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Reshaping Neighborhoods One Restaurant At A Time

It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s greatest cities are also the greatest culinary cities.

Exceptional restaurants put neighborhoods on the map. Adventurous chefs – and the patrons who seek them out – are constantly reinterpreting dining scenes, whether it’s food carts, food halls or foodie destinations noted by its Michelin stars.

In Paris, a city packed with culinary stars, locals “take their food very seriously indeed,” says Alexander Kraft, chairman and CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty France. Parisians “put a lot of thought, effort and money into choosing the right restaurant.”

Food culture can play a key role in the intellectual and artistic life of an area. Dining is a means of connecting. “A lot of cafés, bars and restaurants have become institutions of the respective quarters they are located in, and social life often revolves around them,” Kraft says. Restaurant openings are big-time social events that can also attract new residents.

The passion with which people embrace local food culture has the power to reshape neighborhoods. Restaurateurs have been on the forefront of that transformation, often credited with turning marginal pockets of a given cityinto gastronomic hubs as hot new eateries introduce legions of people to previous unexplored parts of town. It’s a chain reaction. “Once several sought-after restaurants have gained a foothold in a neighborhood, new innovative bars, shops and boutiques will usually follow and thus contribute to the attractiveness of a certain part of the city,” Kraft says.

Mara Flash Blum, associate broker of Sotheby’s International Realty in New York, has seen the turnaround time and again, most recently in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park area and on the Lower East Side. “People move to neighborhoods for their foodiness,” she says.  A buzz-generating restaurant led by a high-profile chef is akin to the arrival of a new starchitect-designed building or the opening of a flagship store. “It changes everything,” she says. Real estate developers follow and property values rise.

Beyond place-making, many cities have their identities wrapped up with their foodie reputations. Pride of place is entwined with pride of plate. They vie for culinary supremacy, name-dropping chefs and boasting of near-impossible-to-nab reservations. Of course, in densely populated cities like Paris and New York where residential kitchens are small, dining out is a practical matter as much as it is a matter of preference. As the Guardian newspaper once asked, “Does anyone in Manhattan cook?”

And that’s why real estate professionals agree it’s not enough to know the ins and outs of a property. They have to be versed in the entire food scene–the farmers markets, the supermarkets, the four-star restaurants as well as the hidden gems. It’s part of the job to introduce prospective buyers to the hyper-local foodie culture. “Being able to walk out your door is a great feature, so you really have to know the restaurants,” says Blum. And even that’s not always enough: “You even have to know what the go-to dishes are in those restaurants.”

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