We’re creative enough to avoid franchise businesses, says Taryn Sheppard.
A new proposal was recently submitted to the city for a two-restaurant building next to The Keg on the waterfront. The developers are attempting to get franchise licenses for the new restaurants and there is a possibility for one to be a local business, failing acquisition of the franchise license.
Boston Pizza, The Keg, Montana’s, Don Cherry’s—we’ve seen these hugely popular franchise restaurants pop up all around the city, offering a generally reliable product. Indeed, I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be happy to see two more sit-down chain restaurants gracing the waterfront with their semi-glamorous presence, especially the people fed up with waiting an hour for a table at The Keg. In the future, they might be able to hop down the street to Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Hooters, or whatever chain is targeted for this new development.
Myself, I am generally grossed out by this idea, for aesthetic reasons, and out of concern for the local economy. One reader’s comment at The Telegram brought up another aspect of chain restaurants that hadn’t occurred to me before: This reader’s point was that, given the franchises’ tight control over the menus and even the ingredients, the creative expression of the chef is greatly diminished, maybe even to the point of being non-existent. The comment went on to say that there are a number of extremely talented chefs in our city, and they need venues to work in, free of creative limitations. Franchise menus are like paint-by-numbers—you might end up with a recognizable painting, but a large amount of the effort and creativity needed to produce the painting was negated. It could have been painted by a robot.
When it comes to the buildings these franchises occupy, it’s a similar situation. Franchise owners usually need an architect to help them build their restaurant, but only for technical matters. There are almost always strict guidelines and company standards to align with. Much like the chef, the local architect will only be assembling the imported, predetermined ingredients. In practice, these jobs are just known as ‘bread and butter.’ The preliminary rendering put forth by developers for this proposal is at first glance conservative and non-controversial, generic and adaptable. But, no doubt once the chain restaurant is built, every aspect will be identifiable as Global Brand X, down to the last wall sconce.
Have local businesspeople not proven their ability to produce successful, thriving and busy mid-to-high end restaurants? Moreover, haven’t they proven their concern for local architectural distinction? If the answer is yes, then why is such a prominent location being given over to development that would make our waterfront indistinguishable—taste-wise, and building-wise—from, say, Niagara Falls? Sure, if we didn’t have the creative capacity in our local population to come up with a great restaurant, then I could understand, but that’s certainly not the case. Let’s not underestimate the ability of local restauranteurs and local designers.