Eat This

Question Of The Week: Should Small, Chef-Driven Restaurants Expand?

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A Nick Too Far?
​Last we we asked about chains. This time around, we were wondering about small-scale expansion.

Word came recently that Nick Badovinus, chef and owner of Neighborhood Services, would soon open a second and third branch of the restaurant. Nothing wrong with this--expansion is sometimes the only way for an operation to bring in more cash.

Yet there's also plenty of risk. Branch out before you're ready and quality may slip in one or all of the locations. And when quality slips...

Not suggesting Badovinus rethink his plans. We're just wondering what the consensus is--too risky? Acceptable under certain circumstances? What are those circumstances? And when a chef opens a second branch, do you give it more or less leeway?

Results from last week, in which we asked why people love some chains but despise others...

Good crop of responses--and a lot to think about.

In general, most agreed that the better chains provide comfort in the form of consistency. As to why some are OK and others not, well...

"I think there is still a perceived difference between the 'local/small chain' and the 'humongous national chain,'" writes tijbbari. "Chili's was hip when it was just on Greenville, not so much when it is in every suburb and most major airports in the country. I wouldn't mind trying all 5 Lowrey's Prime Rib in the world, but not at all 2,456,856.7 Chilibies."

"I think the difference is that as some concepts go 'chain' they tend to dummy down their food to appease the masses," curmudgeon agrees, "thus losing what made them special and as some multi unit locals are acquired by larger outfits they become more about money than food which is what made them special. If a company can grow at a sensible rate and not try to get to big to fast and have fail safe procedures in place to check quality then everything else will fall into place."

Gipson approaches the answer from another angle, writing "I believe chain-hating has almost nothing to do with food quality and almost everything to do with the inundation of an elitist food culture. You can only read phrases like 'locally-sourced.' 'sustainable,' 'heritage' and 'organic' so many times before you convince yourself they actually mean something. It's the same mindset that convinces people to bash Lady Gaga then go home and masturbate to some Iron & Wine album. I'm not saying the food at non-chains isn't better, I'm just saying foodies sometimes eat their pretensions. (And I'm one of'em.)"

And luniz further condenses the matter of perception to "why should you judge a restaurant on whether it's a chain or not? I'd rather judge on the quality of the food and experience."

For the final word, we'll turn things over to TLS: "I used to be more anti-chain restaurant. It wasn't because of the food because there are some really good menu items sold in chains. Rarely a week goes by that I don't have a ham on pretzel from Corner Bakery, for example. I was anti-chain as a way to protect the mom and pop restaurants that often struggle to compete with the marketing dollars the big boys spend. I wanted to give my money to the little guy. But then I realized how many people these chain restaurants employ, paying fair wages with benefits, training them to be productive tax payers. So now I eat where I want, as long as there isn't a Whataburger or Applebees in the name."

So chains still rule over others.

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries