Earlier this week, Janesville nearly broke the internet. Two stories of changes in our local restaurant scene were shared, viewed and commented on more than any other in recent memory. The stars of the stories? Perkins, which closed abruptly Monday, and Golden Corral’s announcement it will take over the former Quaker Steak & Lube location. The community went into “buzz” mode, and social media went wild.
The camps? “Chainsville” haters, lobster lovers, buffet blasters and corporate criticizers. There were groups of commenters who seemed angry about a perceived proliferation of chain restaurants overtaking the community, people who want Red Lobster back, people who believe that buffet restaurants should be all but banned and folks who blasted Perkins for its lack of compassion for its employees.
The takeaway? We want local, nonchain restaurants (except for Red Lobster, apparently).
I don’t know where many of these commenters live, but I can safely surmise they do not actively look for that which they seek. It is true Janesville, like other communities its size, has its share of chains. However, those lamenting the lack of local restaurant choices have only to open their eyes. Perhaps we in the media are a part of promoting the perception that there are so many “chains” by not making it easier for local restaurateurs to access our advertising services. It should be noted that amidst the Perkins and Golden Corral news, a local restaurant announced a week earlier it would also close. Karen’s Souper Deli in the old Parker building closed Friday. Lack of customer traffic (and ultimately profit) was cited as the reason on the deli’s Facebook page.
Thus, the conundrum. A local restaurant—the kind people profess to want more of—closed amidst the chatter about the chains. My guess is that if 50 more people showed up at the deli every day, it might still be open. So why are those who want more local, nonchain choices not supporting the local restaurants? That, I can’t say. Allow me to demonstrate my point.
How many times have those begging for more local fare been to any of these establishments: The Italian House, Lark, Jeff’s Coffee Bar, Sandi’s Thai Fusion, So-Chopped, Whiskey Ranch, Looking Glass, Wiggy’s, Jim’s Pizzeria, Sidelines, Bessie’s Diner, Milwaukee Grill, Cozumel, Wedge Inn East, El Jardin, Bobbleheads, Luke’s Deli, Cozy Inn, Kealy’s Cafe, Citrus Cafe, Park City, Tony & Maria’s, O’Reily & Conway’s, Barkley’s Burgers, Brews and Dawgs, Mac’s Pizza Shack, World Buffet, Steve’s Deli Dog House, Wander Inn Cafe, Sam’s Pizza, Eagle Inn, My Apartment, Wedges, Wolf’s Den, 29 South, GR’s Sandwich Shop, Bodacious Olive, Charlie’s Place, Conroy’s or Helgesen’s Harpos (To those I’ve missed, I apologize)?
This list changes frequently as local owners find they are not being supported to the level of making a living—but there is no doubt that locally owned establishments are actually plentiful in our community, especially if you add a number of franchise restaurants that are owned and operated by local individuals.
Yes, Janesville does lack some higher-end local restaurants. The question is this: Will the community support them or just offer lip service? The higher-end restaurants of yesteryear are but memories: Hoffman House, Campi’s, Roherty’s and the like. Higher-end chains such as Red Lobster do their homework when determining the environment in which to open a location. So if the big chains’ research says Janesville is a no-go, how can we expect local folks to put their life savings on the line to take a risk those chains will not?
In my opinion, the solution to those folks salivating for more local and upscale dining establishments comes in the form of a paraphrase from a popular movie quote: “If you eat there, more will come.”