The Burger Inn, a modest, 10-year-old K Street restaurant where a jumbo cheeseburger, fries and a Pepsi go for $7.25, is not among the hot dining spots mentioned when people talk of the transforming effect of Golden 1 Center on its downtown neighborhood.
Yet transformed the Burger Inn has been. Business has nearly doubled since the arena opened in October 2016, restaurant owner Paul Chong said. That’s partly because Chong, who usually keeps 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. hours in feeding the state-worker crowd, will stay open until 9 on a concert or game night.
“There are so many people walking by” on a Golden 1 Center event night, Chong said. “All the stores are so busy on the whole street.”
The Burger Inn sits half a block from a motion-sensor pedestrian monitor at 10 and K streets – installed by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership business and property owners’ group – that showed foot traffic up by 20 percent during the first six months the arena was open. (Those figures do not include the thousands of extra ticks registered during March’s NCAA Tournament, DSP’s Valerie Mamone said.)
The 20 percent figure falls more in line with arena-related bumps in sales reported by other, non-Burger Inn restaurants informally surveyed by The Bee, such as Grange, on J Street, and Frank Fat’s, on L. As the Sacramento Kings wound down their first season at Golden 1 Center last week, the restaurant and bar proprietors The Bee contacted reported positive effects on their businesses, all located roughly within half a mile of the arena. The degree of that positivity varied, however.
On the evening of the Kings’ final home game, against the Phoenix Suns, business at Burger Inn seemed to arrive in small spurts rather than waves. But patrons left happy.
“It was pretty good,” Kathy Silver, 67, of Sacramento said after finishing a $7.69 grilled tuna sandwich combo. She and Lou Padgug, 62, were headed to the game as part of a celebration of Padgug’s birthday. They had been to one previous game at the new arena and ate at Golden 1 Center, where burgers go for $12-$14. “The food was good, but it was a fortune,” Silver said. “This is cheap.”
If location and reasonable prices have helped boost Burger Inn’s fortunes since the arena opened, so has Sauced’s spillover. The giant barbecue restaurant that opened three months ago next to the arena in Downtown Commons can draw 1,500 people on an event day, Sauced co-owner Brenden Scanlan said. But it only holds about 400 at once.
Silver and Padgug had found Burger Inn the night of the Kings-Suns only after learning the wait at Sauced would be more than an hour, and that El Rey and Malt & Mash, which opened across the street from the arena last year, also were full.
Grange, the fine-dining restaurant attached to the Citizen Hotel, was about three-quarters full that same evening, with people who put more forethought into their pregaming.
Joe Gilman of Sacramento led a Kings-regalia-clad party of four with dinner reservations. Gilman had not eaten at Grange before a Kings game previously but knew of it from attending the Sacramento Burger Battle held each fall across the street at Cesar Chavez Plaza. A formal dinner before a Kings game was new for Gilman. When the Kings played in Natomas, he “just ate at the arena,” Gilman said.
Several diners out on the Kings-Suns game night cited the stark difference between the neighborhood surrounding the old, comparatively isolated arena and the blocks around Golden 1, which hold restaurants ranging from raucous, sports-and-spirits-oriented Sauced, Malt & Mash and El Rey to the family-friendly Pizza Rock and the Boiling Crab to the more intimate Ella Dining Room & Bar, Empress, Mother, Blackbird, Brasserie Capitale and Mayahuel.
“There were really no places to go before the game; there wasn’t anything within walking distance” at the old arena, said Chris Swayne, 32, a Kings season-ticket holder who stopped to drink and dine with his fiancée, Suzanne DeVere, 28, in Grange’s bar area. “That experience doesn’t compare to the high-quality restaurants within walking distance of Golden 1.”
The long bar at which Swayne and DeVere sat, running along a window facing 10th Street, is new to Grange with a December 2016 remodel. Partly to accommodate new crowds of pregamers introduced with the arena, the restaurant opened up the bar, removing dining banquettes, installing more high-top seating and leaving extra room to stand. Grange also added more beers on draft and sports-fan-friendly starters like chicken wings, restaurant general manager Lauren Johnsen said.
Thanks to the remodel, and event-night crowds, bar business is up 12 percent from a year ago, Johnsen said. The arena also has bolstered business at the restaurant and in the hotel, with the latter especially true on concert nights. People “are really making a night of it,” Johnsen said, by staying in the hotel rather than driving home to Roseville or Folsom. The hotel sold out when Paul McCartney came to town in October to open Golden 1 Center.
The new arena brought high expectations but also some worries among restaurant owners. Josh Nelson, of Selland Family Restaurants, which owns Ella, said that “show nights have been really great for us,” with business sometimes up 15 percent-20 percent. Also great is that the price-gouging he had seen at parking lots near other stadiums and arenas is not happening around Ella, which sits at 12th and K streets. He had been concerned, he said, that valet lots would charge Ella so much the restaurant would have to increase its $5 valet price.
But that has not happened, and lots of arena-goers leave their cars with Ella before an event and retrieve them after, Nelson said.
“We are in a pretty sweet spot – not too close but not too far to walk from” the arena, he said.
Frank Fat’s, the 77-year-old James Beard Award-winning institution on L Street, lost 15 percent of its business when L Street was being torn up for arena infrastructure a few years ago. But it regained that business further into the construction process and has added a 20 percent boost since Golden 1 Center opened, Fat’s Family of Restaurants CEO Jerry Fat said.
It helps that the arena is an easy walk from the parking garage next to Fat’s, where parking is discounted if one eats at the restaurant. Frank Fat’s has had to staff a little differently to accommodate new crowds, Fat said.
“People come earlier to dine, and then it slows down an hour before event time. We don’t have as much business during the traditional prime time of 7 to 9. We kind of thought it would sustain more through the night.”
Fat said people who do not have concert or game tickets seem to be hesitant to come downtown on an event night, fearing a mess. But “there is plenty of parking, even as close as we are” to the arena, Fat said.
Fat said he is looking to the fairer weather of spring and summer to help illuminate the patterns and character of downtown visitors during Golden 1’s first year.
“We had a heavy winter, and I am sure the weather affected” who came downtown and who did not, Fat said. Though events are fewer at the arena in the Kings offseason, they still will happen several times a month during spring and summer – next up is the April 27 Chance the Rapper show.
But rain or shine, Chance the Rapper or Paul McCartney, Frank Fat’s still will stand, and Henry’s Lounge still will sell beers for about $10 less than the arena does at its location on Ninth Street between K and L streets.
The unassuming drinkery does “get a little bit, but not an overabundance” of people who just attended events and are looking for a nightcap, owner Irene Henry said. “We expected more, but it didn’t happen,” she added with a shrug.
“They have brand new restaurants and things like that” in the neighborhood, Henry said. “Most people who go to games are going to stop at those places. Henry’s is just a little neighborhood bar.”
In other words, Henry’s will not be renovating its bar to bring in more guys in Kings jerseys.