A few years ago, Tucson restaurant owners said they were facing a big decline in business.
Now, as they’re trying to reinvent themselves, they are facing a bigger challenge.
The economic slump in many major U.S. cities has brought the local restaurant industry to the brink.
And in Arizona, where the restaurant industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors, restaurants are struggling to keep up.
Restaurants like Ciro’s, Parma and the legendary Tacos are closing or reducing their offerings, as demand has slumped and restaurants are forced to raise prices.
And there are signs the industry is in trouble.
A new report from the National Restaurant Association found that restaurant sales in Arizona fell 2.5% in the first quarter, the steepest decline in a quarter since 2010.
Some restaurants have cut back on hours and have lost employees, leading some to question whether business is back on track.
At the same time, the number of restaurants in Tucson, a city of 8.6 million people, has soared.
The city now has more than 4,500 eateries, more than any other U.A.E. city.
And while Tucson’s restaurant industry may be in trouble, the outlook for the rest of the state is more uncertain.
In the last quarter, restaurants in Arizona grew at an annual rate of 9.2%, the fastest rate in the U.C.L.A., a state with nearly 1.4 million residents, had the largest growth of any state in the nation.
But with unemployment at 12.3%, many restaurants in and around Tucson have been forced to shutter.
For many locals, it’s the first time in years they’ve seen their livelihoods take a hit.
We are going to close down restaurants in our area, says Michelle Lee, a chef at Tacos Mexican Grill in downtown Tucson.
But we are not going to lose customers, and we are going, she says.
We are not losing business.
We want to keep our customers and our customers want us to keep them.
The impact on restaurants in central Arizona, however, has been far less dramatic.
As the economy recovers, the region will be home to the fastest growth of all U.T.A.’s 11 major metropolitan areas, according to a study by the research firm IHS Global Insight.
The fastest growth in the state comes from Phoenix, which has added 1,200 restaurants in recent years, according the study.
In Arizona, the state’s tourism industry has also grown faster than the rest.
In 2017, tourism contributed $13.7 billion to the state economy, or nearly 5% of total spending, according IHS.
It is expected to increase to $18.6 billion by 2026, according a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The Phoenix area’s growth has come despite a recent economic slump that saw Arizona’s unemployment rate jump to 15.2% in May from 10.3% in January.
And it’s a sign of the future of tourism, which is expected be stronger than in many of the other states.
But for many locals and others, it is the first sign that things are not back to normal.
“It’s very scary, because we are losing so many people,” says Jessica E. Ollis, a Tucson resident who runs the Phoenix Restaurant Association, which represents about 50 restaurants.
“And it’s just really scary.
You don’t want to be in the restaurant business.”
In a city where more than 2 million people work in restaurants, the downturn in the local dining industry has had ripple effects across the state.
A growing number of Tucson residents say they are considering moving to other states to escape the crunch.
The economy in Tucson is in dire need of jobs, but that hasn’t stopped some locals from looking to the rest and hoping for a bright future.
For some, the prospect of moving is an opportunity.
In July, the Phoenix Economic Development Authority announced that the Phoenix-area economy is poised to grow 4% over the next decade.
But for many others, the question of moving just isn’t a concern.
The downturn in Tucson’s dining industry is not going away, says Olles.
“I don’t know if the economy is going to bounce back, but it’s going to slow down,” she says, adding that many of her customers want her to stay in town.
The challenge is to keep restaurants in business, while also providing a quality dining experience.
I would rather be in Tucson than in other places.
– David Ruggles, owner of Ciros Mexican Grill, Tucson, Arizona article