The Endless Debate
It appears I hit a nerve in last week's installment of Food News. Judging by the feedback we received, a number of BW readers have an opinion about the struggle between chain restaurants and the local guys. Inevitably, some readers disagree with position to support locals first. However, I am surprised that the most vocal source of chain-championing came from the kitchen of The MilkyWay's most direct, local downtown competition (see Mail, page 3).
Was my position unwelcoming to chain restaurants looking to relocate downtown? Most certainly. If I had my way, the chains would be relegated to an existence on Eagle Road, where they are a safe distance from the restaurants that make Boise's culinary scene unique. Like it or not, Boise can only support so many restaurants. More restaurants means more choices, but it also means diners are spread more thinly. Take into account the rising price of food and the of tightening consumers' budgets due to a slowing economy and it means fewer butts in seats for everyone, chains and locals alike. The difference? Those with large corporate budgets can weather a string of slow months. The locals can't.
This isn't an new issue, nor is one that's unique to Boise. Nationwide organizations like Dine Originals have mobilized chapters all over the country to unify the efforts of local restaurateurs in their own communities. National organizations like EatFleet and smaller, regional non-profits like Favorite Independent Restaurant Association serve similar functions, aiming to improve independents' buying power as a collective.
This isn't even an issue unique to the restaurant business. Local business owners face an uphill battle against larger, corporate competition regardless of what kind of business they operate. That's not news, either. Nor is the fact that for every dollar spent in a locally owned business, 45 cents stays in the community versus the 15 cents a chain generates.
When a city loses a local restaurant, the loss extends further than its menu. It means the erosion of region-specific cuisine; it means the disappearance of local cooking styles and flair; ultimately, it means less culinary diversity across the nation. Chew on this: What would Boise's culinary scene look like without Basque restaurants? Which chain restaurants would serve fingersteaks and fry sauce? It may seem like doomsday conspiracy theory to hypothesize that if trends continue at the current rate, locally owned restaurants will be a thing of the past in another half century. In reality, though, restaurants are one of the last surviving hold-outs from corporate America's takeover. We're not having this discussion about locally owned drugstores, are we? Or toy stores, or auto-parts retailers, or grocery stores, or gas stations ...
As we went to press on Tuesday afternoon, we got word the Ketchum Burritos, aka KB's, in BoDo closed its doors. Check out the BW Beat at boiseweekly.com for updates throughout the week.
This Week's Wine and Dine
For the next few weeks, Food News will be on hiatus to make room for Bingo Barnes' behind-the-scenes scoop of this year's Martini Mix-Off. Here's a quick and dirty guide to wining and dining throughout May.
• DaMa vintner's dinner at Tavern Wine Market. May 8, 6:30 p.m, $100. 3111 S. Bown Way, 208-345-2277.
• I Love Me Mum Wine Festival featuring eight wineries, gourmet food and music at Sawtooth Winery. May 11, noon to 5 p.m., $20 adults, kids free. Visit idahowines.org.
• Vintner's dinner with Greg Koenig hosted by Three Horse Ranch Vineyard at Season's Bistro and Wine Bar. May 17, 7 p.m., $65. 1117 E. Winding Creek Dr., 208-939-6680. Visit threehorseranchvineyards.com or seasonsdelicatering.com.