Milwaukee's restaurant industry is dominated by independently owned businesses -- more so than other major Midwestern cities and the majority of large metros in the U.S.
That's according to a recent studyby Portland-based think tank City Observatory, which ranks Milwaukee 11th among metropolitan areas with the "highest fraction of independent restaurants."
Using data from Yelp, the study ranks 43 metros based on chain restaurant market share. In the Milwaukee area, chains make up 18% of all restaurants, which leaves 82% that are independent or locally owned.
The top ten cities include top ranked New York, where 13% of all restaurants are chains, San Francisco at no. 2, Providence at no. 3 and Hartford, Connecticut at no. 10. Milwaukee's market share is comparable with those of Philadelphia and Chicago, which both have 19% chain market shares.
The study also looked at the number of restaurants per capita in each city. Usually, cities with the greatest quantities of restaurants relative to population are those with the most independent restaurants.
Milwaukee is an outlier. It has 15.5 restaurants for every 10,000 people, which is on the lower end of the scale. Cities with comparable restaurants per capita such as Houston, Minneapolis and Louisville have far more chains than Milwaukee does.
"It's unclear what the nature of the causal relationship is here: It could be that food-oriented metro areas have both more restaurants and therefore more opportunities for independent restaurants," according to the report. "It could also be that independent restaurants are generally smaller than chains, and so metros with more independents have more restaurants."
Across the board, locally owned restaurants are growing in popularity amongst consumers, according to Yelp data.
“Consumers are embracing local in all aspects of their lives, and this includes the restaurants they visit,” said Dave Henkes, senior principal at food industry research firm Technomic. “Consumers tell us that smaller, independent restaurants are more authentic, offer better and more unique menu items, align more closely to consumer needs, and provide better value than their chain counterparts.”