Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

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Scenes from a pasta restaurant

We went with our friends Scott and Donna to Mama Emilia's restaurant in McKinney, the 25,000 person town to the north of us. It's in a rustic old brick building, and it has old fashioned wooden booths. It's one of those "dark little Italian" places with a good menu, reasonable prices, and a sort of casual dressy feel that one finds in Kansas City or some east coast cities, but rarely in north Texas. We had a wonderful meal. Best of all, I think this restaurant will be immune to potential franchising.

Dallas has some wonderful restaurants. But Dallas also has "franchise-itis". Frequently, a really charming new idea will arise in a restaurant. The outlet in question will soon be bulging with people. In some instances, the owners will do as in Los Angeles or New York, and merely open a single second location, subject to the same management and quality control. Dallas folks think a lot about "hey, we could open a new business", though. Financial people and folks with investment capital for franchises or massive "chains" of outlets are part of the Dallas thing, as sure as are the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and Nieman Marcus.

Soon, no matter how charming or individual a concept might be, it is converted into franchises or thousands of outlets and exported into the Dallas, Houston and San Antonio suburbs. One case in point is Sonny Bryan's. Texas barbecue is a real regional cuisine. It's hotter than the KC and Chicago stuff to the north, less vinegar based than the Carolinas stuff. It's a meat-oriented, "hot sauce" bbq. Every great Texas city has at least one great bbq stand. In Dallas, it was Sonny Bryan's. Sonny Bryan's was informal, hole in the wallish. They opened the doors at 11 and sold until the bbq was sold out. This usually happened by 1, when enough money would be earned to permit them to close and open the next day. Sonny Bryan's was one location, perfect unto itself,and dynamite.

Now, of course, a pristine open until 10 p.m. identical franchise outlet is open in every tract home suburb. They are all good, the food is always dependable, I would eat there gladly. But that "Sonny Bryan's magic" is gone in the mix somehow.

Similarly, Gloria's opened 12 or 13 years ago in Oak Cliff, Dallas' historic diverse neighborhood. Gloria's serves Salvadoran and Guatemalan food along with Mexican food--great tamals, real masa, the whole works. But now Gloria's are opening in all the suburbs, and they have acquired just a bit of blandness in the franchise (or multi-outlet, I'm not sure) package. It's still a good restaurant, but it's not what it was before.

Perhaps it's something about Dallas people, who tend to be extremely hard working and quite conservative and value predictabiity in their food to an almost absurd extent. In our northern Collin County suburbs, filled with high tech family folks, non-chain restaurants with maximum charm have no waiting for tables on Friday night, while TGI Friday's or Cheesecake Factory might have 1 hour and 15 minute waits (sure makes our lives easier, that phenomenon). Perhaps it's something about the way business is done here, when the word "franchise" or "chain" is as natural as in some cities "job at McDonald's" might be.

I just know that I go to a 'personal service and incredible ambience' place like Mama Emilia's and am thankful that there's no way in heck they can bottle this place into a chain.

It's not that I'm against chains--I'm not a food snob and eat at them gladly. But when something's special, you can't bottle it.
You just have to let it be.

Damn it, I'm so glad Marstokyo undeleted. She can't be franchised, either.
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