BiteClub, Closing

Is Napa Hitting Restaurant Overload?

Are we finally hitting the max-out for destination restaurants in Napa? Or even Wine Country?

Ninebark Restaurant has opened in Napa. Photo: Ninebark
Ninebark Restaurant has opened in Napa. Photo: Ninebark

Is downtown Napa hitting restaurant overload?

This week two high-profile restaurants have closed in downtown Napa, Atlas Social and Ninebark. Both opened in 2015, with much fanfare and high-profile backers, but with a seeming flood of upscale eateries opening almost weekly in the small-but-exploding downtown area, could this be the first sign of the restaurant bubble popping in Napa? Or Wine Country in general?

Ninebark in Napa (PD file)
Ninebark in Napa is a conde nast reader favorite for 2016 (PD file)

Atlas Social, a project of restaurateur Michael Gyetvan, seemed a sure win after the successes of Azzurro Pizzeria and Enoteca and Norman Rose Tavern. It wasn’t.

Basically, it’s become a challenge just to decide where to eat, and with so many high-dollar entrants into the game, where to spend your money — even when money is no object.

Also closed, at least temporarily, is Ninebark, which opened in the fall of 2015 with celebrated New York chef Matthew Lightner. Publicists announced June 29 that the restaurant will be doing a “necessary but temporary closure” without any further details — leading to plenty of head scratching, since the company that owns it, AVROKO Hospitality closed another restaurant in the same spot (starting as Fagiani’s, then pivoting to The Thomas) less than two years after opening.

A quick survey of Napa County’s restaurant inspections from 2009 to 2016 does show a steady increase in the number of eateries in the county (though it includes everything from gas stations to Michelin-starred spots), with an ongoing drop throughout the county and the city of Napa in 2015. If the trend continues, it could truly signal a change. Since it’s hard to quantify (350 reported restaurant inspections in 2009 to a peak of 474 in 2014 and a decline to 466 in 2015 and 325 so far in 2016), I can only say that anecdotally, it’s not hard to feel the land-grab for attention from new restaurants hitting its zenith. And a drop off looming ahead.

Ninebark Restaurant has opened in Napa. Photo: Ninebark
Ninebark Restaurant has opened in Napa. Photo: Ninebark

With that zenith, is increasing competition for attention by critics and eaters. Most recently, Curtis de Fede’s Miminashi, Ca’Momi Osteria and Two Birds/One Stone have taken on plenty of limelight, along with the further afield openings of Charlie Palmer’s Harvest Table (St. Helena), the continued Michelin hubbub around the Restaurant at Meadowood. Meanwhile, established heavy-hitters like La Toque, French Laundry, Press, Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, Bouchon, Mustards, Zuzu, Auberge du Soliel and Oentori have become destinations, and relative newcomers like Torc, 1313 Main, Evangeline and Sam’s Social Club remain on the radar.

Basically, it’s become a challenge just to decide where to eat, and with so many high-dollar entrants into the game, where to spend your money — even when money is no object.

Not surprisingly, we’re hearing much of the same in Healdsburg, where the restaurant scene is also hitting capacity, with several more restaurants on the horizon, and lots of recent openings spreading out the attention rather than focusing it on any one restaurant.

Atlas Social Club Restaurant in Napa opened in January 2015
Atlas Social Club Restaurant in Napa opened in January 2015

Like any city, there’s a natural turnover, and not everyone will survive, but with more newcomers on the horizon, including a new steakhouse by Charlie Palmer at the forthcoming Archer Hotel in Napa, the CIA/Copia Restaurant and Michael Chiarello’s new food project in Yountville, competition is slated to get even tougher.

What’s your take? Survival of the fittest? Bubble bursting? Or just a fluke. Sound off.

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