Thought for Food

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Restaurants appear and disappear all around my neighborhood. What is it that attracts people to open up a restaurant in such a terrible economy?

I can think of several reasons why 0pening a restaurant might be like writing a novel. I’ve written a novel. I wonder if I could open a restaurant…

It takes a dream. I make lovely lasagna- people will flock. My book will sell and I will make millions.

It takes an idea – a menu or a story line.

It takes a lot of perseverance. The bank will love my proposal and give me a loan for this restaurant straight away. I will finish my novel even though I have no editor on the sidelines urging me forward.

It takes more perseverance. Okay, so the bank thinks I’m just one of millions with a lasagna recipe, I’ll go to another bank, or I’ll create more and even greater recipes. (You can see the analogy).

My husband and I try to visit the new restaurants at least once, and depend upon our daughter to try out the ones we can’t get to in time, before they close, I mean.

Why do they close? There are two reasons I believe restaurants are so quick to open and just as quick to close and only one of them has to do with the food. First, because the food was less than exceptional. In a world full of restaurants and people who eat at restaurants, the food must be beyond good.  Secondly, a restaurant fails because of lack of business acuity. For instance, one recently closed restaurant handed out menus that had no English subtitles. I need to know what I’m ordering. Another is close to failing (despite wonderful food) because they added no sound-proofing along the walls and their patrons can not carry on a conversation below shouting level.

In the world of book writing a novel doesn’t get published for two reasons (And I’m being simplistic, I know.) First, because it isn’t well written. Secondly and more importantly, because the writer doesn’t push forward and persevere with publication.

But there are restaurant that are extremely successful that serve mediocre and even BAD food. (You can see the analogy I’m making. I hope.)

At Baby Barnaby’s people line up for hours on weekend mornings to get in and get a bad breakfast. On my visit I ordered a simple dish and after a few bites, could not eat it. I didn’t say anything to the waiter because I don’t want my plate whisked away and redone with spit added. Nor did I mention this to others who planned to try the restaurant. Everyone is entitled to eat bad food. But the others I had in mind have stood in line and then reported the same experience. Yet, people line up. And now I’m warning you – don’t do it! Save your money! Stand in line at the Breakfast Club instead.

There are soooo many restaurant around us. You would think I’m fortunate. I live blocks from Midtown, which is the epicenter of Thai/Vietnamese restaurants in Houston. Every one that we’ve tried isn’t worth a second visit. There is an excellent Chinese restaurant on Buffalo Speedway and I-59 called Q’uin Dynasty (five stars from me, consistently good, too). There are four Greek/Mediterranean restaurants in walking distance from my home. Not a one of them serves anything decent except the gyros. That gets boring. There are four Mexican or Tex/Mex restaurants within a few square blocks. I can’t get excited about any of them. The neighbors gather every Friday night at the pink Mexican restaurant. I will point out that of all the Mexican restaurants the pink one is the best. I think the name is La Palisado – or something else that I can’t pronounce, so it remains “the pink one.”

We went to a cafe around the corner last week and I ordered the chicken salad stuffed avocado. How could I go wrong? I received a plate sprinkled with dry iceberg lettuce with brown edges, a halved avocado with skin intact. I would describe the chicken salad as boiled chicken mashed with mayonnaise. It had been squished into the center of the avocado. I would at least grind down that cooked chicken so it wasn’t stringy, and then I would add some flavor.

Even the doughnut shop on the corner, (how can you mess up a doughnut?) can’t compare to Dunkin’ Donuts. But their parking lot is crowded with cars.

It isn’t all bad. There are incredible restaurants nearby. Marks, Davino’s, The Chocolate Bar, Little Bigs, Indika’s, and that hole-in-the wall Cajun place behind the gas station to name only a few. There are others yet to be tried and I will report.

I could make a restaurant work. I am married to a man with a good head for numbers, I DO have some great recipes and my business plan is simple – if you feed people enough tasty food, they will be back.

No, I don’t think I will start that restaurant business any time soon (though that may change as the really great restaurants are becoming fewer and farther between. And I am hungry.)

For now, I will stick to writing more tasty novels.

How opening a restaurant is NOT like writing a novel:

If at first you don’t succeed it is much too expensive to open another restaurant.

Here is a recipe:

My Mom’s Shrimp Dip

1 8 oz. block of cream cheese (room temp)

1 cup mayonnaise (gotta be the real stuff)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 lemon, juiced

1 and 1/2 cup fresh shrimp* (cooked, peeled, chopped)


Best eaten the next day.

*the secret to good boiled shrimp is this. Put the raw, unpeeled shrimp in rapidly boiling, seasoned water. Wait two minutes. Turn fire off. Let shrimp sit in seasoned water for fifteen minutes. My favorite seasoning is two tablespoons of liquid Zatarain’s Crab and Shrimp boil, and two tablespoons salt.

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