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Anaheim Craves More Eateries

Officials want more restaurants -- and tax reveue -- so much they can taste them.

June 25, 2004|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

Anaheim residents and visitors hardly suffer for things to do and places to go. Angel Stadium, the Arrowhead Pond, the Convention Center, Disneyland and California Adventure are all marquee destinations.

But even local residents struggle to name half a dozen nice dinner houses.

In their search for new dining-and-wining experiences -- including upscale steakhouses, trendy franchises and signature martini joints -- city officials are knocking on restaurant doors.

At a recent convention of shopping center operators in Las Vegas, city officials armed with tourism data, maps and spiels about low electricity rates cornered seven brokers to spark some interest in bringing new restaurants to Anaheim.

City officials say they are frustrated that restaurants are opening all around them in Orange County -- but not in Anaheim, which would like to tap the sales tax revenue for itself.

Instead, diners are heading for chic eateries at the Block in Orange or the Spectrum in Irvine -- and even just down the street in neighboring Garden Grove, which has piggybacked on Anaheim's tourism industry by opening four new restaurants on Harbor Boulevard: Buca di Beppo, Joe's Crab Shack, Outback Steakhouse and Red Robin.

Those strategically positioned restaurants are among the highest producers in their chains, said Garden Grove City Manager Matt Fertal.

The restaurants are so successful that more are clamoring to come to the area, Fertal said, "but we just don't have a site that's readily available to them without giving up hotel rooms."

Space in Anaheim is also tight, but Planning Director Sheri Vander Dussen said the city is working to carve out sites where there is "opportunity for a change."

Said Mayor Curt Pringle: "Do you sit and wait or do you become more proactive? We need to be a lot more diligent to ensure that there are more dining options and shopping options."

And they're not focused solely on the blocks outside the Disneyland resort. Development is underway in west Anaheim, where a former landfill known as Stinkin' Lincoln is being transformed into a shopping center with a home-improvement store, a supermarket, an outdoor plaza and restaurants.

Downtown and the "Platinum Triangle" area near Angel Stadium and Arrowhead Pond are also prime dining spots.

There is enough consumer demand in Anaheim to support more restaurants, said hospitality industry analyst Bruce Baltin of PKF Consulting.

"Southern California as a whole is a huge dining market," Baltin said. "There's been proof that if you build a supply of restaurants or a restaurant row, you will generate demand."

Anaheim is even better positioned, he said, because "there's a very limited supply of upscale or destination restaurants."

An improved inventory of restaurants would also address another Anaheim shortcoming in critics' eyes: a shortage of late-night fare.

City planners are responding by promoting downtown revitalization and redevelopment around Angel Stadium, adding high-rise condominiums and luxury apartments to infuse life into neighborhoods where people have traditionally clocked out at 5 p.m.

Not everybody agrees on the problem. Food critic Fifi Chao said Anaheim needs an image overhaul before it needs more restaurants.

"You can't find one person that lives down here in [south Orange County] that says, 'Hey, our anniversary is coming up. Let's go to Anaheim and eat,' " said Chao, who writes for the Orange County Business Journal. "It's a psychological thing."

In fact, she said, Anaheim has some of the best dining in Southern California with the likes of Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel, Mr. Stox and the Anaheim White House, whose chef-owner, Bruno Serato, was recently named Southern California Restaurateur of the Year.

Before the opening in 2002 of Downtown Disney, an entertainment and shopping complex near Disneyland and California Adventure at the Disneyland resort, Serato said he would have agreed that Anaheim needed more restaurants.

Serato said Anaheim should focus more on promoting existing restaurants than recruiting new ones.

"Fifteen years ago, when I came to the city, I was the one lonely good restaurant with Mr. Stox," Serato said.

"Now, we have many more restaurants available. When we're all [consistently] booked and sold out, we can say we need more. But when there's no convention in town, we are not busy."

Some debate whether more diners will result in more restaurants, or whether new restaurants will draw more diners.

They point to Las Vegas, once known for its cheap buffets but now on the culinary map for its smorgasbord of trendy, top-drawer restaurants and celebrity chefs.

Pringle said it was incumbent upon Anaheim to step up to the dinner plate and lure restaurants to the city.

"You've got to make sure the door is open to good people," he said.

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