The Hole in the Doughnut

Carrollton missed the boom, but still hopes to attract restaurant business

But the new ordinances do not simply throw open the doors for rampant development. La Hacienda Ranch spent $20,000 on construction and equipment to meet the city's new smoking ordinance. "Inspectors test the system every six months," says Ramirez, who spent $5,000 on ventilation work alone. "They light a smoke bomb in the room, and the system has to clear it. Thirty fat guys smoking cigars couldn't make that much smoke."

Restrictive smoking policies, however, deter fewer restaurants than outright bans. "We do a lot of business in Arlington," Smith says, comparing Carrollton's new smoking ordinance to Arlington's similarly strict policy. "We're seeing more of that, and it's not a deal breaker."

Carrollton's new ordinances, however, create a haves-versus-have nots gap between newly opened or redesigned restaurants and those built under the old requirements. Judge Bean's reconstructed its smoking area, dedicating 30 percent of its space to cigarette smokers. "You can't get a seat in there," Stack beams at the crowd. But at Full House Chinese Restaurant, Lili Hsu says, "I think it's a big problem. A lot of people ask for the smoking section, and when they find out we don't have one, some go elsewhere." The stumbling economy threatens to further expose the gap. "If there's a crunch, we'll feel the effects first," explains a manager at Marshall's Bar-B-Q, a no-smoking, no-alcohol location. "If people can only go out to eat one night a week, they'll go to a place that has alcohol and smoking."

Entrenched popular attitudes also block Mink's efforts. A few residents protested when Los Lupe's opened, simply because the restaurant serves alcohol. Sonny Bryan's fought the city over a pickup window because some people feared drive-through alcohol sales. "A lot of people from Carrollton are surprised that we allow smoking," says Heather Edwards, assistant general manager at La Hacienda Ranch. "They say, 'How do you get away with that?' They're just used to no-smoking places."

"Statutes can be modified," muses the ever-observant White. "Mores are harder to adjust. In the case of the former, Carrollton could possibly compete by offering tax incentives to attract restaurant groups. In the case of the latter, head for Addison or Frisco."

Frisco, indeed. More than 25 restaurants opened in Frisco over the past 12 months thanks to rapid growth, a new mall and a couple of highways. Carrollton hopes the newly opened Bush Turnpike will spur interest in the city.

"But," Mink acknowledges, "it won't happen overnight."

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