Michael Felts is the owner of Hot Cluckers, a Nashville-style fried chicken and catfish eatery, and the upcoming Bourbon and Beale restaurant. He’s also developing Taco Habitat restaurants – made completely of recycled shipping containers – in Springfield and Branson. And he has a few more food concepts up his sleeve for 2020.
2020 Projection: Springfield’s food scene will shift in 2020 as big-name restaurants change ownership or close their doors.
SBJ: How would you describe Springfield’s restaurant industry?
Felts: There are a lot of restaurants and lots to choose from. Springfield is really different from the other markets I’ve been in because there’s so many places to eat at – but it seems like all the restaurants are the same. No one’s really unique in any way. I’m trying to do something different. There’s a lot of opportunity if you do something with a lot of flavor. The barbecue that we’re doing at Bourbon and Beale is unique and nobody does it around here. There just needs to be more different restaurants – different tastes and style.
SBJ: You’re creating a restaurant out of recycled shipping containers at Taco Habitat, and you’re marrying two different styles of food at Bourbon and Beale with the New Orleans and Memphis flavors. Do you think entrepreneurs will start trying new things in the industry in 2020?
Felts: Yes, absolutely. I think there will be more unique buying experiences and different gimmicks. They need to be more experience-oriented, opposed to just a fast-casual restaurant. We need restaurants with entertainment or something going on that’s different. Like with Bourbon and Beale, we’ll have live bands.
SBJ: Springfield has about 650 active restaurant licenses. Is that too many for a market this size?
Felts: I don’t think we can sustain that many. And for growth, it’s a matter of finding your niche and doing it well. There’s a lot of opportunity if you do something different. And service is everything. It’s tough to find good employees. Personally, I’m starting other restaurants because I want places that I would eat at. In my mind, there’s not a great barbecue restaurant here because I don’t like Texas barbecue. Memphis barbecue is completely different. … We’re doing a Burger Habitat, too. It’ll probably be a year before we have that here in Springfield, though.
SBJ: How will food delivery services, like carGo, Uber Eats and DoorDash, affect the restaurant industry?
Felts: I think more people will start using these services. It makes it a lot easier for customers and makes it a lot more affordable for restaurant owners, from the aspect that they don’t need to have insurance or cars for a delivery system. You’re basically just outsourcing them.
SBJ: Are food trucks a thing of the past?
Felts: The food trucks in a lot of cities are huge, like Austin and Nashville. In Springfield, it’s a product of where we’re at. People here operate a little differently ... and there’s restrictions here on food trucks, and they’re a bit more strenuous here than other cities. It’s not going to get big like those other places.
SBJ: What else should we expect in 2020?
Felts: I know there’s some big-name restaurants that are going to be changing hands pretty soon, but nothing I can say. A couple will cease to exist and a couple will be bought out.
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