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Los Angeles proudly boasts hundreds of restaurants that can sate everyone from celebrities to star athletes to visitors from around the world. It's home to dozens of eateries with the success-inducing Michelin star and a slew of chefs with James Beard Foundation Awards, best described as the gastronomic Oscars.
But that wasn't always the case. Many industry experts attribute the city's rise in the food chain to dineLA.
"When the Restaurant Week started in 2008, L.A. still didn't have the reputation for being a culinary destination. But as the Restaurant Week grew, so did the city's reputation," said dineLA director Stacey Sun. "L.A. has always been a pioneer city known to lead trends in the country, but it took awhile in terms of the food world. Now people look to L.A. for food trends, and restaurant week really was key in helping to elevate that message."
As dineLA winds down this week after 12 days of consumer deals and high-profile offerings, Los Angeles has already earned bragging rights as hosting the largest such event in the country for the summer season, beating out New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., Sun said. With more than 330 participating restaurants, it generated some $16 million in economic impact for L.A. County -- the highest since the program's inception. This translates into a nice surge in the local economy.
The past three dineLA events since January 2012 -- it was traditionally hosted in fall and winter, but 2012 brought an expanded effort that, for the first time, included a weekend -- have spurred a combined $39 million in citywide consumer spending, according to the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.
And that's on top of the reputation cities earn by hosting Restaurant Weeks that show off their local culinary collection, which, experts say, is the bonus that continues to pay off.
"The more Restaurant Weeks that pop up in L.A. County, the more publicity that gets out there about our local restaurants. It just helps the community as a whole and helps the entire California food scene rise to the top," Sun said.
Claremont, about 40 miles east of downtown, recently hosted its first-ever eight-day Restaurant Week as officials moved to make the City of Trees etch a new name for itself as the City of Eats.
"We've been trying to rally to promote Claremont and highlight the things it has to offer, which includes restaurants. It really is one of our fortes, as we have more than 60 restaurants for a such small community," said Andrew Behnke, board chairman of the Claremont Chamber of Commerce. "It's positive for our image, for our eateries -- and for the guests, as they get a great gastronomical delight."
Exact figures on how Claremont's economy benefited overall from Restaurant Week have not been tabulated, but officials said anecdotally that the 20 restaurants taking part reported boosts in business. Behnke also works as general manager at the local Doubletree and noted that the hotel's Orchard restaurant alone showed a bump of some 25 percent. Everyone is eager for the event's return next year, when organizers plan to double the number of restaurants.
"Locals have always known that Claremont has great places to dine. Restaurant Week was our opportunity to share this with a new audience," said Claremont mayor Opanyi Nasiali. "I would love to see it grow each year until Claremont is synonymous with great food in the minds of Angelenos."
Claremont, with just more than 35,0000 residents, has been taking cues from other successful weeks hosted outside of dineLA, which spans eateries from Long Beach and Santa Monica to Whittier and Alhambra -- like the city of Pasadena. Pasadena hosts two restaurant weeks a year, most recently concluding its April incarnation featuring 45 establishments.
Done right, these events can turn around the perception of a city by both residents and visitors.
"Everyone loves food. It brings everyone together, and I think Restaurant Weeks really play to that," dineLA's Sun said. "There's a different vibe during Restaurant Week than during any other day dining out. You're more open to talking to diners next to you and going, 'Hey, what did you add on the dineLA menu that was good?' It really opens up a dialogue that you wouldn't normally have."
Even those behind the burners benefit from the change in ambience due to the increased visibility. Celebrity chefs such as Wolfgang Puck often use dineLA as an opportunity to come out of the kitchen and talk to their customers.
"Chefs really do see this as a great time to get out there and mingle, as Restaurant Weeks drive a ton of traffic," Sun said. "It really is the best time to make an impression with diners."
And that impression goes for the chef, the restaurant -- and the city.
"No matter what, people have to eat. And whether you have an attraction like an amusement park or not, it doesn't do a city any good without great places to eat," Behnke said. "To be able to treat your guest is priceless."
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