GAYS MILLS - According to people who keep track of such things, Americans now eat more than half of their meals away from home. With all those ‘store bought’ meals under our belts the average person may get the idea that they could be successful in running some kind of an eatery.
Owning and operating a restaurant seems to be a common dream, be it of a pipe, day, or waking variety. Meals out are usually happy occasions. There’s something special about sitting down to a table and having people serve you food, something about looking over a menu instead of going to the refrigerator and seeing what there is to eat.
Many restaurants are part of big corporations. Owned by individuals, each franchise in the chain must hue to the company line as far as menu, prices, atmosphere, uniforms, and regulations. You can go to a McDonalds or Subway, say, in Florida, New York, or Oregon and you’ll know what you’re getting. The franchisee benefits from the reputation of being part of a well-known brand and enjoying nationwide saturation advertising.
My very limited experience in the restaurant business consists of working at the Luther Memorial Food Stand at the Crawford County Fair for several years. And I just worked four- to six-hour shifts for a couple of days at ‘McLuther’s,’ not all day, morning till night, seven-days-a-week, which is what running a permanent restaurant involves. That relentless schedule may be one reason there is a lot of turnover in the restaurant business-that plus very stiff competition in the business of eating away from home.
Still, I harbor a fantasy (a downgrade from a dream) of what it would be like to run a restaurant. A small café has more appeal to me than a larger, more upscale restaurant. A restaurant occupies a niche a couple of notches higher on the food chain than a cafe. A café should be a no-nonsense place where folks can go to get a square meal at a reasonable price, and ideally in short and friendly order. Not part of a major, or even two-link chain. A classic small business, mom and pop, owner-operated kind of a place.
I’ve been to such cafés. I’ve searched them out when I travel and have seldom been disappointed when I’ve tried them. To make it as an independent café, something has to cause people to return to the place often, to become a ‘regular.’ That something is usually the food.
To make things simpler, the menu will not need to be one of those huge, multi-page, plastic covered monsters that require some manual dexterity and time to study. The menu for the day might be on a scrawled blackboard that everyone in the place can read from where they’re sitting.
No, the great little café in my mind might have about four things on the menu to choose from: a memorable burger, a remarkable bowl of chili or other soup, a great green salad, and maybe a tuna fish sandwich that you will tell your fiends about and recommend to visitors.
And pie. The kind of pie that people will drive a few miles to buy. Three or four choices of homemade, locally sourced, generous slabs of pie that people won’t forget. And bottomless cups of decent coffee, did I mention that?A guy can fantasize. In the meantime, KwikTrip meets a lot of my criteria.