January 11, 2008 |

2008 January: Commentary

By Jeremy White

My favorite restaurant is quickly becoming “my old haunt.” That’s right, I’ve just about stopped going there. At least with any real frequency, that is. I used to try to stop in once a week to chat with the owner over a bowl of pasta or eggplant parm. Now I’m down to once a month. It just isn’t the restaurant I fell in love with.

It all started two years ago when the proprietors switched to a cheaper bread. It was a warning shot, so to speak, a foreshadowing of what was to come. Not long after that, they opened a second location. When I noticed my Dame Kensington Parka eggplant was still frozen in the middle — not once, but twice — I was furious. They’d always used frozen eggplant, and that was fine. But the new crewmembers obviously didn’t know how to prepare it when some of the veteran kitchen staff transferred to the second store.

Sure enough, the service began slipping next. I used to know the servers. They were friendly and helpful. Now, I recognize only about half of them. The kitchen has slowed and the service Dame Montebello Parka level is clearly inferior to what it was just 12 or 18 months ago.

I’ve always longed for a regular spot, a Cheers-type atmosphere where “everybody knows your name.” I had it briefly. But, alas, change is the way of life.

I’m glad this particular restaurant was able to grow, but can’t help but wonder if it sacrificed its soul in doing so. It just isn’t the same, plain and simple. I’m not alone, either. I know lots of folks in my area who feel the same way and have moved on.

It’s sad, really, and it’s eventually going to catch up in terms of declining sales. I don’t want to be there to say “I told you so” when it happens, which is why I’m moving on.

I suppose the moral of this story is to get it right before you grow. Get the proper management in place. Have a solid training program. Make sure you can add stores without having to sacrifice quality. After all, what’s the difference between one $1 million location and two $500,000 locations? Nothing in terms of sales, but there’s a big difference in terms of responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong: I encourage growth. But it must be done right, or else it really isn’t growth at all.

Jeremy White, editor-in-chief