A visit to a small independently, Virginia owned restaurant can be a wonderful experience. The appearance is slightly charming in some places; others have more financial backing to be modern and clean in all the right spots.
Look at the menu. You see all angles from great themes, cohesive ideas, to abstract off the wall and confusing concepts. Our nation is packed full of dreamers. The huge percentage often choose the dream of opening a café, restaurant, bar or combinations of all as their pie in the sky.
With the popularity of such programs as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dive” with Guy Fieri even more people have gone on quests to at least visit these special places of Americana. Guaranteed most look at these establishments thinking,”I could do this. I can cook. My mother has great recipes.”
Enter the dragon or shall I say franchise or chain restaurants who dominate a huge landscape in our culinary minds.
The battle is on for the food dollar and they are not sitting back.
If you casually observe trends in eateries you will see larger chains from an Olive Garden to even fast food restaurants like McDonalds are add healthy choices and dollar crunching choices to the menus. They can squeeze a few bucks out of their bank accounts and not feel the pain. These businesses who dot many communities in the Commonwealth and our nation reach out to the consumer through endless ads and marketing campaigns. You can’t hide from them; their signs are bigger and brighter than most independent concerns.
Where does this leave the small the guy, the places that normally serve a niche crowd, the local neighborhood bar or diner? You’ll find comfort food, original ideas handed down from relatives and creative experiments with local flavor.
In many cases some are established enough to weather the storm of the economy and competition from the established companies. Lost in the mix are smaller places where the dreamers land.
The concern here is, are we in danger of losing the dreamers. Drive down the streets of Richmond, Arlington, Leesburg or surrounding rural routes. Count the closed restaurants, diners and bars. Many of these owners were dreamers but were not equipped enough to compete with marketing and ads or general restaurant business sense to continue.
These are the places we should support because they need us. Our cities and towns and countrysides need them. Inside these small cafes are dreamers creating the character of our local scenes. They represent informal and special partnerships in our neighborhoods. They are our friends.
Next trip to Red Lobster choose instead to spend those dollars with the dreamer. Visit the large brightly shining restaurant another day. Involve yourself this time in preserving a dream for a small cozy place with maybe not as much shine but with a lot of potential to please.