Thursday, August 30, 2007

Save the Mango Room and Other Independent Restaurants! - End of August Update

Today is the penultimate day of August, and tomorrow is looking pretty busy, so it is time to report on the results of my self-imposed challenge to eat only in Kansas City-owned restaurants from July 19 through the end of August. Folks, Kansas City is blessed with some outstanding local restaurants, but we're going to lose them to chains if we don't support them. Sadly, Napoleon's Bakery and Cafe - a wonderful place for sandwiches and dessert (!!) vanished during the past few weeks.

I eat out a lot - too much, in fact. I probably average around 4 times a week for lunch, and a couple times a week for dinner, if you count carry-out. For someone who loves to cook, I don't do it nearly often enough. Living without corporate food, though, was surprisingly easy for the past 6 weeks. (The only time I violated my own policy was this past Monday night, when Ali wanted to have her going-away dinner at Lidia's, which could be considered by some dogmatic souls to be a chain based outside of Kansas City. Man, it was worth compromising my integrity!!)

I don't want to talk too much about specific restaurants, though I hope to do more profiling of my favorites on this blog in the near future. Instead, I want to talk more holistically about the challenge.

I'm sticking with it, and I encourage you to take the challenge. Shop local restaurants for meals you eat out or carry out.

One of the things I noticed was the attitude you get. If you walk into a Taco Bell, you get an efficient and corporately polite greeting. You are another unit for the day, and the person behind the counter sees you as another widget to be processed.

If you walk into Midtown Burrito's and More, you get a conversation. Sometimes, you get waited on by Nona, or, if you're outside of school hours, you might get her darling daughter. There, you are a valued customer, and the experience is affirming and positive, as opposed to dehumanizing. I'm not a new-age person who believes in karmas and auras and all that stuff, but believe me when I assure you that the experience of getting fast food from a local place leaves you feeling better about the world in a way that you don't get from a corporate place.

Less spiritually, I'm more convinced than ever that local restaurants are better for our local economy. It just makes sense that when the food is make locally, from ingredients bought locally, by local people who aren't shipping a five or ten figure franchise fee out of our neighborhoods, more money stays around our community.

And I learned that buying from local restaurants is not necessarily cheaper. Honestly, it's hard to compete with a 99 cent value meal for sheer cheapness. I didn't find many local places, even the fast food ones, where I could get our for under $5 for lunch.

When I saw the hard-working people and families in our locally-owned restaurants trying to compete for the cheapest meal possible, it made me think about why they were failing. They don't have international corporate farms. They don't do insane volume, driven by national advertising. They don't have an insidious labor system set up, where badly-paid managers are "incented" to make the lives of even-worse-paid workers miserable.

So, for the buck or so extra you might be spending, you are specifically buying your way out of what is so wrong about corporate food. You are buying your way out of food chemists and evil "human resource" directors. That 99 cent hamburger comes packed with a whole lot of economic injustice that you can avoid by shopping locally.

Finally, I found myself going into places I never would have gone into, and being glad for the experience. I never would have gone to Mike's Philly Steak Shop on 39th, just east of Main. I never would have dropped in on Midtown Burrito's - heck, I never would have seen it, huddled up against the old Lamar's building on Linwood.

I found myself getting past my self-imposed cowardice of only wanting to go into shops and buildings where I already knew what the counters and menus look like. I found myself really wanting to find something unexpected and quirky, rather than predictable. That's a huge change, and one that cuts to the core of corporate America. If I go into a McDonald's in Maine or Arizona, I know it's going to be pretty much the same as the one on Broadway. I know exactly what I will be asked, and I know how to respond - there's no danger of having to listen to a human being and respond to a human being. We have a script. And the coward in me wants that.

But the better me doesn't. If I go into Mike's Diner in Maine, it ought to be a different experience than if I go into Mike's Diner in Arizona. The better me wants to get out of my car and experience that difference. The better me knows that the food is probably better than I'd get at McDonald's, and the staff is probably friendlier, and the prices are going to be pretty much the same.

For 6 weeks, the better me has been winning the argument over the cowardly me, and I'm glad. I'm going to try to keep it that way into the future.

But, after August is officially over, I want some Pop-Eye's spicy chicken. That stuff's good, and I've missed it.

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Blogger Stephen Bough said...

You can try Bush's favorite spot - the Corner Cafe in Riverside. They have great fried chicken, chicken fried steak and even chicken fried chicken.

8/31/2007 9:42 AM  
Anonymous The Voice In Amy's Head said...

And don't forget, if you go to the Corner Cafe, you might just get to eat with the brainless President as well as Stephen Bough! Birds of a Feather?

Looks like you will not have to compete for seating with convention delegates downtown over the next few years. Your man Funk's infatuation with the Fascist septagenarian Frances Semler will cost the KC area a few conventions, according to The Star. Without conventioneers making paying sales taxes, hitting those Downtown TIF figures is going to be very difficult. To paraphrase one Corner Cafe customer: "Your doing a Hell of a job Funky!"

8/31/2007 11:44 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Yeah Dan, you're supporting local restaurants so FO for supporting Funkhouser. Wait, that actually doesn't make any sense does it?

8/31/2007 4:59 PM  
Anonymous missspider said...

well slap my ass and call me Sally - for once I agree with you Dan!
I too make it a point to eat at small-business locally owned establishments.
In addition, I also keep my ear to the KC restaurant world (luckily, I no longer wait tables myself) and refrain from spending my money at locally owned spots when I've heard credible accounts that employees are treated poorly.
Sadly, there are some popular KC restaurants whose owners have reputations for mistreating staff (sexual harrassment, temper tanturms, etc). Food critics should also dish dirt on restaurant management gossip so that we can all reward good places owned by good people.

8/31/2007 11:34 PM  
Blogger ::Andrew:: said...

In my quest for a tamale better than Ponak's, I ate at Teocali on Holmes last week. I must say that theirs is now my #2 favorite.

How was Mike's Philly Steak Shop?

9/01/2007 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is her (the councilwoman's) favorite restaurant?

9/01/2007 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Beth Gottstein said...

Anon. 11:02AM -

I eat anywhere Daddy's credit card is accepted!

9/01/2007 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you tried Lill's on 17th?

9/01/2007 8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know some of you won't agree with me. But, we went to Lidia's and The Copa Room for dinner and won't be going back.

9/04/2007 2:16 PM  
Blogger Waldo Oiseau said...

Viva la local cuisine! Great post, Dan.

9/07/2007 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

isn't another post about due

9/08/2007 12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it kind of ironic how KSHB has brought in local restaurants and lets not forget the "Mango Room". These local businesses are going to collaspe if "The Race" and the "Naacr" don't have their conventions here.
Just like Tony there's no fish in the pond.

9/09/2007 6:21 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Paintman - What? Huh?

9/10/2007 5:55 AM  

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