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2022 was a good year for many B-N restaurants. What will 2023 bring?

Green Gables Restaurant
Amy Tague
The popular Green Gables restaurant at Lake Bloomington was destroyed in a fire in 2022. That was one of the biggest restaurant stories of 2022 in McLean County. The owner has decided to rebuild.

We’re only a month into 2023, and Larry Carius is already a busy man.

Carius runs the popular Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene Facebook page, where 34,000 foodies follow openings, closings, renovations and more. There were 30 restaurant openings and 14 closings in 2022, according to Carius’ own tally.

“I would put that in the ‘Good Restaurant Year’ category for Bloomington-Normal,” Carius said.

It appears customers have come back after a few years of the pandemic, he said.

Now, there are other problems for restauranteurs. They can’t find enough employees, Carius said. Bloomington-Normal’s jobless rate is just 3.1% – the lowest for any metro area in Illinois.

“I’m almost sure you can walk into any restaurant in this town, and if you look like you’d be a reliable employee, you’d be hired. Restaurants need a lot of help,” Carius said.

Another concern is rising utility and food-supply costs. Most restaurants have had to raise prices.

“Four or five years ago, when you saw a new menu in a restaurant, it was because they’d worn out (the old one). Now, when you see a new menu, it’s probably because they raised prices,” Carius said.

For those looking to open a new restaurant, Carius said there are two big things on the wish list.

The first: “If you could build a building that had 10 drive-through windows for 10 different restaurants, you’d make a lot of money. Everybody’s looking for a building with a drive-through window. If you start looking around, there are no empty buildings (like that).”

The second hot commodity, Carius said, is a vacant space that was previously occupied by a restaurant, with a built-out kitchen and other equipment already on site. That cuts down on a costly remodel – made even costlier by inflation and supply-chain issues.

“If you see a closed restaurant that’s not been reopened by another restaurant, it usually means people aren’t willing to pay what the lease price is,” Carius said.

Either that, or there’s a problem with something physically inside the space.

During his interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas, Carius also talked about:

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.