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Published: Wednesday, 5/8/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Findlay’s dining scene No. 2 on U.S. food chain

Growth index includes Hancock Co.; Toledo at 109

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

FINDLAY — Findlay’s outsized restaurant scene has collected some national recognition.

Nielsen, the consumer insight firm best-known for telling us what’s popular on TV, says Findlay and Hancock County have one of the hottest restaurant markets in the United States.

The city of 41,000 leapt to No. 2 in Nielsen’s annual Restaurant Growth Index for 2012 after coming in 99th in 2011. Nielsen said restaurant sales in Findlay nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012. Toledo ranked 109th out of 500 cities in 2012.

Nielsen’s index relies on a mathematical equation that looks at an area’s population compared to the number of restaurants, sales per capita, and sales per capita as a percentage of per capita income. Pushing aside the mathematical gobbledygook, essentially the high rank means this: Findlay has strongly performing, profitable restaurants and may be ripe for more development.

With an assortment of upscale independent restaurants and big-name chains, Findlay, which is about 45 miles south of Toledo, has for some time maintained a dining scene that rivals many larger cities. Officials say what’s driving the recent growth is an increase in both business and pleasure travelers.

“When Marathon Petroleum located their headquarters here, that started driving a lot of travel. If they’re having any kind of meeting at the corporate level, they’re bringing people here,” said Angela Crist, director of the Hancock County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Marathon has operated in Findlay for more than a century, but in mid 2011, Marathon Petroleum Corp. spun off from Houston-based Marathon Oil Corp., making Findlay home to northwest Ohio’s largest publicly traded company. That, along with growth at other businesses including Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., has helped drive weekday business travelers to Findlay, keeping hotels and restaurants full year-round.

Ms. Crist said the area also has been doing well in recent years drawing visitors for things such as sports tournaments, equestrian events at the University of Findlay, and an annual riverside wine festival.

“We know the right type of event will draw people in,” she said. “It’s not your vacation destination, but special events seem to be something we do very well and have had good success in attracting people to them.”

Sam Fittante has owned Bistro On Main, an upscale contemporary Italian restaurant in downtown Findlay, since 2001. He said his establishment was fortunate to weather the recession without a decline. Now things are moving up.

“The business has been great,” he said. “ We’ve seen it steadily increase over the last three years.”

Mr. Fittante said part of that has been from increased foot traffic in Findlay’s historic downtown, where more than a dozen independently owned restaurants are clustered.

“I think there’s momentum downtown right now,” he said, noting that residents have strongly supported independent restaurants and small business.

Ms. Crist said Nielsen indicated to Findlay officials that rankings such as these are one thing developers will note when they’re considering where to put their next restaurant. She said she’s already been hearing interest from hotel developers who have noticed the uptick in occupancy and visitors.

Moussa Saloukh and business partner Gus Nicolaidis chose Findlay last year when they were looking for a new market for a second LaScola restaurant. The duo run the successful LaScola Italian Grill on Airport Highway in Toledo and saw Findlay as a good place to open a second.

“We just felt like we wanted to get our concept out of Toledo, and Findlay was a great opportunity for us,” Mr. Saloukh said.

LaScola Tuscan Grill opened in July.

“It’s been great so far,” he said. “We were accepted pretty well. It’s a great community. It seems like a great place to raise a family.”

In general, the high-scoring markets in Nielsen’s rankings are tourist towns of one sort or another. The top-ranking market, Ocean Pines, Md., encompasses the state’s entire coastline, including the resort town of Ocean City. Liberal, Kan., came in third. Like Findlay, it has experienced business growth. Fourth went to Sevierville, Tenn., a small tourist town on the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Fifth was Boone, N.C., a college town and tourist destination in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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