Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin caused a bit of a stir this week.
Benjamin claimed that Columbia’s total restaurant count in The Vista and along Main Street currently exceeded the number on Greenville’s Main Street.
The State’s Susan Ardis decided to fact check Benjamin and ultimately found that the Soda City mayor’s claim didn’t quite ring true.
Ardis evaluated a 2.43-mile stretch in Columbia versus a 1.3-mile stretch in Greenville, shown below.
“We counted the number of restaurants in both areas, within one block of each city’s main corridor, and noted which restaurants were local and independent and which were national chains,” Ardis writes. “A locally grown business with locations in both cities — such as Liberty Tap Room or Takosushi — was counted as a local business rather than a chain. We think there’s a big distinction between a restaurant with a single owner — or group owner — with several locations in the same state, as opposed to a mega-chain with more than 100 locations nationwide.”
The results: Greenville’s Main Street has a total of 97 restaurants to Columbia’s 71. Eighty-four percent of Greenville’s restaurants in the area are independent, while 16 percent are chains. Columbia has 59 percent independent restaurants and 41 percent chains.
Greenville is the clear winner here, and Ardis mentions one factor that has helped our city take the lead in the restaurant scene: Carl Sobocinski of Table 301 Restaurant Group owns eight restaurants on Main Street’s three blocks, and his entry into the restaurant business 25 years ago coincided with a master plan for Main Street Greenville that would attract businesses in the corridor and surrounding areas of downtown, promote Greenville as a tourist destination, and encourage collaboration between developers and Greenville City Council. “Because of all of this, Sobocinski says, Greenville now reaps the rewards,” Ardis writes.
But Columbia’s food scene is growing, she notes:
“Kristian Niemi, who owns Bourbon on Main, is still working to bring North Main’s Revival concept to life. Chef Sarah Simmons is invested in bringing two restaurants to downtown and opening The Cafe at Richland Library, and Sean Moore just announced that he is opening a French restaurant in the old Columbia Fire Department Headquarters in The Vista — next door to a new Thai restaurant.
“Also in the Vista, a new Korean gastropub will be moving in next door to Nonnah’s at 929 Gervais, and Columbia’s Soda City Market brings in a wide range of foods to Main Street — Indian Palace, Fuperman Potstickers (Taiwanese), Mary’s Arepas (Colombian) and Wurst Wagen (German), for instance — even if only on Saturday.”
So, for now, it’s settled. Greenville is in the top spot, but perhaps Columbia isn’t too far behind.