Restaurant Business Magazine’s August 2015 issue ranks Starkville No. 5 nationally in its “Best Places to Open a Restaurant” market index. Alongside larger beach and resort markets in the list, Starkville is one of two small towns gaining prominence as one of the best markets for restaurant growth. The list is part of the 2015 Restaurant Market Index, an annual ranking of growth by market compiled by Nielsen, a global provider of data insights.
“The culinary culture in Starkville is uniquely vibrant,” said Jennifer Gregory, CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. “The community supports a strong restaurant and entrepreneurial environment that has allowed both our established eateries and start-ups to flourish. This ranking shows that we are making great strides in developing Starkville as one of the premier culinary destinations in the South.”
The Nielsen insights show that tourism is playing a factor in areas of strongest restaurant growth nationally, and towns like Starkville, situated at the intersection of vital roadways are making significant gains. Starkville’s ranking jumped from No. 11 in 2014 to No. 5 this year.
Anchored by the huge number of yearly visitors to Starkville for MSU athletics and other university-related events, the reach of local restaurants is expanding, in addition to increases in new restaurants and start-ups. Starkville now has more restaurants per capita than any other community in Mississippi. A renewed emphasis throughout the community on local farms, locally-grown ingredients and locally-owned establishments has also built stronger demand for a more authentic culinary culture. This growth comes as no surprise to the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau, who has put an increased emphasis on marketing the community’s local culinary offerings through events and targeted advertising.
The award-winning Starkville Community Market has played a growing role in promoting the culinary business climate in Starkville. It has served as a culinary incubator, of sorts, allowing local artisan bakers and food producers to develop a following and fine-tune offerings. It has also helped to facilitate expanded relationships between local restaurateurs and area farmers and culinary artisans, opening more markets for locally produced goods. In the last two years, at least two vendors from the farmer’s market have expanded their businesses to brick-and-mortar restaurant locations in Starkville.
As part of building Starkville’s culinary culture, the CVB has also placed a focus on year-round culinary events. The annual Starkville Restaurant Week launched in 2013 as the largest restaurant week event in the state based on number of diners. The event expanded in 2015 to 10 days of dining emphasis. In addition, events like unWINE Downtown, King Cotton Crawfish Boil and Souper Bowl incorporate local restaurants and food-related retailers into fun, family experiences, expanding the concept of a community culinary environment.
“Food-centered events, local restaurants with menus determined by the seasons, and getting to know your farmers — we think we’re taking the best of how we were raised and giving it a New South spin,” said Gregory.
“The Starkville community loves restaurants and authentic food, and we are constantly working to welcome new businesses and new diners to our table.”