Why Is Williamsburg’s Urban Outfitters Importing Its Restaurant From L.A.?

Image via New York Magazine

Plans were released about a month ago for Urban Outfitters’ forthcoming, inevitable concept store at 98 North 6th St., and along with the news that that they’d managed to lock down their elusive liquor license came the detail that the in-house restaurant would be a version of L.A.’s trend The Gorbals. Today Eater confirms the news with a photo of the space’s signage, which prominently includes the restaurant’s name. And now that we stop think about it: wait, what?

Granted, there are a lot of reasons that a lot of people have raised their eyebrows at the mega-store’s presence in Williamsburg, a neighborhood that had been largely (and proudly) devoid of major chains until recent years (the oft-protested new Dunkin’ Donuts locations come to mind). Their failure to give a nod to Brooklyn’s food scene is probably the least of anyone’s worries, and we have no doubt chef Ilan Hall’s food will be delicious.

But this also feels like a pretty huge missed opportunity, doesn’t it? Even at its most cloying or over-the-top, Brooklyn boosterism is, at its core, a good faith attempt at buying local, and supporting a community of artists, chef, and “makers” in favor of the faceless multinational conglomerates so many of us grew up understanding to be the norm. Maybe more to the point, it also happens to be extremely popular and lucrative.

An obvious comparison is the recently opened Gowanus Whole Foods, which has taken a lot of silly flack in the press for its gung-ho embrace of anything and everything with a “made in Brooklyn” label on it, but was also so popular that it saw “stampedes” on its opening dayand managed to appease a lot of community skeptics with its enthusiastic inclusion of local products and businesses. And on the “market” level of  the Space Ninety 8 building, Urban Outfitters appears to be taking a similar approach, with plans to include more than 40 different New York-based brands like S.W. Basics and Salt Surf, which is great. The more exposure deserving local work gets, the better. It just seems like if you’re opening up a restaurant smack in the middle of one of the world’s biggest, most talked-about food scenes, you don’t really have to look that far. But then, who knows. Maybe they’re saving the Brooklyn goods for the concept store in L.A. 

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

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