By Rebecca Parr
HAYWARD -- City Council's Mark Salinas and his wife like going out to dinner, and they like patronizing establishments in their home city.
"My wife and I eat out a lot. We go out of our way to go where we haven't eaten before," Salinas said. "Lately, we've sort of been recycling restaurants."
Like many Hayward residents Salinas talks to, the councilman said he wonders, "Why don't we get more restaurants?"
Hayward is certainly not lacking for places to eat out. Besides a number of chain restaurants near Southland Mall, downtown is sprinkled with an eclectic variety of ethnic eateries, ranging from a Salvadoran pupuseria, to a Vietnamese sandwich place and a pho shop. But options to sit down at a full-service restaurant, especially for people with young children, are limited.
"We have a variety of options, but there is a demand for more," said Sean Brooks, Hayward economic developer manager. "Buon Appetito, Buffalo Bill's, Chef's Experience China Bistro, Bijou -- they're all packed on Friday nights.
"But people are always expressing a desire for more variety. We could use a Mediterranean or Greek restaurant, for example," Brooks said.
The planned opening this fall of a Famous Dave's barbecue restaurant, moving into the vacant former Marie Callender's near Southland Mall reflects an effort by city leaders to meet that "pent-up demand" for quality full-service restaurants, or ones with waiters who provide table service.Famous Dave's is tentatively scheduled to open in November in the building that was vacated last year after Marie Callender's declared bankruptcy and closed a number of its restaurants in the East Bay.
Famous Dave's, a national chain, provides a family-friendly environment, Brooks said. "People go there to watch games and have some barbecue and maybe a beer."
Another full-service restaurant, Julian's BBQ on Foothill Boulevard between A and B streets, will have its grand opening later this month. "These establishments will provide the stimulus to draw other high-quality restaurants," Brooks said.
Brooks said his office is starting to get more inquiries from restaurants considering opening in Hayward, and some local property owners are negotiating with potential eateries.
"We've had some tough years for restaurants," Brooks said. "Now that we've proven Hayward to be a hot commodity and as the economy gets better, we're starting to see interest. It's now proven that we have the patrons."
For example, the Panera Bread restaurant near Southland Mall has seen sales increase 50 percent in the past year, he said. "Folks can see there is a market here."
"We have a pent-up demand for restaurants at Southland, that's for sure," said Veronica Curley, Southland Mall's general manager. "Families and members of the daily workforce love to come here." She said Southland's restaurants, including Panera, Elephant Bar, Mimi's Cafe and Olive Garden, are all successful.
And while many may lament Hayward's busy traffic, it actually can work in the city's favor, Brooks said. "Restaurants want exposure," he said.
Salinas sees Cal State East Bay students and faculty as an untapped market, offering a big opportunity for new Mission Boulevard restaurants, especially near Carlos Bee Boulevard, the major road up to the university. "College students, in addition to studying and going to class, eat, drink and like to have a good time," he said.
Sergio Saenz, who has daughters ages 5 and 11, sees another gap in Hayward's restaurant offerings.
"There aren't a lot of kid-theme kinds of places, certainly not anything like Rainforest Cafe," Saenz said, referring to the kid-friendly Rainforest chain that features faux rain forests, with waterfalls and monkeys. "We definitely need both more places for families and for adults who want a nice restaurant with a good environment. I would love to have to not go to San Jose or San Francisco. I would rather spend my money in Hayward."
Joyce Kinnear, of Castro Valley, said she and her husband enjoy eating out at Hayward restaurants, especially around A and B streets in downtown, such as Buffalo Bill's, Buon Appetito, Chef's Experience China Bistro and Le Paradis & La Patisserie. She said she'd like to see more, especially with patios.
"People like the outdoor dining European concept," Kinnear said. "Hayward could definitely be more of a happening place."