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The Chain Rant


bilrus
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Slightly off topic question. When do "multiple locations" become a "chain"?

Not to compare Thomas Keller and Todd English, but Keller has four restaurants. And then there is Jose Andres.

Is it a chain if they have the same name? Or does it depend on number of locations? Or?

(apologies if this topic has already been discussed elsewhere...)

It is an interesting topic. I think it becomes a chain when it meets some unknown number of the following:

* the concept is the same and driven by a corporate office

* menus are the same

* the spiel from the waiters is the same

* the "Chef" only steps foot in the kitchen when he is on a book tour

* the cooking has absolutely no soul

Per Se and French Laundry are not a chain. Bouchon is a chain. Oyamel, Zaytinya, Cafe Atlantico and Minibar are not a chain. Jaleo is a chain.

Its like porn - you know it when you see it.

Edited by bilrus
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It is an interesting topic.  I think it becomes a chain when it meets some unknown number of the following:

* the concept is the same and driven by a corporate office

* menus are the same

* the spiel from the waiters is the same

* the "Chef" only steps foot in the kitchen when he is on a book tour

* the cooking has absolutely no soul

Per Se and French Laundry are not a chain.  Bouchon is a chain.  Oyamel, Zaytinya, Cafe Atlantico and Minibar are not a chain.  Jaleo is a chain.

Its like porn - you know it when you see it.

Laminated table placards announcing fruity frozen drinks with cute, rhyming names are also a dead giveaway. So is decor based largely on old license plates and rusted tools suspended from the ceilings and walls.

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I think the word chain has connnotations of franchise as well. Again though chan can be equated with corporate sturctures and soulless cooking. I wouldn't characterize Bouchon as a chain, more of an "outpost", besides its really good.

Oh and by the way, all though I'm sure it will never be an option for me, any chefs who write books, cookbooks, novellas, a collection of disconnected vignettes musing on the pitfalls of being in the trenches, please don't display them at your front door, it makes me feel as though your cooks are using it as a reference manual. Find a more gracious place in the restaurant for them.

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I think the word chain has connnotations of franchise as well. Again though chan can be equated with corporate sturctures and soulless cooking.  I wouldn't characterize Bouchon as a chain, more of an "outpost", besides its really good.

Oh and by the way, all though I'm sure it will never be an option for me, any chefs who write books, cookbooks, novellas, a collection of disconnected vignettes musing on the pitfalls of being in the trenches, please don't display them at your front door, it makes me feel as though your cooks are using it as a reference manual. Find a more gracious place in the restaurant for them.

But doesn't Bouchon display the Thomas Keller Bouchon Cookbook right up front at their hostess stand? (Not to say I don't love Bouchon, either the restaurant or the cookbook, which I do.)

I better say something about Olives for this to be relevant, so here it is: Upper-Crust Cheesecake Factory.

Edited by Capital Icebox
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Chains are the institutionalization of mediocrity. They are safety over adventure. They sap the spirit. They suck the air out of the room, smothering independent and creative ventures. They train people to eat poorly. They bore me. They reek of artificial flavor, color, ambiance and décor. Wherever they are introduced, they push indigenous restaurants out like snakeheads infesting a Maryland pond. They treat employees badly. They are physically ugly. They are a symbol for everything that’s avaricious and soulless about America. They generate trash. They make us fat. Their advertising treats us like morons.

And I don’t much for care the food, either.

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Guess who must have eaten at the Cheesecake factory for lunch?

We've been over this a million times, but here is a million and one:

Chains aren't great but they aren't evil (at least not all of them are). Sometimes chains are the best place to get something to eat in underserved areas. Just because a place is local doesn't mean that the cooking has any soul. Just because a place is local doesn't mean the food or service doesn't suck. Sometimes getting someone to eat at a slgihtly better chain - moving them from TGI Friday's to Clyde's for example - might make them want to take the next step and go to Komi the next time.

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If we eat at chains, they win. It's not a static equation, every dollar spent at a chain ("good" or "bad") makes chains stronger vis-a-vis the independents making the battle even more unequal, meaning they get an even higher percentage of the dinning dollars, making them even stronger and the battle between the forces of darkness -- ie, marketing professionals -- and the forces of light even more uneven....It's a brutal cycle that ends with the Destruction of All We Hold Dear.

(So shaken by the thought he sneaks out of the office to refresh at BdC).

Edited by Waitman
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Chains are the institutionalization of mediocrity.  They are safety over adventure.  They sap the spirit.  They suck the air out of the room, smothering independent and creative ventures.  They train people to eat poorly.  They bore me.  They reek of artificial flavor, color, ambiance and décor.  Wherever they are introduced, they push indigenous restaurants out like snakeheads infesting a Maryland pond.  They treat employees badly.  They are physically ugly.  They are a symbol for everything that’s avaricious and soulless about America.  They generate trash.  They make us fat.  Their advertising treats us like morons. 

And I don’t much for care the food, either.

Hear hear!!
Guess who must have eaten at the Cheesecake factory for lunch?

We've been over this a million times, but here is a million and one:

Chains aren't great but they aren't evil (at least not all of them are).  Sometimes chains are the best place to get something to eat in underserved areas.  Just because a place is local doesn't mean that the cooking has any soul.  Just because a place is local doesn't mean the food or service doesn't suck.  Sometimes getting someone to eat at a slgihtly better chain - moving them from TGI Friday's to Clyde's for example - might make them want to take the next step and go to Komi the next time.

Hear hear!!

Guess the point is, YES, chains suck, but YES, sometimes that's all there is, for one reason or another. There is room for discussion here, but both sides are basically right. Have at it!

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Although I have no desire to stand up on the side of chain restaurants, it is easy to say that chains are bad and local, independent places are good. By doing that thouguh, we overlook the fact that there are a lot of crappy independent restaurants out there. Tons. We talk about them on this board all the time.

There are also plenty of evil owners and managers of local restaurants (those stories could make for a fun thread someday.)

Some chains even offer health benefits to some employees, not to mention the opportunities for advancement, which can be tough at small mom and pop shops.

Finally, in many parts of the country, the best food and service can be found at these chains. Not saying the chains are great, but they are often better than the local places. Travelling across Ohio comes to mind about now.

Of course here in DC we should give priority to high-quality local restaurants. Doesn't mean that Applebees is bringing the end of civilization.

Happy Friday.

:lol:

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It's a sad fact of life that, these days, an awful lot of people think a "special" dinner out is to go to Red Lobster or Olive Garden. Let's not mention Outback. There is only one place in the entire country that has Ray's or OOHs and AAHs. Plus, those chains are a LOT cheaper than the places we like. Folks coming for a visit to our fair city are usually slapped with sticker shock at the prices of decent, independent restaurants around here.

I'm old enough to remember travelling across the country and staying in locally-owned motels (Holiday Inn was too high-class for us) and getting recommendations for dinner that steered us to really good local places. On the other hand, too many people are non-adventurous when it comes to food and only want what they know. The chains happily fill that bill. What can you do?

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Does it stop just at restaurants?  Should we all stop going to places like Giant, Safeway, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, Sears, and their ilk?  I have a feeling this is going to be a rather interesting thread.

no it does not need to stop at restaurants. every dollar spent at a barnes and noble mega-super-take-over-an-entire-city-block-bookstore is a dollar not spent at the independent bookstore where the person assisting you with finding a particular book is more likely to have read said book. but that argument misses what i consider to be the more relevant discussion.

this is not an argument about chains vs. independents, the more important discussion is about quality versus mediocrity. one of the highest grossing restaurants in this city is laurial plaza, a gleaming paragon of awful dining for which mediocrity would be a step forward. should any of us support them because of their independent status? like most things in this world, neither virtue nor vice can be assigned wholesale to chains or independents. what we, all true lovers of good cuisine, is vote for quality - wherever it may be found - with our wallets.

i do not doubt the power of a small group to change the culinary world.

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Does it stop just at restaurants?  Should we all stop going to places like Giant, Safeway, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, Sears, and their ilk?  I have a feeling this is going to be a rather interesting thread.

Giant and Safeway sell commodities -- I ask nothing more of my baking soda than that it make my corn bread rise, and nothing more of my bulk potatoes than that they fry up well. Target etc. are inherently suspect, like a menu item with a little tiny heart next to it, but are beyond the scope of this thread.

"They?" "They" are the little men with HP calculators and tastebuds ruined by Au Bon Pain sandwiches eaten hunched over their desks as they weight the costs of adding free breadsticks to every large pepperoni against profits to be accrued by selling them to the jaded and undiscriminating masses. "They" are the ones buying artificial flavor from a chemical plant in New Jersey to make the strawberry taste more real and them lemon flavor more tart. "They" are the ones buying potbellied stoves by the gross, and shipping them to sandwich factories across America in a depsarate attempt to stand out in a market already crowded with offerings too bland and market-tested to be distinguished from one another. "They" are the ones who look at Ray's, Palena and Dinos and covet the location and plot day and night to bankrupt them and steal their customers away.

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I like this topic, I can BITCH! Ironically, my bitch is really with the American public, NOT the restaurants... Most American diners I've met are stuck on only eating what they're comfortable with and that is generally "safe" food...take away the 10-12% Foodies/open-minded types, and you're left with Center-of-the-Platers - they want to eat, eat alot, eat fast, and they want to be somewhere else quick, 45 minutes tops they want the check and out the door...That's why Sietsema's online complainers only talk about service "I waited 35 minutes for a table, blah, blah, blah..." they never mention the food, because they are so irate about waiting for water, or the next dish, or using the bathroom, THAT THEY COULD CARE LESS ABOUT THE FOOD!!!

Thanks for allowing to me to vent!

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Giant and Safeway sell commodities -- I ask nothing more of my baking soda than that it make my corn bread rise, and nothing more of my bulk potatoes than that they fry up well.  Target etc. are inherently suspect, like a menu item with a little tiny heart next to it, but are beyond the scope of this thread. 

"They?"  "They" are the little men with HP calculators and tastebuds ruined by Au Bon Pain sandwiches eaten hunched over their desks as they weight the costs of adding free breadsticks to every large pepperoni against profits to be accrued by selling them to the jaded and undiscriminating masses. "They" are the ones buying artificial flavor from a chemical plant in New Jersey to make the strawberry taste more real and them lemon flavor more tart. "They" are the ones buying potbellied stoves by the gross, and shipping them to sandwich factories across America in a depsarate attempt to stand out in a market already crowded with offerings too bland and market-tested to be distinguished from one another.  "They" are the ones who look at Ray's, Palena and Dinos and covet the location and plot day and night to bankrupt them and steal their customers away.

if you think that the same mentality for chains doesn't extend beyond restaurants then you're not looking hard enough. There's a reason why the vast majority of restaurants in this area are chains and why the vast majority of shops are chains. The mindset is the same and justifying your behavior of using one while deriding others of eating at potbelly is hypocritical. Or are independent restaurants the only businesses that matter? What about independent food shops? Farmers markets? Kitchen supply? Clothing? Music, etc. etc etc. It all comes back to a common theme, if people prefer to shop/eat at a chain it does have an effect on anyone doing any form of independent business.
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if you think that the same mentality for chains doesn't extend beyond restaurants then you're not looking hard enough. There's a reason why the vast majority of restaurants in this area are chains and why the vast majority of shops are chains. The mindset is the same and justifying your behavior of using one while deriding others of eating at potbelly is hypocritical. Or are independent restaurants the only businesses that matter? What about independent food shops? Farmers markets? Kitchen supply? Clothing? Music, etc. etc etc. It all comes back to a common theme, if people prefer to shop/eat at a chain it does have an effect on anyone doing any form of independent business.

I think that the difference between chain food stores and chain restaurants is that the chain supermarkets offer the advantage of selection (to a certain degree, anyway) and price, while chain restaurants narrow the selections, but perhaps benefit from an economy of scale and therefore are cheaper. As for the corrosive effect of chains in general on independents -- that's big market economics. The hope for countering this has to be educated consumers who are willing to seek out the good, the unusual, the FRESH idea offered by independent purveyors. But let's face it people, we are a small group swimming in a mass consumerist ocean. Edited by FunnyJohn
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Firefly, Corduroy, Maestro, Cityzen, Circle Bistro, Notti Bianche, and Bistro Bis are all part of multiple location hotel corporations. Obviously a boycott is in order.

The Hotel George is managed by Kimpton (as is Poste/Monaco and Firefly/Hotel Madera), but Bistro Bis is Jeff Buben's deal. Just happens to share a roof.

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The Hotel George is managed by Kimpton (as is Poste/Monaco and Firefly/Hotel Madera), but Bistro Bis is Jeff Buben's deal. Just happens to share a roof.

I believe the same deal is in effect for Corduroy. Faceless chains support local independent restaurants!

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The hope for countering this has to be educated consumers who are willing to seek out the good, the unusual, the FRESH idea offered by independent purveyors.  But let's face it people, we are a small group swimming in a mass consumerist ocean.

This is sad but true. That's one reason why I didn't pursue going to Breadline with my co-worker. It would have been lost on him, and as he is already a royal pain in the ass :lol: , I just didn't bother because I didn't want to hear all the "it's too far, it's too expensive, the line's too long, blahblahblah".

I will always put in a plug for a local joint if I'm asked for an opinion. Unfortunately, not everyone shares my values/tastes, etc. Such as another coworker who asked me about Maestro. I told him my opinion (it's wonderful, what an experience) and he came back after dining there and complained about it - too much food, too much attention, don't need to be told how to eat my food, etc etc. I can only imagine how he treated the staff... You can bet I won't be sending him to any more of my favorite places!

I guess what I'm saying is I like to pick my battles and, given my presence here (and that of most/all of us), you can usually assume you're preaching to the choir. We'll just have to keep fighting the good fight [food fight?! :P ].

(and if that includes the occasional stop somewhere that others don't like, so be it)

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This is sad but true.  That's one reason why I didn't pursue going to Breadline with my co-worker.  It would have been lost on him, and as he is already a royal pain in the ass :lol: , I just didn't bother because I didn't want to hear all the "it's too far, it's too expensive, the line's too long, blahblahblah". 

I will always put in a plug for a local joint if I'm asked for an opinion.  Unfortunately, not everyone shares my values/tastes, etc.  Such as another coworker who asked me about Maestro.  I told him my opinion (it's wonderful, what an experience) and he came back after dining there and complained about it - too much food, too much attention, don't need to be told how to eat my food, etc etc.  I can only imagine how he treated the staff...  You can bet I won't be sending him to any more of my favorite places!

I guess what I'm saying is I like to pick my battles and, given my presence here (and that of most/all of us), you can usually assume you're preaching to the choir.  We'll just have to keep fighting the good fight [food fight?! :P ].

(and if that includes the occasional stop somewhere that others don't like, so be it)

Picking your spots is essential. we recently had a company good-bye lunch at Penang, across the board awful (except for the fried bananas). Last weekend I went to the Brickskeller for HH with 3 co-workers, all of whom had been to the Panang luncheon. After a couple beers we decided dinner was in order. I immediately vetoed dinner at the Brick (beer good, food bad) and after some consideration I led them to Malaysia Koptium (sp?). At first they thought we were going back to Penang, but I assured them this would be better. Bottom line they loved the food at Koptium and claimed that they would never have thought about going there (despite walking past the restaurant many times) and now they know never to go back to Penang, when good Malaysian was 20 yards down the street

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ben and jerry's, if you ever tour them in vermont, is a perfect example of how the values of a small business fairly quickly get sold out. the commitment to local farmers, community, whatever become the wrapper.

you are more likely to cut into something good at a restaurant that is not a chain.

but just because a restaurant is not a chain does not mean that it doesn't have to answer to the money that set it up.

i don't think the chains are going to put small restaurants out of business. when you add it all up, there are a lot of people going to the independent restaurants, including those in hotels.

independent book stores are another matter. why are there mob scenes at borders? beats me, although the alternative these days is to go visit chapters in the intensive care ward.

Edited by giant shrimp
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This is not a supply-side issue, i.e., big, evil, nasty corporations turning us into gastronomic zombies. That reminds me of the worst kind of college-campus neo-Marxist conspiracy theorizing. Rather, it's the demand side: a large mass of poorly educated consumers. The reasons for this in America are cultural and historical. As a people we are not very well educated culinarily. I don't like big chains, either, but you can't blame corporations for giving people what they want. This is just beginning to change in America now, as people are waking up to the obesity epidemic and looking at the diets of other countries (Mediterranean, Asian) for guidance on how to eat well. But we have a long path to walk until the culture changes, and big chains will be with us the whole way.

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This is not a supply-side issue, i.e., big, evil, nasty corporations turning us into gastronomic zombies. That reminds me of the worst kind of college-campus neo-Marxist conspiracy theorizing. Rather, it's the demand side: a large mass of poorly educated consumers. The reasons for this in America are cultural and historical. As a people we are not very well educated culinarily. I don't like big chains, either, but you can't blame corporations for giving people what they want. This is just beginning to change in America now, as people are waking up to the obesity epidemic and looking at the diets of other countries (Mediterranean, Asian) for guidance on how to eat well. But we have a long path to walk until the culture changes, and big chains will be with us the whole way.

Au contraire, my corporate apologist friend. First, this whole dust-up began with a fairly direct shot at one such consumer and is, indeed, primarily aimed at reaching others, asking them to become, as it is said, "part of the solution."

Second, I forget what part of the American history and culture is rooted in McDonalds or TGI Fridays.

Third, I suspect that if you asked any of the people involved in siting chain restaurants, ferociously protecting their brands, test-marketing innovations such as Applebees riblets and whatever soul- and artery choking special Chili's is plugging this week, or managing nine-figure advertising budgets, that they do far more than meet demand, that their greatest triumphs involve creating and manipulating it.

Odd to think that the people who have the most to gain from from the chain infestation are merely innocent, passive onlookers.

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This is not a supply-side issue, i.e., big, evil, nasty corporations turning us into gastronomic zombies. That reminds me of the worst kind of college-campus neo-Marxist conspiracy theorizing. Rather, it's the demand side: a large mass of poorly educated consumers. The reasons for this in America are cultural and historical.

How true...

that they do far more than meet demand, that their greatest triumphs involve creating and manipulating it.

Anti-globalization is SO profound, but such BS, I mean everything we do on the internet is global, anybody want to close this Bulletin Board down? The French are classic at this argument - that people need to be "culturally" protected -BS...don't replace my freedom of choice with socialist/state dogma, OK, I may choose McD's, but THAT'S MY CHOICE! On the other hand, the French really respect food, I congratulate them on that! Watch the movie Mondovino - it takes the anti-globalization argument and places it in the wine world - the Bad Guys are Robert Mondavi, Robert Parker, and Michel Rolland, the Good Guys are small "artisanal" wine producers and people who care about what they put in the bottle. The glass is either half full or half empty as they say!

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First, this whole dust-up began with a fairly direct shot at one such consumer and is, indeed, primarily aimed at reaching others...

No, the consumer you took a shot at wanted to go to Breadline. That's not the kind of consumer I was referring to. And please don't tell me you were trying to "reach others". You're just axe grinding.

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On the other hand, the French really respect food, I congratulate them on that! 

That's part of the demand-side issue I was talking about. You could also put Germany, Italy, Japan, China, and many other countries in this category. It's not surprising that countries with comparatively ancient, established cultures and cuisines should IN GENERAL take food more seriously than America IN GENERAL does. For the US, that cultural difference means that other things than actual food quality and variety assume relatively greater importance in the daily decision of what to eat--things like convenience, predictability, fillingness, "atmosphere", etc. It's a complex difference that makes us rather unique in the culinary world, and I don't presume to be able to explain it fully. But it is a real and important reason why chain restaurants are such a large phenomenon in this country. Chain corporations exploit this aspect of our culinary character, and they can also act as catalysts in reinforcing it, as Waitman (and J.K. Galbraith) have suggested. But they have not created it. The source of our culinary decisions is our culture, not our corporations.

Edited by Banco
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The source of our culinary decisions is our culture, not our corporations.

If I'm an alcoholic and you chase me into every corner of my life trying to pour me a drink, I hardly think -- despite my own culpability -- that you are without fault.

........

That they may be the product of mindless consumers chowing down on mass-produced faux-Italian cuisine at an Olive Garden that looks eerily like 564 other Olive Gardens strewn about the U.S. and Canada like hamburger wrappers thrown from speeding cars, rather than the spawn of soulless corporations mindlessly trampling the beautiful, the creative and the unique in pursuit of double-digit same store revenue growth, contradicts nothing in my initial post.

Edited by Waitman
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Giant and Safeway sell commodities -- I ask nothing more of my baking soda than that it make my corn bread rise, and nothing more of my bulk potatoes than that they fry up well.  Target etc. are inherently suspect, like a menu item with a little tiny heart next to it, but are beyond the scope of this thread. 

"They?"  "They" are the little men with HP calculators and tastebuds ruined by Au Bon Pain sandwiches eaten hunched over their desks as they weight the costs of adding free breadsticks to every large pepperoni against profits to be accrued by selling them to the jaded and undiscriminating masses. "They" are the ones buying artificial flavor from a chemical plant in New Jersey to make the strawberry taste more real and them lemon flavor more tart. "They" are the ones buying potbellied stoves by the gross, and shipping them to sandwich factories across America in a depsarate attempt to stand out in a market already crowded with offerings too bland and market-tested to be distinguished from one another.  "They" are the ones who look at Ray's, Palena and Dinos and covet the location and plot day and night to bankrupt them and steal their customers away.

Most Americans think "dinner" is a commodity. They are the blissfully unaware masses and they seem to make up an ever increasing percentage of our population. I'll refrain from getting into the political ramifications of this, but I'd be happy to rant about it in person over a bottle of wine.

Your definition of "they" is right on the money-- literally!

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.... but THAT'S MY CHOICE!

But your choices are affected in a way that hasn't been spoken about up till now. The market place is not necessarliy speaking. The playing field is so tilted to big business in ways we do not see.

Lets look at Kimpton. This is a chain. A small one to be sure but one that may be coming close to the tipping point of not being bale to be quirky any longer. Where is the unfair advantage? The issue is that Kimpton survives on tax credits and preferential treatment for rehabbing their buildings. They are basically assured a return on their money when the begin the project. How is this money guaranteed? By us the tax payers. By tax deferments etc that I, as a business owner who does not own my own building, cannot get. The field ain't level. They are way ahead by the time they open the doors.

Example #2 is Johnny Rockets. A long while back, they had basically 6 different versions of their floorplans and 6 only. There were certain parameters that could be changed but if your box didn't fit one of these plans, you couldn't get JR as a tennant. Why? Because these plans would pass building code and health code. These plans were so tight that they could wait out a location or they could pass the most stringent building department and they know that. That is such an advantage. They can offer more for a site than I can if I have to go to get an architech to draw up a first set of plans when they just pull oput a set from off the shelf.

But lets look at the codes. Why do we need to have 3/4 of the health codes we need? I don't know. It sure aint for health reasons. I mean plastic cutting boards are not safer, in fact they are much more dangerous when they become scored. But we have to have them at many times the cost of wood. There are all sorts of examples like this that I could name. The field is again tilted towards the chains who have access to the capitol market and to tax breaks that small business don't have.

Lets also look at municipal financing. Silver spring is a great example. Look at the Down Town Silver development and it is mainly chains. The developpers wouldn't start the project without Whole Foods on board. Yes they put in a Strohsniders but with just Stroniders and no Whole Foods, there would have been no development. Yes they are now putting in some smaller restaurants but they first went and got Red Lobster etc because they needed to be sure they would get paid. Downtown SIlver Spring was a sone deal, and a profitable one based on the chains and the huge tax breaks they negotiated from the Co of Mo. When we opened P Street, (remember I was at Whole Foods in a senior management when we developed them both) there were tax breaks involved but the property was held by a small company who developped it without the city putting it together. The result is that P street is all independents (except for Whole Foods) and Silver Spring is chain central.

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No, the consumer you took a shot at wanted to go to Breadline. That's not the kind of consumer I was referring to. And please don't tell me you were trying to "reach others". You're just axe grinding.

Thank you Banco. As the consumer that direct shot was aimed at, I'm glad to see that you were able to see where as I was coming from.

The personal nature of that "shot" is what was most offensive to me. Waitman doesn't know me or anything about the choices that I make on a daily basis. I don't fit into that "one such consumer" definition he seems to want to apply to anyone who dares to set foot in establishments that make him 'dyspeptic' :lol: .

On the contrary, I am 'part of the solution' but don't think that should involve passing judgment on others for their choices. Something about catching more flies with honey....

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Insert Devil's Advocate Point of View:

Although I agree with most of what has been said about chains I think we need to take a look at their existence from another point of view: those who are uneducated and struggle to put any meal on the table.

These food chains, as well as Target, Wallmart, etc. provide job opportunities for those who otherwise would be unemployed due to the education they received. In a country where illiteracy is a large problem these employers have created jobs that require minimal literacy skills.

For many of these people, eating at Breadline or the like is not an option. Spending $10 at Breadline for one person at lunch is an unheard luxury, especially when you can feed the entire family of seven or eight for close to the same amount around the corner at McDonalds. The Olive Garden or Applebees is fine dining for some people. It's where you go for a very special occasion.

Recently one of my students got her first job at a McDonald's. Is she qualified to do much else right now? Nope. Will she be in four years? Hopefully. But she is working and has received her first paycheck. Exciting as that was for her, she wanted it to have larger numbers involved. My student now understands why I nag on her to get her homework done, stay in class and listen to me once in a while. This experience alone, which may help save one child from spending the rest of her life existing on a paycheck from McD's or worse, is well worth it to me.

Do I wish there were better, affordable alternative out there? Of course. But in our society that is not realistic. Should we all be grateful we have the opportunity to pick a restaurant that is of higher quality and therefor usually high price? Yep. If you don't think so, let me know. You can come spend a day with me, my students and their families and I will change your mind.

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Thank you Banco.  As the consumer that direct shot was aimed at, I'm glad to see that you were able to see where as I was coming from. 

The personal nature of that "shot" is what was most offensive to me.  Waitman doesn't know me or anything about the choices that I make on a daily basis.  I don't fit into that "one such consumer" definition he seems to want to apply to anyone who dares to set foot in establishments that make him 'dyspeptic' :lol:

On the contrary, I am 'part of the solution' but don't think that should involve passing judgment on others for their choices.  Something about catching more flies with honey....

You chose to pass up Breadline for Potbelly. In doing that, you chose to give money to a corporation that -- as you noted -- plays havoc with my digestion on a number of levels, and which embodies a trend I deeply dislike, rather than give it to someone whose work I respect and who has made Washington a better city to live in (some of us remember the days before Furstenburg was making bread).

Choices have consequences. When choices are made freely and the consequences affect others, those who are affected are certainly within their rights to have an opinion. The spread of chains, financed one sandwich at a time, affects us all. So, I weighed in.

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Insert Devil's Advocate Point of View:

Although I agree with most of what has been said about chains I think we need to take a look at their existence from another point of view: those who are uneducated and struggle to put any meal on the table.

These food chains, as well as Target, Wallmart, etc. provide job opportunities for those who otherwise would be unemployed due to the education they received.  In a country where illiteracy is a large problem these employers have created jobs that require minimal literacy skills.

For many of these people, eating at Breadline or the like is not an option.  Spending $10 at Breadline for one person at lunch is an unheard luxury, especially when you can feed the entire family of seven or eight for close to the same amount around the corner at McDonalds.  The Olive Garden or Applebees is fine dining for some people.  It's where you go for a very special occasion.

Recently one of my students got her first job at a McDonald's.  Is she qualified to do much else right now?  Nope.  Will she be in four years?  Hopefully.  But she is working and has received her first paycheck.  Exciting as that was for her, she wanted it to have larger numbers involved.  My student now understands why I nag on her to get her homework done, stay in class and listen to me once in a while.  This experience alone, which may help save one child from spending the rest of her life existing on a paycheck from McD's or worse, is well worth it to me.

Do I wish there were better, affordable alternative out there?  Of course.  But in our society that is not realistic.  Should we all be grateful we have the opportunity to pick a restaurant that is of higher quality and therefor usually high price?  Yep.  If you don't think so, let me know.  You can come spend a day with me, my students and their families and I will change your mind.

Wait, we're supposed to be grateful that McDonald's gives poor people the opportunity to eat unhealthy food cheaply? :lol:

Note that Burger King, Pizza Hut and all those other chains band together to fight minumum wage and health care legislation that might give their employees a reasonable chance at a middle class existence

Finally, do you think it's true that if all the Olive Gardens on Earth disappeared tomorrow, independents wouldn't try to fill the empty niche -- at a price competitive with the OG's?

(Written while eating a Breadline ficelle with butter and radish for breakfast. Sold to me by two young women who looked far happier with life than anyone I've ever seen at McD's)

Edited by Waitman
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Opening Soon- Gordon Gecko's Greed is Good Smorgasborg.

I only wish to add that the judgement on chain food versus the independant restaurant conjoins with intent, disjoins by mehtodology.

Chains try to make their food seem appetizing and relevant, by advertising and keeping a continuos presence in the marketplace, not by caring about the food or the harm their "cuisine" can inflict on people. Their intent is to profit, it's capitalism baby and they'll do it the best and most cost efficient way they know how.

Funny thing, but Circle is the first restaurant I've ever worked at that was managed by an entity, rather than the individual, but the end goal is the same here or at Equinox, the means to stay in business. When the rent is due, the payroll is called in the purveyors need their cut, most chefs and restauranteurs are not thinking to themselves that,"hey at least my food was good", they're coming up with ways to stay in business. The food world is a business world, sometimes the truth hurts.

The method I believe in as well as so many of my colleagues in the city, is by caring about food, service, and wine. The means to keep in business is maintained by relationships with farmers and cheesemakers, cooks and FOH staff that make what you offer special. When you care and are passionnate about the food you can make a difference, and it shows on the plate. Unfortunately there are only so many people in DC who don't freak out that a steak costs 25 dollars and doesn't come with a salad or boomerang.

I think Waitman's fundamental argument is valid. The prevalence of chain advertising and business practices in the American market helps to shape the culture, not the other way around, creating the "American Consumer".

Funny thing about consumption, we're the only country in the world who can afford to be collectively fat.

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Unfortunately there are only so many people in DC who don't freak out that a steak costs 25 dollars and doesn't  come with a salad or boomerang.

What do you do for those who don't have $25 to spend on a steak? Those are the folks hillvalley is talking about. It's nice for those who can afford it to get on their high horses, but until the independents are affordable to the average family the $10 entree, or $2 burger (or $4 sandwich :lol: ) is going to be their dining out experience. And is an Olive Garden or a Potbelly really that much worse than a shitty Sysco-stocked independent carryout?

And Mike T had a good point. Most of the people in the US think of food as fuel - for reasons of culture and history. They don't care, and probably wouldn't thank those who would run the chains out for independent businesses.

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Insert Devil's Advocate Point of View:

Although I agree with most of what has been said about chains I think we need to take a look at their existence from another point of view: those who are uneducated and struggle to put any meal on the table.

These food chains, as well as Target, Wallmart, etc. provide job opportunities for those who otherwise would be unemployed due to the education they received.  In a country where illiteracy is a large problem these employers have created jobs that require minimal literacy skills.

For many of these people, eating at Breadline or the like is not an option.  Spending $10 at Breadline for one person at lunch is an unheard luxury, especially when you can feed the entire family of seven or eight for close to the same amount around the corner at McDonalds.  The Olive Garden or Applebees is fine dining for some people.  It's where you go for a very special occasion.

Recently one of my students got her first job at a McDonald's.  Is she qualified to do much else right now?  Nope.  Will she be in four years?  Hopefully.  But she is working and has received her first paycheck.  Exciting as that was for her, she wanted it to have larger numbers involved.  My student now understands why I nag on her to get her homework done, stay in class and listen to me once in a while.  This experience alone, which may help save one child from spending the rest of her life existing on a paycheck from McD's or worse, is well worth it to me.

Do I wish there were better, affordable alternative out there?  Of course.  But in our society that is not realistic.  Should we all be grateful we have the opportunity to pick a restaurant that is of higher quality and therefor usually high price?  Yep.  If you don't think so, let me know.  You can come spend a day with me, my students and their families and I will change your mind.

While I agree with your general argument--afterall, I was the first Burger Chef Hostess--reading your comment made me think about the dearth of grocery stores in Ward 8 (Southeast DC), the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, and the difficulty people have in that part of town to find and prepare decent food. There are plenty of fast-food places over there and they are certainly cheap enough, but they are a big part of the problem. I don't even think it is a matter of "choice" anymore. What I wonder is, how did city folk (particularly the poor and working-class) feed themselves before the advent of fast food? Surely there were food purveyors. Did the prevalence of fast-food cause this problem? Is this a chicken-or-egg question?

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It's a sad fact of life that, these days, an awful lot of people think a "special" dinner out is to go to Red Lobster or Olive Garden.  Let's not mention Outback.  There is only one place in the entire country that has Ray's or OOHs and AAHs.  Plus, those chains are a LOT cheaper than the places we like.  Folks coming for a visit to our fair city are usually slapped with sticker shock at the prices of decent, independent restaurants around here.

I'm old enough to remember travelling across the country and staying in locally-owned motels (Holiday Inn was too high-class for us) and getting recommendations for dinner that steered us to really good local places.  On the other hand, too many people are non-adventurous when it comes to food and only want what they know.  The chains happily fill that bill.  What can you do?

True story: while deployed to northern Italy a couple of years back, had a particularly memorable meal with a newly arrived Marine pilot. His comment: "That was better than Olive Garden." No irony was intended.

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True story:  while deployed to northern Italy a couple of years back, had a particularly memorable meal with a newly arrived Marine pilot.  His comment:  "That was better than Olive Garden."  No irony was intended.

Oh, man. This reminds me of our trip to Italy after we got married. In Venice, we stayed in a hotel that Frommer's recommended, particularly advocating its "restaurant." When I faxed them to make a reservation for New Year's Eve, they wrote back saying that they didn't have anything to do with the restaurant. When we got there, it turned out that the restaurant had turned into a WENDY'S. :lol::P:( I'm not kidding. That was where we were supposed to go for our "Continental Breakfast." All I wanted was some coffee and let me tell you: that was the singularly WORST cappucino we had in all of Italy.

It's a disgrace that any of those places exist in Europe, but, as my DH pointed out, "In Italy, if you insist on bad food, they will provide it to you."

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Chains do have their place in this world. Do you really want to wait for a table at your favorite palace of fine dining while the unwashed masses clog up the isles with their screaming kids?

Give me a break here. You don't have to like MickyDees, Jerrys, BK, etc, but they do serve a purpose, and alot of burgers.

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