I really enjoyed the story of Matt’s Class A diner by Matthew Wesolowski in the Dec. 6 issue of Radio World (“Dear FCC: Please Help Us, the Mom & Pop Diners”). It sounds likes Matt serves up hot and delicious menu offerings to his customers.
I do need to take exception to one assertion that Matt made regarding so called “Abandoned Meal-server” restaurants. As the owner of one of those eateries Ñ Mark’s Main Street Café, proudly serving our town since 1948 Ñ I have a slightly different perspective on recent events in the restaurant industry.
Here’s the story:
Mark’s Main Street Café serves some of the finest home cooking in town. In fact, over the past 20 years, Mark’s Café has enjoyed a strong patronage, as local folks love his specialties, like High School Football with Noodles and Local News with Beef Gravy.
Mark’s has also noticed a lot less competition in town, as the local Class A diners have all packed up their stoves and ovens and moved up the road 25 miles to Capital City. While these small diners couldn’t possibly serve all the potential customers in Capital City (and indeed their share of those customers is usually dismally small), they seem to think the grass is greener in the big city.
Meanwhile, back in our good old hometown, the neighborhood where Mark’s Main Street Café has made its home since 1948 has badly deteriorated. The loud hum of streetlights can be heard all around the café and gangs of other noise makers have infiltrated our quiet streets.
And our little restaurant is saddled with some antiquated laws that prevented us from serving more than a few customers after dark. I’ve even heard stories from other towns that some restaurants are actually forbidden to be open after dark.
THE SISTER RESTAURANT
So back in 2006, I along with a few other full-service restaurant owners decided to ask the Friendly City Commission for permission to open up a sister restaurant where we could locate high on a hill in town and attract more customers to our superior locally made products.
In 2009, the FCC said it would be OK Ñ but only if we could locate an existing restaurant and make it fit in the tight parking lot we had available.
Mark’s Café was fortunate and found a closed nearby restaurant that could be reopened in this town. As an experienced restaurant engineer, realized that with a tall location and lots of good solid architecture, the 250-seat restaurant could serve nearly as many hungry customers as those 6,000-seat places.
So in early 2010, we opened the Mark’s For More Café; serving the exact same menu as our original location.
The customers were thrilled! They could get a delicious High School Sportsburger and Postgame Report Fries whenever they liked in a nice quiet neighborhood.
And we had made sure that our new For More restaurant wouldn’t cause any heartburn with neighboring restaurants in distant communities.
Meanwhile, the original Mark’s location continued to do well Ñ especially with the older customers who had been dining there for many years. The new location quickly became a hangout for the younger crowd who had not even heard of Mark’s Main Street Café. The two restaurants worked well together and ensured that the town would have delicious food for years to come.
After Mark’s For More Café had been open for a few years, other small-town diner owners around the country took notice of Mark’s growing business and decided to ask their Friendly City Commissioners for the same opportunities. A friendly Pie Salesman on the Commission said “yes,” and many other small nearly-Abandoned Meal servers were putting For More restaurants in their towns.
We have also begun to realize that our original location may not be around forever. The customers at the original Mark’s Main Street Café are starting to die off, and the For More Café is capable of covering all the customers in town. I am now willing to voluntarily close the original restaurant and donate its operating permit to other restaurants who could increase their parking lot size and benefit. If enough small restaurants were permitted to close their doors, large restaurants in the metropolitan areas could really benefit.
Of course, the Friendly City Council would need to give Mark’s For More Café the same protections as those larger Class A, B and C restaurants, but since Mark’s For More Café has been operating as a good neighbor for nearly eight years, granting a primary operating permit should not be an issue.
After all, it’s the customers who win in the end.
Mark E. Bohach is co-owner of WLOH Radio Company in Lancaster, Ohio.