The chains that Provo brings to downtown ought to fill an empty niche, create a new one, and/or draw more people to the area. They should be commercial anchors, and ones that have a generally positive reputation across many demographics (so, no McDonalds, for example). It’s also worth mentioning that it would be much cooler and financially beneficial to the community to have locally owned businesses come in. The reason to bring in a chain, however, is because name recognition will draw new customers to the area, and because chains seem better at weathering the economic roller coaster associated with opening up. Or, put bluntly, downtown businesses keep opening and closing due to bad management, and a chain would put the area on many people’s destination list.
One chain that fits the bill is IHOP. The huge breakfast vendor is a decent restaurant that handily beats its nearest rival, Denny’s. Though IHOP isn’t my favorite place to eat breakfast, I enjoy it when I find myself there, and I don’t know many people who assertively dislike it.
Just as importantly, IHOP fills a niche in Provo. Few of the many restaurants in the area serve breakfast, either in the morning or otherwise, and most of the ones that do serve breakfast do a bad job of it. (Guru’s, I’m looking at you. Step it up.)
In other words, IHOP wouldn’t dramatically compete with other downtown businesses. Sure, someone might choose IHOP over dinner-fare restaurants like Gloria’s Little Italy, but the added diversity of a breakfast food joint would likely bring new customers to downtown, thereby providing added exposure to existing businesses.
Downtown Provo also needs a restaurant that stays open 24 hours a day, or at least very late. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to events (usually concerts) and afterward gone out for food. Typically, I’ve ended up at Village Inn. For awhile there, the cafe at the hospital was a popular choice. But neither of these places are convenient or adjacent to Utah County’s nightlife epicenter.
Over the years, a few mom and pop operations have tried to cater to the demand for late-night food and sociality. But all of these places seemingly had no business plan whatsoever, and they have all gone out of business (hence, my call for chains like IHOP). And lest people think that the only patrons of a 24 hour downtown restaurant would be scraggly college students, I recently drove by the IHOP, Village Inn and Denny’s in Orem late at night, and they all had many people inside.
IHOP is a franchise, so to make this idea a reality the city really just needs someone with a wad of cash, though admittedly a very big wad. (I believe sites currently exist that meet the companies location requirements.) Of course, there are IHOPs in Orem and Springville, but downtown Provo’s location suggests to me that it could be a better spot for the restaurant than either of those cities. With the LDS Tabernacle Temple now on its way — bringing my chain-loving Mormon brothers and sisters to the area throughout the day — an IHOP seems like almost a no-brainer.