Local restaurants closing due to economic downturn

By Tara Morgan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Your favorite restaurant may be one of several that have become victims of the economic downturn. In the last week, three upscale eateries have either closed or are in their final days.

Manakin Grill, not far from Short Pump, will stop serving customers next Monday. The owner believes the future isn't so bright for other local mom and pop restaurants.

Darrin Witten knows his way around a kitchen. He's spent 9 of his 25 years in the restaurant industry as owner and chef of Manakin Grill.

"It was really popular for seven and a half years. We were doing great. All the reviews were good but you just can't battle the low volume," said Witten.

Starting in mid-2008, Witten said he had trouble filling empty tables. He says 20 restaurants opening in a year's time in Short Pump didn't help.

"We started reducing menu, reducing staff, reducing prices," said Witten.

Witten was losing $5,000 a month.

"When people are losing their jobs and losing their homes, those upscale restaurant choices seem to be the first thing they cut out," said Witten.

Last week, 1 North Belmont and Bottega Bistro closed citing the economy. About a month ago, Hop's served its last meal. Speaking for the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, Richbrau owner Mike Burn is trying to be optimistic.

"The normal for going out to dinner has changed. The high end restaurants they have their challenges as do all restaurants. They're not just going out less, they're spending less," said Mike Burn.

Although he's downsized some, Burn said his restaurant remains healthy.

"I think this is probably just the beginning of the mom and pop operations. You're going to see a lot of closings over the next couple of months," said Witten.

Witten plans to open an antique mall and take over and run a family restaurant in South Hill.  Right now, he has ten employees at Manakin Grill, two of which have decided to move to South Hill to be a part of his next venture.

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