As I write this, picture me, whatever you think I look like, in a kevlar vest, metal helmet, ducking under a desk in the basement at an undisclosed location. This blog is about local restaurants and will continue to be. My definition of local is this, if you're in another state and you see a restaurant that is the same as one in Salem, that's not local. But what happens when a local restaurant has success and grows beyond it's small town charm? Do we put that restaurant into the chain category, even though it's essentially the same restaurant that we'd bragged about for years? Dutch Bros Coffee fits into this quasi local category that blurs the line between the locals and chains. They are almost as familiar to us here in Salem as Starbucks. Do you not drink Dutch Bros coffee because they are so big? Should we penalize with personal protests because a business has become so popular?
I've recently met the owner of a chain in town, I won't mention the name but it's not fast food, and had an interesting discussion about this. She told me how the people in Salem had a preference for local restaurants. That was somewhat surprising to hear because of the amount of chains in this city. She owns two stores in town and is charitable in the community. She's not rich and works extremely hard at making her business work and employs dozens of young people here in town. I feel less guilty eating at her restaurant. This restaurant offers a product and experience not currently offered by any local establishment but is in competion for your Salem dining dollars. In this economy, or even in a good one, my hope is that businesses of all sorts thrive and keep people employed. The push on this blog for supporting local businesses is to help level the playing field by introducing Salem audiences to unique finds around town.
The chains have a tremendous advantage by having name recognition but often lack in having a personal connection with customers. In just about any good local restaurant in Salem you might find the owner/chef actually in the kitchen making food for customers. Years ago, Salem seemed like it was awash in chains who's bright signs and national ad campaigns drowned out the voices of local restaurants that have always been making good food here in town. Now, excitement is building, as new places, like French Press, which is expected to open today, are starting to pop up all over town. Newly opened restaurants, La Capitale and Word Of Mouth are both having success in this down economy and the First Wednesday night is helping to establish our downtown as the center of Salem's cuisine scene.
The owner of the chain restaurant that I mentioned above does not know that I write this blog or at least hasn't let on that she knows. That's the reason I haven't mentioned the name of her place. Her business is doing well and I would expect that her success will continue. If it seems like I've changed my views about chains, after seeing a human aspect to them, that may be so. That doesn't mean you're going to see me review Taco Bell. I will continue to do everything possible to expand the conversation about local eateries and will continue to support them with my patronage. Salem's public image throughout the state is often defined by a dismal dining scene, but that is changing quickly, as more quality local options open and the best of the existing restaurants continue to do well.
I tried to write this as cautiously as possible because I know that many of the readers here have much stronger views about chains. So I'm going to duck for cover now as commenters rip me apart for suddenly growing a heart.