A landmark restaurant in my old neighborhood closed this week. It was a locally owned original and I miss it already.
But this post isn’t about that.
It isn’t about the restaurant’s famous beer cheese soup (although local foodies are already in mourning) or the magically strange basement location where you could hear a ball game playing in one ear and the hypnotic gurgle of a bubbling fountain in the other. It’s not about the tangled knot of factors that lead to its closing.
This post is about the future.
It’s about what we do now.
This post is for everyone who has ever watched a restaurant in their neighborhood close.
It’s for the people who lined up on closing day to try their favorites one last time, for the food enthusiasts bemoaning the death of another locally owned place online. And more than anything, it’s for the person who never took the chance to stop in and try something new.
This post is about how we move forward through sadness and regret and take action to support other locally owned restaurants.
So this is what we do. Are you ready? The solution is breathtakingly simple.
Eat local. Go now.
That little Chinese place you pass every day on your way to work? Try it tonight.
That mom and pop cafe place that’s been around forever? Bring the family for Sunday dinner.
That sleek new place everybody’s buzzing about? That one that seems a little too much — too expensive, too fancy, too strange, too outside your comfort zone? Make a reservation and bring someone with a heart for adventure.
As diners, our part is easy. We just have to show up and eat. The restaurant business…well, now that’s where it gets hard.
Like any high risk, high reward endeavor, owning and operating a restaurant is a business of thrilling highs and sucker punch lows. Chefs, owners, managers and staff have to deal with a pressure cooker of stressors every day — rising operating costs, stiff competition, changes in population and demographics, unpredictable food costs, staff turnover, creative burnout, wage insecurity, bad tips, jerk customers and actual, bodily fatigue from the grinding demands of an often brutally physical job.
The restaurant business is a gamble. It always will be. Some restaurants don’t make it past infancy. Some of the best restaurants implode while others quietly waste away.
This is life. The consistently magical places are both a well-oiled machine and a celebration of the ephemeral, a buzzy cocktail of chemistry and energy and the sensory delights of flavors and textures.
Nothing lasts forever. It’s a mistake to take that kind of pleasure for granted. And it’s a tragedy to let it pass you by.
So when you find a place that excites you on a primal level — that spot with the perfect pie, or the comfortable dining room or the most beautiful food you’ve ever seen — support it.
And tell your friends about it — or better yet, invite them along. Spread the word on social media. Suggest a local spot to visitors and show them what your town is really about.
Wave to the owners. They need to see their investment in the community is appreciated. Chat with the management. They hear too many petty complaints. Compliment the kitchen staff, both the chefs that drafted the menu and the men and women on the line. They never get a chance to look up and see how much you enjoyed your meal. Ask the servers and bartenders for their help and suggestions — and tip handsomely for a job well done. They are trained professionals with a wealth of knowledge and experiences and too often they’re treated like simple order-takers.
These are the people that keep the locally owned restaurants running. And the locally owned spots are what keep our communities unique and vibrant.
Eat local. Go now.
Not every restaurant will make it. But if a restaurant closes its doors and we’ve never been there, we are partly to blame. We did nothing. We sat by and watched another local source of revenue go under, because we got complacent. We settled for warming up something good enough at home when we could have had something great.
We can’t do anything about most of the stresses that restaurant owners face. But we can show up and eat. And we can enjoy the magic while we have a chance.
Eat local. Go now.
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