Chained up

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Chained up

There are restaurants, and then there are restaurants. We were at a local eatery recently, slurping down some fine, housemade soup full of ingredients from area farms, when a slightly hungover-looking fellow approached. Why, it was our grizzled colleague, Ace Atkins!
    With the scents of Jack and Lucky Strikes swirling around him, Ace settled into a chair opposite us and fixed us with his terrible eye. “I gotta tip for ya,” he burped. “See what you can dig up.” He slid a piece of paper across the table. On it, in a crayoned scrawl, was written:
    Dear Ace, I thought that there was supposed to be a “No Chain Restaurant” policy on the Downtown Mall. What’s with Five Guys and the Melting Pot going in, since they’re both chains?—Noah Base Demall
    We looked up, and Ace was gone.
    Hmm. Well, nothing to do but get hot on the trail of this devilish query. It certainly wasn’t the first time we’d heard mention of a chain ban on the Mall—and indeed, neither Five Guys nor the Melting Pot are one-shop operations (though they are owned by local franchisees). So we called up Ashley Cooper, the City’s neighborhood planner who oversees the Downtown Mall, and asked her straight out: Is there an official franchise kibbosh over our beloved land of bricks?
    “No,” says Cooper. In fact, she went on, “I think that would be illegal.”
    Zoning ordinances, explained Cooper, allow the City to control types of usage in various areas, but not to specifically prohibit businesses based on who owns them. The Mall’s historic designation means that the Board of Architectural Review has a say over the exterior appearance of chain restaurants, as with any business—witness the scuffle earlier this year over the Melting Pot’s signage. But nobody can actually deny a business the right to operate here simply because there are three zillion more of those businesses all over the country.
    Cooper opined that the recent addition of two franchise restaurants to the Mall is simply due to the Mall’s ever-increasing appeal as a great place to make a buck. So then, we asked her, is there any reason to think we won’t someday see an unbroken swath of cookie-cutter restaurants from the Omni to the Pavilion? “We really don’t have control over that,” she replied.
    We consider that scenario unlikely, even if it’s technically possible. But just to make sure, we decided to call up Starbucks and see if they have any plans to caffeinate the masses on the Mall. We went to the coffee giant’s website and clicked on “Contact Us.” This brought us to a variety of topic choices, including “Starbucks Card Corporate Sales” and “International Development and Overseas Partnership Opportunities.” We chose “Retail Stores” and were presented with a form for submitting comments online.
    But we wanted a phone number! So we found the site’s search function and typed in “phone.” And this is the message we got: “We’re sorry, but we were unable to locate the information or item you are searching for.”

Vinegar, wine and you
Speaking of chains, there are a couple of new foodie franchises in town that, while not actually restaurants, do offer some tasty free samples in their quest to sell you gourmet comestibles. One is Oil & Vinegar, in Barracks Road Shopping Center, where franchisees Paul and Bridget Urmanski are hawking a variety of, well, oils and vinegars. Another is Carafe Winemakers, where franchisee Roger Mahloch will have you choose a grape juice from over 200 that he’s imported from around the globe. Then he’ll ferment 30 bottles of it for you, let you help bottle it and slap your self-designed label on it. What will they think of next?

Got some restaurant scoop? Send your tips to restaurantarama@c-ville.com or call 817-2749, Ext. 48.

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