Posted: March 23, 2017 at 7:39 pm

By Patrick Clarke, Chris Scopelliti and Aaron New

Almost 470 of WVU’s 2,200 international students come from Saudi Arabia, according to the International Students and Scholars Services Office of Global Affairs.

This puts Saudi Arabia at the top of the list with the most international students, right before Kuwait with 406 students, and in a distant third, China with 178. The rise in international students from around the world, calls for more diversity in restaurants around the Morgantown area… but what ethnic food options are available?

Plenty, says Barbara Watkins, assistant director of Mainstreet Morgantown.

“We have 30,000 students from all over the world, so that’s one of the big reasons why we have such diversity,” said Watkins. “We’re very accepting of all cultures.”

Within the past couple of years, Watkins has witnessed a rise in foreign-cuisine restaurants in the Morgantown area, which correlates to the rise in students. In 2007, exactly a decade ago, 1,228 international students attended the university, almost half of the current number. Many Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese restaurants have seen success and are still in business due to the many international students, including Saffron, Mother India, and Jasmine Grill. But what brings restaurant owners to downtown Morgantown?

“A lot of our restaurants have been here for years,” said Watkins. “They are community driven.”

One restaurant specifically has adhered to the Arab community for over three years now, and has seen considerable success.

“I think especially the new Jasmine Grill, the population of the Muslim community, that that’s kind of driven those restaurants,” said Watkins.

Though the city has expanded, and has had multiple shopping developments spring up in the last few years, downtown businesses appear to keep thriving given their unique locations.

“The University Town Center doesn’t affect the downtown businesses,” said Watkins. “Unfortunately, the Suncrest Town Center has developed more into a downtown look, so I think it hurts the restaurants.”

“People aren’t looking for Five Guys or some of the chain restaurants,” Watkins said. “[Students] come downtown to support the locally owned businesses.”

“The more retail you have in a cluster, the more people are going to shop there,” Watkins said. “They want two or three clothing stores and other goods, so the more you have in one area, the better the downtown would be. “

Watkins said a lot of big chain restaurants and retailers don’t find value in the downtown area, which is why we see more and more locally owned businesses pop up.

“Thirty-thousand students is a return on their investment,” she said. “We do have a few like fair trade  that are doing really well.”

She believes bringing beautification to the downtown area would attract more businesses and customers. With the growing international student community, we can expect to see new and unique cultural restaurants in the future.