Unfortunately, it was also eerily empty every time the wife and I stopped by for lunch. We kept coming back, certain it would catch on. Then after four or five visits, we quit. There’s just something about being the only diner in the room. You feel a weight of responsibility for keeping the owner’s hopes up. You feel you should offer suggestions. Worse, you begin to imagine the telltale whiff of desperation. You feel the boat sinking, and you don’t want to be on it.
I mention this because another new restaurant opened in our neighborhood a couple of weeks ago. Unlike the first one, this one is going great guns.
I watched it being built from the park where I walk my dog. Before it was even finished, cars were turning in and would-be customers were trying the door. When it did open, the line reached around the building. It’s the same today. The location and building are nondescript, the service is robotic, and the food barely qualifies to be called food. But the new restaurant is a McDonald’s. And the thing about a McDonald’s is this: If you build it, they will definitely come.
A man with some experience in the field once told me that running a successful restaurant has almost nothing to do with the food. I guess this is the proof. The only time I visit a McDonald’s these days is for a cup of coffee when I’m on the road, but apparently it’s still a big part of other people’s lives. Many decades and billions of dollars in marketing have made it a Pavlovian thing. You see those arches and hit the drive-thru, without being hungry and without quite knowing why.
Now the empty sacks and crumpled napkins are starting to drift up outside the dog-park fence. Meanwhile, the first restaurant is still limping along, maintaining a cheerful demeanor on Facebook and apparently working damned hard to carve out a niche in this sometimes odd neighborhood of ours. Maybe it’s time for another visit.