■REAL ESTATE FOOD DOT COM In New York City, more so than any town I know, if you market a retail store anywhere, the most offers you will receive will be from food and bar establishments. It’s something a retail broker should prepare you for. “We’ll get a lot of bar and restaurant, and fast food offers at first. We don’t have to take them. I’ll try to get you a bank or an Apple Store but be ready to fend off all the food guys. Maybe a celebrity chef comes along.” What can I say, we love to eat out, take out, get delivery or just be seen sipping cocktails with friends. In fact, besides franchises and banks, food and liquor is sometimes the only type of business that can afford high “avenue” rents (Vernon Blvd or Queens Blvs are prime examples). With craft beers, farm to table restaurant concepts, gourmet-everything and now celebrity chefs and even Michelin-rated restaurants coming to the boroughs, it seems we are less likely to cook our own meals than ever. Moreover, Food Cellar, Key Food, Fairway and Whole Foods, and even Costco offer so many pre-cooked organic and “homemade” choices that it is actually often more affordable to just heat up something by david dynak than to cook from scratch. In terms of business growth and press coverage, food is the new tech and for me, 2015 was the “year of the food tenant.” It wasn’t until recently that Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Plated or Freshly have appeared in National TV ads, and have been flooded with so much investment seed money, it would put many a cool tech startups to shame. Many of my neighbors have tried at least once a cook-ityourself box-dinner and you see them now on every FedEx and UPS truck, mixed in with all the Amazon boxes daily. Whereas in 2014 a great majority of tenants coming to me for a certain cool office loft were tech or design, last year two out of the four above, including a food blog and media company, a condiment-mixing company Sir Kensington’s, and a high-end catering company (not to mention Margaritaville) all bid for the same kind of space, bringing a question… how can these food concepts afford Manhattan’s Tech Alley office rents, or even today’s high cost of warehousing in NYC? (Marley Spoon, another twist on this, has an operation on 44th Drive off 11th Street in LIC, and another very well-funded food company is looking for 20,000 sq ft of office near Court Square). None of them are profitable and it remains to be seen if these concepts can ever flourish as business models. The answer is the same as for the hundreds of iPhone app and social media upstarts – private funding from investors. Here is how fast their growth projections were: in the 2 weeks it took Hello Fresh to review an office lease issued on a new space, their perceived need for office space has doubled and therefore the space was no longer large enough. Instead of 6,000 square feet of office at $60 per square foot, they took 10,000 square feet of space at $85 per square foot. Even the children’s entertainment market has been infused with food. An online show about preparing and consuming healthy, raw vegetables named Super Sprowtz built a TV studio in Greenpoint, hired talent, recorded a whole season, attended every food expo and trade show there was, and even recorded an episode with Michelle Obama. Then, one day, the funding stopped, and they disappeared. In October 2015, Fast Company ran an article titled “The $5-billion battel for the American Dinner Plate”, describing this phenomena, and you will hard-pressed to find anyone under 80 unfamiliar with pop-culture powerhouses that perhaps started this whole food craze thing: Iron Chef, Emeril, the whole Food Network, or larger-than-life TV personalities like Anthony Bourdain or Guy Fieri. Or was it Ratatouille? It is not a crazy assumption that fresh food, the last thing you’d expect to go the shipping route, is going where retail shopping has already gone: away from expensive retail storefronts and directly from a warehouse to your door, recipe and spices all neatly packed among the raw ingredients wrapped in dry ice packs. This is starting to impact demand for and pricing of certain commercial real estate, logistics and freight transportation, and of course on the makeup of your neighborhood and shopping center retail. Just as shopping malls have increasingly become “lifestyle centers” with more focus on entertainment (cinemas or concert venues), fitness and yes, food, but away from actual shopping for things, so will this new trend affect tastes and pocketbooks of the consumers, which then trickles down to where investment occurs. In the 1980s, Starbucks introduced an entire new lifestyle, created a whole new industry and made Americans fall in love with coffee and coffee shop culture. Is the gastronomy industry undergoing a different kind of revolution, one that is brought about by technology and e-commerce, or is this just a fad that will stay limited to a handful of wannabe home chefs? For now I will enjoy the compliments my wife sent (via text message) to me after sampling one of the gourmet meals I had made the night before from one of the boxed recipes. “You cooked all of this? It actually tastes really good. The sauce is amazing,” she said. I suppose that means everything else I have been cooking isn’t, so one of my new year’s resolutions is to make more good food. Because the one thing you realize as another year goes in the tank: the longer you are married, the harder you must work to get a compliment from your spouse. David Dynak is a real estate broker at First Pioneer Properties and an LIC resident. He’s lived in Western Queens since 1993.
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