Ted Natt: The Other Side of the Restaurant Story
I wrote a story a few weeks ago about the tepid state of the restaurant industry in Moore County, and it apparently touched a nerve or two.
So let me put on my ombudsman hat and address those "issues."
First, the story stated that at least seven restaurants had closed in the past month, including "such local institutions as May Street Market and JFR Barn."
Dave Bromwell, co-owner of May Street Market, called to tell me that the restaurant did not close because of the economic downturn. Instead, he found a business willing to rent the space long term.
"I don't want people to think the restaurant failed, because that's not the case," Bromwell said. "We certainly appreciated all of our customers, but I got the chance to help my family by closing the restaurant and leasing the building to someone else."
I also got an email from the local owner of a restaurant franchise who wanted to talk about "the other half of the story."
My story heavily quoted Dave Whitney and Con O'Mahoney, who each own more than one restaurant in the county. Whitney and O'Mahoney urged residents to dine at locally owned restaurants, not chain-owned establishments, because the money stays at home.
The local owner of the franchise, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that only a small portion of his revenue is sent to corporate headquarters in the form of a "royalties fee."
"The percentage is in single digits, so we are able to do a lot of good for the area," he said. "We help sports teams and churches, and provide coupons at golf outings. "We also take care of our valued customers."
He believes that consumers want, and deserve, a choice.
"They vote with their wallets," he said. "You have to have a good product, excellent customer service and a clean place. Times are tough right now, and you watch the pennies. And you worry about raising any menu item a dime."
Patrick Coughlin, president and CEO of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce, said restaurant and other franchises bring shoppers and diners to Moore County from other areas of North Carolina, including the surrounding region.
"People forget that there's a balance," Coughlin said. "The chains bring people from other counties to shop. We offer that hometown experience that they are looking for. We need to support both sides of the equation."
The franchise owner agreed, saying, "I do believe there's a place for franchises. I don't see why they're hurting the area. They aren't all big franchises. There's a lot of little franchises. And a bunch of us are in the middle."
There is no doubt that Moore County is a regional shopping, dining and entertainment hub.
When national retailers and restaurateurs are considering our county, they look at the demographics in concentric circles from their proposed physical address. Increasingly, those circles are being extended beyond the county line.
We may bemoan the fact that U.S. 1 and U.S. 15-501 are littered with chain restaurants between Southern Pines and Aberdeen, but we need to acknowledge that they do give us a choice and help attract visitors. They also employ a lot of local folks.
It all boils down to personal preference.
I prefer to support local businesses, but am not immune to an occasional franchise fix.
How about you?
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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