Support your local, independent restaurants and stores! (#Realfood)
This morning, during my shower, while I was getting dressed, and riding in the car on the way to the office, I rough-drafted a post in my head. It was going to talk at length about how the rise of mega-chains has killed diversity and local flavor in pretty much every sector of America - from the megatropolises all the way down to "small town America." Everything's the same everywhere you go blah blah blah.
Then I realized - the reason for that post is that I want to encourage people to support local, independent restaurants and shops instead. And then it came to me that the best way to do that is to focus instead on the positive: why these places are good.
The first reason is simply monetary. When you eat at a locally owned restaurant, all of that money goes to the owner and the staff of the shop. There's no Superbowl ads to pay for, no CEO, CIO, CTO, CXX, CZZ, and so forth, huge salaries to pay. You're more directly improving your local economy by letting more of your money stay in your area - and your local economy is far important than the economy of a city 2,000 miles away from you. I'm not anti-corporation; not at all. I work for a corporation. Many, or even most, people do. But, when you patronize a very, very large corporation, such as a megachain restaurant, most of your ticket goes to feed that huge "machine."
Food quality and freshness is one big reason to eat at independent restaurants. Most of them actually prepare and cook the food they serve. Very little is pre-prepared, pre-portioned, and shipped from a huge central warehouse. In general, they purchase basic ingredients such as meat, vegetables, spices, and so on, and then turn those into the dishes they serve you. You're paying a premium to have food cooked and served to you - don't you want it to actually ... be cooked for you rather then essentially reheated and assembled? I know I do! Plus - many indie restaurants now locally source some (or even all!) of their ingredients - increasing freshness and benefit to the local economy.
You're also more likely to have a good experience at an indie shop or restaurant. You may hear from your server the wonderful story of how the owner learned to cook with his Grandfather and always wanted to open a restaurant, and finally did... and here you are eating there. Or you may ask about a dish on the menu, one you've never seen or heard of before, and you'll hear how it's a generations-old family recipe. Or you may not. You may just hear how the server is working her way through college but likes the family that owns the place, and that's cool too.
Indie shops are generally the same way. Go to an indie comic or game shop - and you'll find the owner and staff are just as geeky about those things as you are. The big box places? "Derp, what's that?"
I think another big thing I'm trying to convey is that indie business owners (and usually their employees) usually care more, and about more than just their paycheck, or what job they'll be at in 6 months. They generally want to build a lasting relationship with their patrons. They want to be the place you go first when you think of whatever it is they sell - be it Mexican food or Magic: The Gathering cards. The chains/big boxers? Meh, there's 1000 other people shopping there and they're all the same. "NEXT!"
I suppose another problem may be that people don't even know where to find the indies. The commercial/retail districts in most cities, from the largest to the smallest, are pretty much laid out exactly the same way, and it's all big box stores and megachain eateries. You've got to get off the main drags.
One big help can be review apps/sites such as Yelp. Most of the reviews on these services are of indie business, and can be a huge help in finding places that are off the beaten path. Plus, you can read what others have said about them, and decide if it sounds like something you'd enjoy. (Full disclosure: I am a reviewer on Yelp [it is a free service, though, and no reviewer is paid], so that's why I mentioned it by name. It's not the only restaurant/business review site/app/service, though.)
Sometimes, though, taking a chance is just fun. Driving around town, and see a Mexican restaurant with a sign in mostly Spanish? It's probably good. Step inside, take a look at the menu. Does it have things such as al pastor, lengua, menudo, caldo de res, or even cabeza on it? It's mostly likely a very good Mexican place. Eat there.
The same goes for anything, really - look for a place that's obviously independently owned and check it out. Even the slickest megachain-pretending-to-be-indie is fairly easy to suss out. The main thing is you have to look away from the "main drag" retail districts.
So, I've been editing, adding to, and re-wording parts of this post for a little over an hour now, and it's still not "perfect" and I feel it's still too negative in parts. I'm so excited about supporting indies, and really just want to convey why it's so important, but it's so hard to convey!