A federal fund established to help small businesses during the coronavirus crisis was almost immediately depleted by restaurant and hotel chains, which infuriates us for a a couple reasons.
For one thing, it’s yet another example of how the federal government has botched its response to both the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus. The restaurant and hotel chains are not the sort of small businesses the fund was intended to help, but because they’re big enough to have entire departments devoted to applying for government money they were able to get their applications in before any of the genuinely small businesses could respond. This was foreseeable and should have been planned for.
For another thing, we have a longstanding aversion to chain restaurants in general. This is a minority opinion, of course, but on matters of taste the majority opinion is often wrong. As with music and movies and literature, the popular restaurants are often inoffensively bland and reassuringly predictable. Only the adventurous seek out spicier fare, and most prefer the familiar.
Chains restaurants are quite popular here in Wichita, despite a plethora of excellent locally-owned restaurants. The fast-food burger joints always have long lines in the drive-thru, yet Ty’s Diner and the Oasis and Nu-Way and the West Street offerings are far superior. A lot of immigration over the past few decades have resulted in several Thai and Vietnamese and Chinese and other Asian restaurants that are better than anything PF Chang’s has to offer, yet the ore expensive PF Chang’s draws more business, and there are so many great Mexican places ranging from taco trucks to the more elegant offerings at the fairly fancy Molino’s that there’s no excuse for ever eating about Taco Bell or Abuela’s, and when we ask people about their preferences they often explain that the local ethnic fare is just a bit too authentic for their xenophobic taste buds. This being cattle country there are several locally-owned restaurants offering excellent steaks at reasonable prices, as well as some great barbecue if you’re willing to venture into some shady neighborhoods, yet the likes of Golden Corral continue to pack in the customers.
There are a lot of daring food aficionados who champion the local restaurants, and they’re encouraging one another to keep them alive through the coronavirus by patronizing the take-out services they’re still allowed to offer, which is good to see. These fine businesses don’t seem able to count on any help from the government.
We notice that something called Shake Shack has returned the $10 million they got from the bailout fund, and whether it did so for fear that the public relations fallout would be more expensive or they genuinely felt guilty about being greedy we applaud the gesture. If they had a franchise here in Wichita we might just break our general rule and buy a shake from them. Otherwise we’ll continue to buy local, though, partly out of civic spirit and mostly because the food is almost always better when the owner is in the kitchen.
— Bud Norman