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Eating out on the rise: ND among US leaders in restaurant sales growth

FARGO - North Dakotans have a strong appetite for dining out. The National Restaurant Association predicts restaurant and food service sales in the state will reach $927.4 million in 2015, a 4.8 percent increase over last year.

Lunchtime patrons dine on pizza last week at Uncle Maddio's Pizza Point in Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum
Lunchtime patrons dine on pizza last week at Uncle Maddio's Pizza Point in Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO - North Dakotans have a strong appetite for dining out. The National Restaurant Association predicts restaurant and food service sales in the state will reach $927.4 million in 2015, a 4.8 percent increase over last year.

This is well over the projected national average of 3.8 percent. Only Arizona and Florida are expected to post stronger gains.

The top three indicators of restaurant sales growth are generally population, employment and disposable income, said Bruce Grindy, vice president and chief economist with the NRA and a Minot native.

"Of those, population growth has really been the key driver of restaurant sales growth in North Dakota," he said. "The state led the nation in population growth each year in 2012, 2013 and 2014. And between 2009 and 2014, the state's population jumped 11 percent. From the restaurant industry's perspective, that is 11 percent more mouths to feed every day. And based on the strong economy, those mouths have jobs and disposable income."

It has made North Dakota attractive to restaurant developers.

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Jamie Mattern and her husband, Troy, of Fargo opened Uncle Maddio's Pizza Joints here and in Minot last year. They wanted to be business owners and chose to open Uncle Maddio's restaurants after reading about the growing popularity of fast-casual dining.

"You have the Chipotle and Panera Bread that are already established," she said. "We saw pizza as an opportunity for growth, something that hasn't really hit its peak yet."

Fast-casual restaurants are known for providing counter rather than table service, and are thought to serve fresher or healthier ingredients than fast food.

Grindy said restaurant sales across the board have been strong, but he agreed the limited-service segment has experienced some of the strongest gains.

Mattern said families like hers are what makes fast-casual restaurants so popular.

"We are a busy family with four kids. If we're on our way to hockey or basketball or wherever, we are that family that's going to need a meal and want to be able to stop quick," she said.

Mattern said she is pleased with the success of both locations. They own the Uncle Maddio's rights for all of North Dakota and hope to eventually open additional restaurants across the state.

While the booming energy sector has been behind much of the state's prosperity, Mattern said she is not overly concerned by the recent slowdown in the Oil Patch.

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Grindy said he does not expect the slowdown to affect restaurant sales much overall this year, either.

"Unless there is a huge reversal in population and the economy within the state, there shouldn't be a downturn in the restaurant industry," he said. "Growth may slow, but I wouldn't expect things to turn negative."

How many restaurants are there?

North Dakota ranked fourth in the nation in restaurant growth in 2014. Bruce Grindy, vice president and chief economist of the National Restaurant Association, said the number of locations increased 2.8 percent in North Dakota, nearly double the 1.5 percent increase for the nation as a whole.

Grindy said 64 percent of restaurants in North Dakota are independently owned, 27 percent are franchisees and 9 percent are part of a corporate-owned chain.

There are 389 restaurants operating in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, Nicole Holden, marketing director for the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Wednesday. That number changes daily as new restaurants open and others close. She said it has fluctuated between 350 and 380 for the past few years.

Lunchtime patrons dine on pizza last week at Uncle Maddio's Pizza Point in Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum
Jamie Mattern, pictured, and her husband, Troy, recently opened Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint locations in Fargo and Minot. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Related Topics: RESTAURANTS AND BARSFOOD
Angie Wieck is the business editor for The Forum. Email her at awieck@forumcomm.com
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