Special Report: Bowling Green's Restaurant Culture

 "You have new places come in, and it's human nature to want and try those new places. After you try those you come back to your favorite places to be."

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) -- In 1977, 17% of Americans calories came from meals outside of the home on a daily basis. Fast forward to 2014, 32% of those calories come from restaurants. Bowling Green may be a great example. It's hard to go anywhere without seeing a restaurant.

How do they all survive in such a growing but small area? We went to a few places around town to find out.

It's a myth we've all heard. Bowling Green has the highest restaurants per capita in the country.

"I sort of think, another restaurant, that's what we need is more competition," said Griff's Deli Owner, Ed Griffin.

There's really not a concrete way to tell, but according to the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitor's Bureau, the city of 60,000 has 300 restaurants. That's 1 restaurant for every 200 people.

"You'll see more restaurants come in. Like anything else, you'll see some of them fail and some succeed," commented Tim Goad, Asst. Manager at Mariah's.

The city is a stop between Nashville and Louisville on I-65, which definitely correlates to business, but booths and stools are filled by just as many residents all looking for different things.

"We won't go back. If they have really bad service we won't go back," said one diner.

"Just the quality of food. If the food is good, I'm going to come back and eat," commented another.

The numbers may be in the favor of those looking for a prepared meal, but it may not bode well for the overall health of those who frequently dine out.

"Research done in 2004 found a direct correlation between the number of restaurants per capita and obesity in a geographic region," stated Nikki Anderson a Nutritionist with MNT Inc.

However, things are changing in America, and that also includes south central Kentucky.

Studies show that now more than ever, American are choosing to eat out at restaurants. Another thing Americans are becoming more conscious of is the nutrition that comes on their plate when they decide to dine out.

"I was looking at the 2013 "What's Hot" in the National Restaurant Association Report, and of the 20 top items, 8 were nutrition," added Anderson.

At the top of that list is locally grown or fresh produce; something Griff's Deli has been serving for years. They attribute a big part of their success to that and the unique items on their menu.

"I knew what we were going to offer here wasn't already offered in Bowling Green. I knew that was going to be unique to Bowling Green. I'm a sandwich guy primarily, so it was pretty easy for me to build it and taste test it all," added Griffin.

It's an advantage a local business competing with many of the chain stores on Scottsville Road must have. Yet, Griff's isn't the only place that strives to find it's own niche.

"They survive because of their varieties. All the different palettes these restaurants offer are so important. Not everyone likes a hamburger, or Italian, or Mediterranean, or Greek, or Mexican food. There's something.. literally something for everyone," stated Telia Butler of the Bowling Green Area Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Trends aside, some restaurants are staples of the community and the experience may mean more than the menu to many.

"Relationship wise you'll see people run the gambit. People get engaged here. They have their rehearsal dinner here. We've even had people get married upstairs. Then they come back for baby showers or that first birthday. Then that 50th anniversary. From the time they think about getting married to that 50th anniversary we're here for them," added Goad.

Whether it's a diner, drive-thru, or cafe the fact is, Bowling Green is a growing city and each local restaurant knows new businesses are still to come trying to find what the city may lack.

"There's going to be a lot more coming. The Gary Farms development, that's going to blow up with retail and I believe there's going to be a lot of restaurants going in there. There's also a lot of downtown development," commented Griffin.

"You have new places come in, and it's human nature to want and try those new places. After you try those you come back to your favorite places to be," said Goad.

Whether it's due to the interstate, or the university, or a growing trend in America, dining out is part of the culture in Bowling Green. If you think when it comes to food the city has it all, chances are you may be proven wrong the next time you see a sign go up.

Shortly after we conducted the interviews for this story, it was announced Mariah's was bought by a new owner. The building that Mariah's is currently housed in is one of the oldest and most recognizable building in the city. It's also where the restaurant gets its namesake. The decision has been made for the business to move to a new downtown location in the near future. It just goes to show that nothing is out of the question of Bowling Green restaurants.


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