For restaurant fans, something delicious has happened in downtown Davidson over the past year: A crop of new eateries has opened, turning Main Street into Lake Norman’s new “Restaurant Row.”
These newcomers, along with already popular spots, are attracting regional and national attention and luring diners to town.
What a change from a decade ago, when downtown Davidson had only a handful of restaurants, serving primarily local residents and Davidson College diners.
Now, more than a dozen eateries line South and North Main streets, from Kindred, which recently made Bon Appetit magazine’s “Hot 10: America’s Best New Restaurants” list, to Mestizo Contemporary Mexican to the seafood-focused Upper Crust Bar & Social Club, above Millstone Bake House.
“We’re starting to become a foodie town,” said Kim Fleming, the town of Davidson’s economic development manager.
The new restaurants are a major factor in a new atmosphere on Main Street, Fleming and other downtown merchants said. Some nights – mostly weekends, but increasingly on weeknights, too – Main Street is buzzing with activity. Gordon Clark, owner of the Davidson Village Inn on Depot Street, says he’s been waiting a long time for this.
“What that’s changed is Davidson has become more like what I’ve been working on for years, a destination,” said Clark, who has run the inn since 1993. “I’m seeing more guests that are coming here because of the experience they can get from staying here and being here and eating in the downtown, which is not something I had much luck with years ago.
Now, he said, there are many more activities that allow visitors to “make a night of it, make a weekend of it.” Those include the Davidson Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, college sports and activities, and live music at various downtown venues as draws.
With all the growth, Fleming said, visitors are coming for the food. And it’s now possible for residents to eat out all the time without leaving Davidson.
But does Davidson have too many restaurants now? Not according to market research numbers, Fleming said.
Retail specialists study sales figures to gauge the healthiness of a market area. Fleming provided figures from a summer ESRI and Dun & Bradstreet report that show there’s still room to grow. Looking at population figures and spending, researchers say that within a 1-mile radius of downtown Davidson, there’s demand, or potential spending on food and drink, of $9.5 million. But actual spending at existing places totals only $7.3 million.
Fleming, who helps recruit restaurants and other businesses for the town, said there are still opportunities. “People say we’d like to have a great burger joint, or we’d love to have an Ethiopean restaurant, or an Indian restaurant. There’s still niches that people would like to see here that we can support,” she said.
Success for Davidson’s restaurant scene will depend on continuing to attract more diners from beyond town. And that puts pressure on restaurateurs, who have monthly leases to pay.
Jimmy Hermann, who opened Il Bosco Ristorante on Depot Street in 2011, said he has seen the local restaurant scene grow over the years. His Italian menu, wine list and quiet atmosphere now attract diners from Charlotte, Mooresville, Mountain Island Lake and across Lake Norman in Denver, as well as guests staying at local hotels or visiting the college.
“We’re in a good situation: We own the building,” he said. But he worries that some restaurants might not make it, and that could mean turnover. “You hate to see … restaurants come and go. You don’t want new restaurants replacing old ones every year. Everyone flocks to the new one,” he said.
Fleming thinks the town’s restauranteurs will adapt as needed. “I think we have just awesome business owners that are invested in the community and that are willing to do things to satisfy customer demand,” she said.
David Boraks is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dining In Davidson
Here’s a list of downtown Davidson’s newest eateries, along with established favorites:
Upper Crust Bar & Social Club (opened August 2015), 208 S. Main St. – Seafood restaurant and bar upstairs from Millstone Bake House.
Mestizo Contemporary Mexican (May 2015), 121 N. Main St. – Modern Mexican, with an outdoor patio on land leased from the town of Davidson.
Kindred (February 2015), 131 N. Main St. – Chef Joe Kindred’s “chef-driven” eatery, with an ever-changing menu of small plates, with ingredients from local farms or small producers. Made Bon Appetit’s 2015 “Hot 10” best restaurants in the US.
Millstone Bake House & Provisions (March 2014), 208 S. Main St. – Chef Sara Hord sells baked goods, lunch and dinner and a daily pick of wines.
Pickled Peach (February 2014), 202 S. Main St., in the rear – Offers soups salads and sandwiches made with locally sourced ingredients. Great covered patio out back.
Carrburritos (January 2013), 445 S. Main St. – Burritos, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, tostadas made with specialty beef, chicken, pork and fresh fish. Also, signature salsas and guacamole and a long list of specialty margaritas (try the Diablo).
Il Bosco Ristorante & Bar (2011), 127 Depot St. – Longtime Charlotte restaurateur Jimmy Hermann and his team lure diners from around the region with a menu of Italian regional fare, Italian wines and a quiet atmosphere.
Flatiron Kitchen (2010), 205 S. Main St. – Owned by Davidson College grads, serves meat and seafood with a variety of local ingredients. The bar has the area’s only craft brew-powered beer tower.
Famous Toastery (2008), 101 N. Main St. – Formerly Toast, the restaurant often has a long line on weekend mornings. It serves breakfast lunch and dinner, with a promise of quick service.
Campania Cafe & Trattoria (2008), 416 S. Main St., South Main Square, in the old Davidson Ice House – Lunch and dinner with classic Italian fare in a casual setting, with seating in the bar, dining room or on the porch.
The Egg at Davidson (2008), 231 Griffith St., Sadler Square – Breakfast and lunch comfort food at affordable prices, from omelettes and Eggs Benedict to pancakes to Reuben sandwiches.
Restaurant X (2007), 408 S. Main St., (next to Fuel Pizza) – Under new ownership this year, the popular eatery in South Main Square continues to serve lunch, dinner and weekend brunch with menus of meats and seafood as well as salads and sandwiches.
Brickhouse Tavern (2002) – In the renovated Davidson Cotton Mill, the Brick has a large menu, from pasta and pizza to burgers and seafood, and an even longer beer list.
The Soda Shop (1951) – Generations of Davidson College students know the Soda Shop for its lunch counter, with sandwiches, burgers, melts and the “Big O,” fresh squeezed orangeade.
Fuel Pizza, 402 S. Main St., South Main Square – Pizza and salads in a vintage gas-station-themed building.