The Midtown District and the Business of Rebranding Reno

By Lila Asnani, Foodable Contributor

Big things are happening in the Biggest Little City In The World, or Reno.  Reno is busy reinventing itself. Once known primarily for gambling and winter sports, Reno is developing quickly and gaining attention as it tries to assert its strength as the closest big business hub outside of Northern California, specifically the Bay Area. 

This rejuvenation movement is very visible especially in an area of Reno called the Midtown District (MDR). The MDR is a flourishing neighborhood located just south of Downtown Reno. Previously known as the Bungalow District because of the many Craftsman-style homes, the Midtown District today encompasses a two mile corridor which forms a conglomerate of trendy and fun shops and restaurants.

Eric Madison, the Vice President of the MDR, states that the Midtown District was organized in 2009 by a coalition of business owners and residents who wanted to “improve the community and make it better for businesses and tourists alike.” They are trying to be “the premier cultural district of Reno” according to Madison, and by all accounts they are definitely succeeding when you take in the eclectic and exciting combination of the businesses and the Art District that forms the heart of the MDR.  

You can find varied businesses ranging from tattoo parlors, vintage boutiques, and swanky lounges to eateries serving world class dining. Tesla, the electric car company is building the largest factory in the nation in Reno. Other giant companies like Amazon and Apple have followed suit.    

“[Reno is quickly] becoming the sister of Silicon Valley. The cost of living is lower; it is friendly to businesses and also family friendly. The Midtown District is a major feature in the rebranding of Reno. We hope the public will see Reno as culturally diverse and an arts and food destination,” adds Madison.

Two Chicks Restaurant  | Yelp, Robert S.

Two Chicks Restaurant | Yelp, Robert S.

Two Chicks Restaurant

Two Chicks is an example of a burgeoning business that epitomizes the growth and philosophy of the Midtown District. Two Chicks is the brainchild of Haley Wood and Jessie Watness who plunged into the food and beverage industry when they opened their much acclaimed Gourmelt Grilled Cheese food truck in 2009.

Wood said that their long term goal was always to open a restaurant. Their initial foray into the culinary world started on a smaller scale with a food truck because it coincided with the big recession which hit Reno hard in the middle of 2009. The food truck allowed Wood and Watness to get their name and brand out to the public in a very accessible way. They were able to reach a wider variety of people in all parts of the community.

This grand plan helped them immensely because they had a strong following when they opened their restaurant Two Chicks in August, 2014. The restaurant provided them with the opportunity to expand their menu and also stay within their theme of comfort food. “Comfort food makes people happy and people feel better when they eat comfort food” explains Wood when asked about the concept behind their restaurant.

The Two Chicks restaurant serves breakfast and lunch all day. They have a full breakfast menu in addition to their signature grilled cheese sandwiches. They do not use any processed foods and everything is made in house or obtained locally. They also have a full bar and serve local beers and liquors in addition to the traditional Mimosas and Bloody Marys.

Midtown District’s Sustainable Growth

Woods and Watness are big believers in the Midtown District’s movement of promoting and using locally grown products and businesses. “Reno is surrounded by small farms and little agricultural towns and most of Reno works together and are focused on keeping it local,” adds Wood. Their customers want and love that about the local movement and this in turn has really spurred the growth of the Midtown District.

Woods explains that they are very pleased with how the restaurant is growing. It has surpassed their expectations. They took on a bigger restaurant space from an initial 40 to a 116 seating capacity and they are meeting and even exceeding the numbers they need. Woods loves how the Midtown District is expanding and transforming from “an area that people were weary of to something that is livable and enjoyable. And they are not even finished yet! The Midtown District is just going to get bigger and more vibrant and it will be neat to be a part of the development.”

Their business philosophy of “making people happy” has certainly worked very well for them. The Two Chicks restaurant just won multiple awards in the Reno News and Review People’s Poll which included Best New Restaurant, Best Breakfast and Best Bloody Mary for 2015.

The success of the Two Chicks restaurant within the Midtown District is certainly an indicator of exciting things to come and this buzz was clearly palpable in Eric Madison, who declared “What happens in the Midtown District is a good indicator of all over [Reno].…if the MDR is growing, then all areas of Reno are growing and the MDR is reshaping and leading change in the city.”