The roster of chefs and restaurant owners in Fort Point reads like the starting five of a Boston culinary Dream Team: Barbara Lynch, Ming Tsai, Joanne Chang, Garrett Harker, and Seth Greenberg.
With talent like that, Fort Point should be the hottest dining district in the city. But it’s not — at least not yet.
The restaurant elite moved in early, before the burgeoning neighborhood could house a critical mass of residents to help fill the establishments. Today, there are more than four restaurant seats for every home in the area, according to city records. The South End, by comparison, is roughly the opposite, with nearly two residences for each restaurant seat.
Fort Point is a hopping culinary destination for city and suburban dwellers on weekend nights. But during the week, the daily neighborhood foot traffic is spotty, according to local chefs.
“We’re surviving for sure, but it’s a little bit of a grind,” said Louis DiBiccari, chef and co-owner of the hip Tavern Road on Congress Street.
On one recent Thursday evening, there were several open tables and no waiting for tamarind-glazed lamb lollipops at Tsai’s Asian gastropub Blue Dragon. The host at Lynch’s Italian diner Sportello, known for its tagliatelle bolognese pasta, could seat two immediately.
The scene can pick up on other nights. But with the exception of Harker’s Row 34, wait lists rarely reach the hour-plus that diners endure at hot spots in more densely populated areas such as Toro in the South End or Island Creek Oyster Bar in Kenmore Square.
Traffic is so slow on Sundays that some Fort Point restaurants don’t open at all, forgoing brunch business that is popular in many other parts of the city. Tsai said Blue Dragon doesn’t get enough customers, and he uses it as a day to give workers a break.
“There’s just not 10,000 neighbors who would come out for a Sunday brunch,” Tsai said. “Wait a year or two and we may be open on Sundays. It’s not quite a neighborhood like the North or the South End yet.”
In recent years, planners have worried that restaurant growth may be outpacing population density in Fort Point and the Seaport, said Jeremy Grossman, senior vice president and principal at CBRE/Grossman Retail Advisors, whose clients include many restaurants.
Those concerns have been tempered by the recent construction of a few residential developments and the city’s forecast for 5,300 more housing units built along the waterfront in the next 20 years.
But Fort Point is facing competition right now for diners from hot new destinations on the waterfront, such as Mario Batali’s Babbo or the new Mediterranean small-plates eatery Committee, Grossman said.
“The first stop tends to be that true waterfront area of the Seaport,” he said. “The energy is shifting away from Fort Point.”
But Grossman said he expects traffic to balance out between the two areas as the market matures.
The Fort Point neighborhood boundariesare drawn along Fort Point Channel, down Seaport Boulevard and Boston Wharf Road to West Second Street. It served as a major manufacturing and warehouse district during the 19th century and the early 1900s.
After manufacturing declined, the neighborhood shifted eventually toward a mix of artist lofts and office buildings. Only recently has it become known as a restaurant hub.
Lynch is credited as an early pioneer of the Fort Point food scene. She launched two establishments, Sportello and the craft cocktail bar Drink, both on Congress Street, in 2008 and introduced the upscale Menton restaurant nearby two years later. She was unavailable for comment.
Chang had already opened Flour Bakery + Cafe on Farnsworth Street in 2007. Two years ago, Blue Dragon, Row 34, and Tavern Road opened. Pastoral and Greenberg’s Bastille Kitchen set up shop last year.
Chang said her catering and lunch business has flourished but store traffic slows to a trickle from about 4 p.m. until the bakery closes at 8 p.m. Flour locations in the South End, Cambridge, and the Back Bay continue to attract evening customers.
“There hasn’t been a lot of nighttime traffic,” Chang said of her Fort Point store. “We were just talking recently among the managers about closing at 7 p.m.”
DiBiccari and his partners at Tavern Road were drawn to the idea of moving into an up-and-coming neighborhood before rents skyrocketed.
But he’s still waiting for an influx of residents and other businesses, such as a full-service grocery store, a bank, a pharmacy, and retail stores, that he believes will drive foot traffic and build the neighborhood.
Two doors down, Todd Winer of Pastoral has a similar problem. Winer, a former executive chef at Olives and The Metropolitan Club, said the flow of traffic to his industrial Neapolitan pizza joint is unpredictable.
“I can’t figure it out,” Winer said. “Usually there’s a flow at restaurants.”
Greenberg, who previously established Mistral as one of Boston’s premier upscale dining venues, is “bullish” on Fort Point. He said Bastille Kitchen is thriving, due in part to private events hosted by nearby businesses.
Harker, who runs Row 34, said the eatery isn’t as busy as some of his more established restaurants, Island Creek Oyster Bar and Eastern Standard. But he said it’s still doing well and exceeding expectations.
“Look, we all knew what we were getting in for,” Harker said. “It’s a bet on the potential of an already pretty exciting neighborhood, and we think it will only become that much more compelling.”