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ronnie_suburban

Chain Restaurant Killer

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For months I've been meaning to post how exciting it was that the Applebee's nearest to my house had been closed back in January 2004 due to underperformance. I'd read in NRN (or a similar pub.) that, measured by sales, Applebee's was the #1 'family' restaurant in the U.S. And my little town took one out :biggrin: The only person I know personally who was upset about this was my MIL who, though she lives in Indiana, loved to meet up with her sister at Applebee's when she came to town. Of course, she also assured my wife and I that Champp's turns out the best bruschetta she's ever had. :wacko:

I live in Deerfield, IL, a pretty typical suburb...population ~18,000, about 20 miles north of Chicago. We're not a bedroom community. A couple of major state thoroughfares cut through Deerfield and several corporations (Walgreen's, Baxter and Takeda to name a few) have their HQ's here as well--on the outer edges of town. Not only do thousands of non-residents come to Deerfield everyday, but even more pass through it as they make their way to and from work.

Lake-Cook Road, which creates Deerfield's southern border and runs east to west, connecting 2 major Interstates, is home to all the familiar corporate entities. But I was delighted to read in yesterday's Deerfield review that in addition to Applebee's, 3 other chain restaurants on Lake-Cook Road had also closed recently...Chili's, Macaroni Grill and On The Border have all closed up shop.

Of course I'm not happy about the folks who lost their jobs or the other serious issues and hardships that occur when a business closes down. But I'm proud of my town nonetheless. Sometimes I think we're an undiscerning lot of suburbanites--and we may very well be--but at least we've rejected some of the worst places that restaurantdom has to offer. A feather in our caps? Perhaps.

The story in the Deerfield Review, by Ruth Solomon, indicated that the market is saturated and that Brinker (who owns 3 of the 4 places which closed) had simply over-built. This is probably true but I don't think it's the only reason these places have closed. Just as accurate (to my mind anyway) were the comments of consultant, John Melaniphy, who was quoted in the article: "Chicago has marvelous Italian restaurants. There is almost no need to go to a Macaroni's." This is what I like to hear. I hope it's the start of a wonderful trend.

I'm not naive, though. Eventually corporations will devise business formulas which are the 'right fit' for these vacated spaces. The landlords will be ready to make attractive deals to offload their specifically-zoned vacancies and (chain restaurant) life will resume.

But for now, I must indulge in a bit of NIMBY chest-thumping. :biggrin:

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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8<

Of course, she also assured my wife and I that Champp's turns out the best bruschetta she's ever had. :wacko:

>8

...that's the best "brew-shet-ah", right?


...I thought I had an appetite for destruction but all I wanted was a club sandwich.

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kinda funny, tthe city I work for with a population of 90,000 has no chains except for Denny's and would have killed for an Applebee's.....you can only have so many taco stands in one town!


Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!

The Hungry Detective

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I've visited relatives in Deerfield. I think the failure of chain restaurants in this village has to do with the various long-johns, donuts, caramel pecan rolls, etc. sold in the Deerfield bakery. No one could eat a full meal after ingesting those old-fashioned treats!

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marlowe...I do love Deerfield's and I can only hope they played some part in this :biggrin:

Andrew...in all honesty, we don't have a ton of independents. That said, most of the ones we do have appear pretty steady. Of course, they're mostly niche places like hotdog joints, pizzerias and coffeeshops. We do have 1 or 2 higher-cuisine places which also appear to be doing just fine. This is a somewhat affluent area so places generally don't disappear by default. I really think that if a place turns out decent food (and sometimes even if it doesn't) it'll stick around. This round of closings really appears to be a case of a few companies speculating--and guessing wrong--about what this market would bear. I think the locals don't need or want the chains, and the passers-by don't need to stop here to visit the chains which also have outlets that are 5 minutes from their own homes.

tommy...I have no idea and that part of the situation definitely sucks. Where do any displaced workers go for jobs? In a variety of directions to be sure. FWIW, there are plenty of other chains around here that have survived, so perhaps those places absorb a few of the displaced workers. If one is trained in foodservice, there probably are a fair amount of options, since turnover is high in that segment and there are still many, many restaurants in the area. As much as I want to think this round of closings represents a major trend (in dining patterns), I don't think it truly does. The article I read said that ~30 Brinker restaurants were being closed nationwide. That's a very small percentage of their overall holdings. But yeah, the loss of jobs is the one salient negative in all of this, IMO.

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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The story continues. Here's an article from today's Suburban Daily Herald...

Fewer corporate lunchtime customers and too much competition are among the reasons for the spate of restaurant closures in a suburban pocket where Cook and Lake counties meet, experts say.

At least nine eateries have been shuttered since May in the Lake-Cook Road corridor in Deerfield, north up Milwaukee Avenue to Vernon Hills.

Area restaurants hunger for customers

It's disappointing to also see some locally-owned places now being shuttered, although some of those listed in the linked article--especially Carlucci Lincolnshire--are pretty awful, IMO.

But one issue that was not touched upon at all in the article, save for one mention of temporary construction zones, was road congestion. Lake County's roads are so overwhelmingly under capacity that traveling east to west during dinner time is extremely difficult. In that regard, very few restaurants can draw diners who don't live in their immediate vicinity, and most of the restaurants mentioned in the article are located in commercial areas, not residential ones.

I know from experience that at dinner time it can take over 30 minutes to travel the mere 4 miles from downtown Deerfield to Milwaukee Avenue. Given that most suburban restaurant customers will have children in tow, that's the kind of trek that many potential customers are simply unwilling to make.

I know that the failure rate for restaurants is very high, but I think there's a lot more in play here than initially meets the eye.

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I have to agree that traveling east to west during rush hour in the north-northwest suburbs is hell. Willow, Dundee, Lake-Cook, and Deerfield are all congested beyond what can be considered "normal" rush hour traffic standards. I do make a conscious decision not to attempt to leave home (I live near Winnetka and Hibbard Roads) until after 6:30 (if at all) during the week if I'm planning to drive west or northwest. As a result, places which I would, under better traffic circumstances, patronize now do not see my business. I'm particularly fond of Bin 36 in Lincolnshire and would love to go more often, if only I didn't have to brave the outrageous traffic nightmares.

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I don't think that the only reason these three places closed up was due to corporate-restaurant-concept oversaturation...look at PFChang's, that seems to be hopping all the time. (I talk to a lot of high school kids who just love that place.) My husband has a penchant for trying chain restaurants, so we were at the On The Border and the Applebee's up there. Typical concept food--bland, sweet, etc. I'd have to say that the On The Border was very poorly managed, and the food at the Applebee's was horrid...I had a dish with capers where the kitchen personnel didn't drain the capers before dumping them on the dish...I can only take so much salt....

Besides, if people want to have an inexpensive sitdown, there are plenty of options at Northbrook Court, and I think that's where people went instead.

And speaking of "concepts", I actually miss the Shaw's that was next to Over the Border...their menu was often a bit more creative than the location downtown...and the evening clientelle was actually better.

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And speaking of "concepts", I actually miss the Shaw's that was next to Over the Border...their menu was often a bit more creative than the location downtown...and the evening clientelle was actually better.

Yes. :sad:

And I rather like Stir Crazy - much more so than the madhouse, overpriced P.F. Chang's. Not that Stir Crazy is exactly empty either...

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As far as the employees go, the restaurant closings will be an inconvenience to most and a serious problem to only a few. I've seen a number of restaurants close here in Cols, OH and it usually has a short term ripple effect on the local job market. Sudddenly it becomes a buyers market when the resumes and apps start rolling in. Not a good time at all to start showing up to work late! But ultimately these things sort themselves out.

BTW I would not be surprised if some of our locally spawned monstrosities here might rush in to fill the voids in the suberbs of Chicago. Ever-striving to homogenize the American dining experience, CMR (Cameron Mitchell Restaurants) and BDI (Bravo! Development Inc.) have deep pockets and notions of manifest destiny.

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Do you remember Sopraffina in the Crossroads Center? It closed maybe 2 years ago. It was a great venue with tasty "fast casual" food but the concept just didn't catch up there - maybe the demographic was too old. The Rosenthal's were smart to pull the plug when it was clear the concept wouldn't fly.

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Sopraffina still exisits in the Chicago's downtown Loop (Dearborn and Madison). In regard to Columbus OH chains-we could not believe the "Chain Massacre " on US70 in Lancaster OH (outside Columbus) OMG! Every chain was represented-even an Arthur Treacher's Fish N Chips!


What disease did cured ham actually have?

Megan sandwich: White bread, Miracle Whip and Italian submarine dressing. {Megan is 4 y.o.}

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I grew up in Deerfield, and having gone back to visit it a few months ago, I was SHOCKED to see that Applebee's and *gasp* Chili's were gone! I must admit, I was really upset about Chili's. That was my old high school restaurant that we would frequent, and you know---I happen to really like Chili's and their menu. Sure, it's not "fine dining", but I actually ate there the other week and was very impressed with it. Their margaritas are GREAT, and my grilled carribean chicken salad with added grilled shrimp was fantastic. And don't get me started on their chips and salsa.....maybe it's a nostalgic thing for me, but I miss my old Chili's! :sad:


-Elizabeth

Mmmmmmm chocolate.

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Since I originally posted this, many people have lamented the closing of that particular Chili's to me (in person, here and in pm's). In fact, every single comment I've heard about Chili's closing expressed disappointment over it and most of those comments have come from serious food lovers and industry professionals like you, Elizabeth.

It makes me wonder why it closed in the first place. Their parking lot always seemed full and people clearly seemed to like it. Perhaps it merely under-performed, relative to expectations or projections. I'm fairly certain that the space is still vacant. There is now a bank in the former Applebee's space, IIRC.

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Since I originally posted this, many people have lamented the closing of that particular Chili's to me (in person, here and in pm's).  In fact, every single comment I've heard about Chili's closing expressed disappointment over it and most of those comments have come from serious food lovers and industry professionals like you, Elizabeth.

It makes me wonder why it closed in the first place.

It makes me wonder whether there isn't something about Chili's that makes it an exception to the chain restaurant rule.

I've generally had solid, good, enjoyable meals at the two Chili's I've eaten at near me (one of them 2.5 blocks N and one block W of me, the other out by the Penn campus).

I wonder if another reason chain restaurants are dropping like flies out your way, Ronnie, may have to do with the visitor/resident ratio. Yes, the chains mainly cater to suburb-dwellers who are looking for something predictable and consistent--or something that they heard about on TV; most indie restaurants can't afford to advertise on TV, not even on cable--but they also seem to be going after similar patrons in the middle of our big cities. In those cases, visitors probably outnumber residents, though I cannot be completely sure about this, having also eaten at Maggiano's Little Italy in the same block as the Center City Chili's. (Said Maggiano's is directly across 12th Street from the Reading Terminal Market. Coincidence?)

Philadelphia does not lack for good Italian restaurants, either. Yet within five minutes' walk of my residence are both the aforementioned Maggiano's and an Olive Garden.

I'm not completely down on chain restaurants, as you can see after reading the essay that introduced me to both the readers of The Philadelphia Inquirer and eGullet. I'd rather the visitors ate at these places when they came to town than not eat--or come to town--at all. Perhaps, as you suggested earlier, despite the congestion that makes going out to eat a chore (pity you can't walk there) and the other aggravations, your fellow suburbanites have gotten better educated about good food, as you suggested at the start of the thread?

Which brings me back to that observation/question about Chili's.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Nice piece, Sandy.

A couple of thoughts:

You are so right when you say that the ". . . battles already have been lost." And that's one of the reasons why I was so surprised -- and pleased -- by the developments which inspired this thread. The battles are, in fact, lost and sometimes it feels like the independents will continue to fall as predictably as a row of dominoes. Seeing that the chains can fail too gives me hope that, on some level, folks are still discerning about what they eat.

But I'm hesitant to take anything more than a glimmer of hope from these closings. While they fly in the face of what seems to be a strong, general trend, I don't they signify imminent failure. More than likely, these closings were part of some statistical eventuality or an instance where the pre-opening market research was weak or inaccurate. It's likely that the ventures were considered by HQ to be marginal to begin with. As the article I originally cited mentioned, Chicago is a tough nut to crack for the Italian chains. That's something that the parent companies had to know, going in.

As for the visitor factor, I believe in it . . . to a point. I certainly believe that there are a good number of visitors (in every destination) who seek out their favorite chains -- or something familiar. I'd love to know what the local-to-visitor ratio at Hooter's, Hard Rock Cafe and Rainforest Cafe are, at their respective downtown Chicago locations. As much as I believe those places appeal to out-of-towners, I'll bet there are plenty of locals there as well. Still, if they are popular, and generate visitors to our fair city, who am I to complain? As long as I don't have to eat there, right? :wink:

I just find that ironic because I consider being able to try local, indigenous cuisine one of the best parts of traveling. I view business trips and vacations as culinary opportunities and I spend more time planning the eating on a given trip than any other element of it. I have traveled, on several occasions, to places specifically to experience the local eating opportunities. I've road-tripped for White Castles, spent weekends at out-of-town Farmer's Markets, extended business trips just to have another meal in a city and even jumped on a plane just to pick some pig. I cannot imagine willingly eating at a chain while away from home (not counting all those places where it's all but impossible to avoid). Eating at a chain is something I'm more likely to do at home -- when I need a change of pace or don't have an alternative.

I live a good 20+ miles north of downtown Chicago in a fairly attractionless suburb. There are times when I feel that the folks who live around here are very discerning and there are times when it's clear to me that they are not. But, I don't see our little part of Chicagoland as much of a visitor magnet. That's why I'm at a loss to explain the closings of these outlets -- and even their openings, to a certain degree. It seemed so obvious that they wouldn't do well here. And, in the end, they didn't.

I'm glad that it appears we're holding out, waiting for something better. But that's a relatively slow process. Last time I checked, 3 of the 4 shuttered chains restaurants remain vacant -- and one of our independently-owned joints also closed (deservedly, but that's another story). We've got one new indie scheduled to open here around the end of the month. With the success of a couple other locally-owned spots in the area over the past few years, I think a lot of folks are looking forward to it and hoping it will be worth supporting.

Meanwhile, our Chili's is closed, even though the lot always appeared full and many folks seemed to enjoy it. The space remains vacant. It'll be interesting to see what kind of business moves into that space next.

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I live more west, toward the Algonquin area. Theres nothing in the world that can get me to drive those east west roads! It's easier for me to get into the city via 90 then turn directly east toward the lake.

I have however worked on the northshore, in Lake Bluff and catered all of the north shore for years. Finding employees in that area is difficult!

You've got 'well to do kids' that don't want to work at restaurants. So they get minority workers as the only people willing to do the jobs. Minority workers that I know personally, don't like to drive any distance to work (they fear getting into car accidents because alot of them don't have insurance). They might if they were really getting paid better rates, but most restaurant jobs don't pay well.

It's a hassle for the patrons to get to the restaurant and it's a hassle for the employees too. Housing just keeps rising as does fuel costs. I tend to think in time the only places on the northshore that will remain open are the ones paying employees enough money so they can live near the area. I can see people living on the northshore having to drive out to west or into the city to find a decent meal.

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You've got 'well to do kids' that don't want to work at restaurants. So they get minority workers as the only people willing to do the jobs. Minority workers that I know personally, don't like to drive any distance to work (they fear getting into car accidents because alot of them don't have insurance). They might if they were really getting paid better rates, but most restaurant jobs don't pay well.

The spectre of urban planning rears its ugly head in the middle of a decent meal! :shock:

I think this is a big issue for affluent suburbs just about everywhere now: The people who are needed to make them work can't afford to live in or near them, thus adding to our clogged roads and rising tempers.

May I suggest tossing this out on PLANetizen?


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Add to the fact that it is next to impossible for these workers to get to work via public transportation because public transportation is few and far between outside of the city.

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