal, was still less than a mile from other very successful bars and restaurants. The decor was Pinterest perfect. And the concept was basically the Alamo Drafthouse (with more limited programming), which is something people have been craving in for years.
There are even more new, big money concepts on the way. The Collective just opened up in Midtown, a massive food hall with nearly a dozen different restaurants inside. Parlor OKC is also opening soon, bringing a similar concept of housing multiple eateries under one roof. And on top of this, your favorite hipster neighborhoods have all just opened new restaurants in the last month and have more underway.
Variety is never a bad thing. After all, it's better to have options than to rely on the same ol' place every time you dine out. But a lot of restaurateurs, new and old, are going to suffer as dollars become spread out across the metro.
The most obvious solution is the one that most of the business owners are ignoring: Make your business stand out. Almost every spot that's opened up in the last year is indistinguishable from the last. The same Edison light bulbs, the same metal chairs, the same cocktails, and menus that boast "a refined take on comfort food" (a.k.a white people co-opting another culture's cuisine).
Hell, even the names all blur together. "Have you been to Social Local Collective Scratch Banquet Parlor OKC yet? The chicken wings cost $18 and they have frozen mojitos!" I met up with an old friend last week and almost went to the wrong place because the names were so similar.
Other than having the variety that comes with sheer bulk of choices, the only real upside I can see with the local food glut is that it might finally end Oklahoma City resident's obsession with going to bat for every single local business, good or bad, just because they're local. The homerism here is real, and it's unhealthy. Just because a restaurant isn't a chain doesn't make it great by default. If you didn't like the $18 chicken wings, it's okay to admit it and not be greeted by the angry twitterati. That being said, if you like them, there's nothing wrong with that either. These new places need all the support they can get.