Thursday, June 12, 2003
HARD TIMES...These are troubling times for restaurateurs. The ratio of food service operations to population peaked at an astoundingly high level a couple of years ago when our society was being driven by a wildly optimistic outlook. Everybody felt omnipotent and capitalist America was bashing steroid-induced home runs. There was a spending frenzy throughout the country that fueled unrestricted growth while fundamental business diligence was being routinely ignored.
The bubble first burst in Silicon Valley. Shock and awe struck the entire state of California, particularly the central and northern parts, as an enormous chunk of the disposable income crowd instantly evaporated. Convention business plummeted. Long, luxurious weekend trips to the Monterey Peninsula turned into hurried yard sales to raise money for inflated mortgage payments.
Then September 11. The veil of naivete worn by virtually all Americans lifts, exposing our virgin eyes to the horrors of international desperation and madness. Transcontinental tourism sags lower than Anna Nicole Smith's bosom. Americans, traumatized by the preceding year and a half's events and creeping ennui, curl up in the fetal position and hibernate. Local businesses, accustomed to unrelenting streams of fearless, credit-rich nationalists, worriedly watch the stream dwindle to a trickle.
Today, atop the piles of psychosis levied by past and recent events, a cautious and in some cases delusional local business ownership base vainly tends its scarred, relatively barren fields, irrationally hoping for a return to the glory days. Guess what...it ain't gonna happen.
We will never see again in our lifetimes the exact combination of factors at play in society that existed a few years back when everything was all, as the great Al McGuire used to say, "seashells and balloons." The situation here on the Peninsula reflects what so many communities in America are living--too many businesses catering to too few buyers.
The Monterey Peninsula has so many retail stores and restaurants per capita that it is absolutely impossible to sustain all of them without a steady influx of customers from outside our area. They are just not coming with the same volume, nor are they spending with the same abandon.
Right now, there are too many restaurants around here with too small a population base. The actual number of locals who eat out regularly is only a small percentage of the total population. As a result, wonderful eating establishments, even those that do just about everything right, are suffering.
Hopefully, the summer will bring enough business to keep our local restaurant friends alive. Supposedly, 2004 looks strong for increased conference business and, God willing, the amount of worldwide craziness will not increase, so Americans and everyone else will feel more comfortable traveling. Meanwhile, if I'm a restaurant owner whose numbers are way, way down, I'm thinking about a new career.
CARMEL HANGOUT...One guy who's not giving up the fight is my man Jon Magnusson at Restaurant 211 in the Crossroads. If you haven't tried this quiet little homespun gem yet, shame on you. Ole Jon, who serves up scrumptious delights in a heartfelt environment at reasonable prices, is in the process of changing to a more bistro-like feel. He's thinking of changing the name to Bistro 211 and really pushing the aspect of a neighborhood hangout where friends and family can come and enjoy great food and service in a totally relaxed and loving atmosphere. Give a call and ask Jon what's happening: 625-3030.
GARDEN PARTY...Check out the 13th annual La Playa Garden Party to benefit the Carmel Youth Center. It takes place on Sunday, June 22 from noon-4pm and will feature premium wines from no more than two dozen winemakers. including Far Niente, Duckhorn, Stag's Leap and Chappellet. Also on tap will be gourmet food, music and all sorts of activities. Admission is only $30 (that's cheap) per person so you're a fool to miss it. I'd pay $30 just to sit in La Playa's garden from noon to 4pm drinking bottled water. Call and book it now, 624-6476, ext. 58.
ME BAD...I was a bad boy again. Marie Perucca-Ramirez of the Fishwife said that I broke her heart because I didn't mention that Fishwife was the only restaurant actually cooking on the floor of the Aquarium during the May 30-31 Cooking For Solutions show, and I didn't even list them as participants. Also, I never wrote about the fact that Fishwife is featuring Barramundi, the outstanding fish from Australia that provides a great, delicious new source of sustainable seafood for us locals. Sorry Marie, I'll go to my room now.