Are Quick Service Restaurants Cool Enough to Make it in Hot Fulton Market?

For years now, Chicago’s West Loop, particularly the Fulton Market area, has been known as one of the city’s top upscale dining destinations. Now, with a recent influx of office users, residential developments and hotels, QSR’s (quick service restaurants) are targeting the market for expansion opportunities.

Restaurant Row on West Randolph Street has drawn many of the city’s top chefs and is home to arguably one of the highest-concentrations of eclectic dining in Chicago. This area continues to have many the hardest-to-come-by reservations in Chicago and shows no signs of slowing down, according to Sharon Kahan, first vice president with CBRE.

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-9-47-12-amSome of Chicago’s top chefs and prolific restaurant groups continue to add new concepts to the market, such as Rick Bayless with Lena Brava; Grant Achatz with Roister and Stephanie Izard with Duck Duck Goat. Recent openings by former Charlie Trotter chefs John Shields and Karen Urie at Smyth and Loyalist, as well as chef Sarah Gruenberg at Monteverde, have added even more to the mix.

These new restaurants join an area that already includes Chicago main stays on the dining scene such as Blackbird, Next, Aviary, Publican, and Maude’s Liquor Bar, as well as other more recent additions like Swift and Sons, Momotaro, Bar Siena and Formento’s, among many others.

Yet while the upscale dining scene is thriving, the changing demographics in Fulton Market have highlighted a growing need for faster, more casual fare to cater to a rapidly growing daytime and residential population.

“The growth in Fulton Market has been amazing,” said Kahan. “It seems like every other week a new hotel, residential development, major office user or retailer enters the market. The amount of activity that has taken place here in the last three years is really staggering and has been one of the major growth drivers for Chicago commercial real estate.

“It has happened so fast, that some segments of the market are now racing to keep up and we are definitely seeing this with QSR’s.”

According to Kahan, many QSRs are looking in the market and many have recently committed to new space.

Recent commitments to Fulton Market are Gus’s Fried Chicken, Shake Shack, Nando’s Peri Peri, Umami Burger, Pork Chop, Ramen Takeya and Sweet Green. There are also a few local options, such as Cruz Blanca, a taco bar concept from the aforementioned Bayless, and Kuma’s, a Chicago burger concept.

“QSR’s are expanding in Fulton Market because it provides the equation that they need for success—a healthy mix of office users, hotels and residential development,” said Kahan. “In the past, that activity wasn’t here, but now these users see the area as a very viable market with a and the need is growing. As the office population grows, daytime workers will need more options that meet their busy schedules, and, their budgets.”

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However, it remains to be seen just how many of these new QSRs the market can support, and, if they can hit the price point that many lunch-goers are willing to commit to. It is the age-old question, how much is enough?

According to Kahan, rents in Fulton Market range widely from $40 PSF on the low side to $90 PSF, with the sweet spot in the $50- $65 per square foot range. It will be interesting to see which concepts will resonate in this ever- changing area.

“I think that some of the QSR options entering the market will succeed as they offer unique fare and build the appropriate buzz,” said Kahan. “I think others may find it difficult to compete if they aren’t viewed as cool enough, or, offer redundant options at too high of a price point.”

For those that want the most affordable, fastest options, there are national fast food chains with locations in the far west of Fulton Market, but not in the heart of the activity, said Kahan.

“You won’t find fast food chains in the heart of the Fulton Market when you already have six burger concepts that are more in keeping with the aesthetic,” she said.

With this amount of activity, it is safe to say that Fulton Market is leading the charge for the Chicago-area food scene, said Kahan.

“What can be said though is that Fulton Market really has developed into the top dining destination in Chicago. The food scene here has developed to be second- to-none.”

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