With the closing of Empire Brewing coming so soon after another restaurant at the same location folded, perhaps it's time for city economic development leaders to swear off help for restaurants.
Officials made a good-faith effort to get a restaurant going after the Breckenridge Brew Pub failed in the same space inside the city-owned Market Arcade building. Based on the history of breweries and restaurants in that location, it's probably safe to say that another city investment in a restaurant there would be a bad idea.
It's not as though restaurants can't make a go of it downtown. The Bijou Grill is a staple of the Theater District, and the Pearl Street Brewery has been around for a number of years. There is ample evidence that private concerns can make a go of a restaurant.
Why Empire, which is successful in Rochester and Syracuse, couldn't make a go of it here is a question for which there is no clear answer. The city has blamed Empire for not doing enough to promote the restaurant, but the owners argue that they did plenty.
It seems pointless to cast blame here. The city wanted to encourage people to come to the Theater District, and so gave Empire Brewing a $100,000 secured loan and countless time and resources. Buffalo development officials say they don't expect the city to lose money on the deal.
Meanwhile, Empire's owners reportedly sunk more than $700,000 into improvements, and hoped Buffalo would embrace them. It just didn't work out. Business wasn't good for Empire, and communication between the owners and the city had apparently deteriorated to the point that the restaurant owners thought it best to just leave.
It's true that the manner in which Empire left, stealing out of town in the dead of night, made it just that much more unpalatable. The fact is, though, that some businesses make it and some businesses don't. Bottom line: The city should stay out of the restaurant business.