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Durango’s claim to ‘most restaurants per capita’ holds true

Don’t worry, our bragging rights are safe

Many cities have a trademark boast-worthy phrase they can’t help but talk up to every tourist or newbie. “We are second to New York in galleries,” Santa Fe says. “The blues were born here,” Clarksdale, Mississippi says. “We have more restaurants per capita than San Francisco,” Durango says.

At least that’s what Durango Arts Center Director Peter Hay told me my first week in town. I was impressed by the “statistic.” Except, he didn’t know exactly where he originally heard it.

“It might have been Wikipedia,” he said. “... Or maybe the tourism site?”

But he knew he read it somewhere. Hay said living in a place with abundant and diverse food options was a priority, so before moving to Durango, he did his restaurant research.

On its surface, the statement is questionable. While there is no doubt Main Avenue is lined with places to grab a bite, it is possible to commit them all to memory. One would need a Rain Man-like mind to remember, much less dine at, all the hipster gastropubs, craft brew pubs and endless taquerias in the Bay Area.

Emily Black, a Durango Doughworks employee, is also familiar with the phrase. She worked as a raft guide over the summer for Mountain Waters Rafting and said it was one of the Durango factoids instructors taught her and other trainees to rattle off to life-vested tourists. Black said her instructors mentioned that for a long time, the phrase was repeated without any knowledge of its truth, but years ago, someone crunched the numbers to verify the claim.

Black’s instructors might have read a 2012 Durango Herald article, which uncovered the work of someone who was assumed to work at the Durango Area Tourism Office. That mystery Durangoan called the San Francisco Travel Association to find the numbers and do the math. After discovering Durango was, in fact, No. 1, the SFTA changed its materials to say the City by the Bay has the most restaurants per capita of “any major city.”

And the claim still holds up today.

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau and health department records, there are an estimated 18,465 residents in Durango and a total of 187 restaurants in the Durango area – dining establishments with a Durango address. (San Juan Basin Public Health classifies restaurants as retail food establishment preparing or serving food in individual portions for immediate on or off-premise consumption. This technically includes most grocery and convenience stores and hotels that offer a continental breakfast.)

This would mean there is about one restaurant for every 99 residents in Durango. Including the 23 mobile dining units in town, it would be about one per 88 residents. The numbers are not as strong as the 2012 data, which estimated one food establishment per every 51 residents. Even though we’re slipping a bit, Durango still solidly defeats the Golden Gate City.

There are 884,363 San Francisco residents and 4,734 dining establishments (not including the 271 food trucks.) That equals to about one dining establishment for every 187 Bay Area resident and one per every 176 when including food trucks. It is an improvement from 2012’s one for every 227 residents.

David Woodruff is the president of the Durango chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association and general manager at El Moro Spirits and Tavern. Like Hay, he doesn’t remember where he first heard the claim, but that hasn’t stopped him from repeating it. “If we can beat out a large metropolitan area (in restaurants) per capita, I will gladly spout out that statistic,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff attributes the number of restaurants in the area to the interests of Durango residents and the tourists who visit.

“Durango is well-traveled; we’re well-educated and we know what we like,” Woodruff said. “People are more interested in what is going into their body and where food is coming from. (People) are genuinely into what is going into the craft. ... That is why you are seeing this renaissance.”

Woodruff thinks the declaration will continue to cement itself in place, with new concepts on the delicious horizon, such as Bird’s fast-casual chicken joint.

“It’s a great time to be a consumer, especially in Durango,” Woodruff said. “You have all these great ideas coming forth from entrepreneurs. There is a lot of really fun stuff coming down the pike.”

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