Toledo restaurants change as industry growsWritten by Autumn Lee | | firstname.lastname@example.org
by Mike Sarantou
Who among us hasn’t waited tables, acted as a short order cook, or washed a dish for the local Mom and Pop restaurant? According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 80 percent of active workers have held a job in the foodservice industry. The foodservice industry employs more people than Wal-Mart, GM, or any other sector of business, with approximately 13 million workers. Only the U.S. government employs more people than the restaurant industry in the United States. It’s a remarkable number, but when juxtaposed with the knowledge that the U.S. has more than 935,000 restaurants, and more than $537 billion in sales, it’s not so surprising! Yet, as Americans work longer and more often, and our children are increasingly more involved with activities outside the home, next years’ expectation of reaching $600 billion in sales seems more a sure bet than a pipe dream. It is remarkable that as the industry continues to grow, so too do the choices in cuisine, price and level of service; all targeting a more food-savvy, shrewdly spending public, and inspired by celebrity chefs, innumerable cookbooks and the venerable Food Network.
The market has changed dramatically during the last decade, reflected by the fact that today nearly 40 percent of all restaurant transactions nationally are in “take-out.” Americans choosing to eat out more seems to directly respond to the challenges of increasingly busy, complicated lives and less time to spend in the kitchen. A scant 50 years ago, our parents and grandparents viewed going out to dinner as a rare and special occasion, commemorating an anniversary or milestone birthday. Yet in our modern world, one in five families eat out more than three times per week, and the restaurant industry is taking notice. America is still a small-business, entrepreneur-based economy, an economy in which Grandma’s famous meatball recipe, a few thousand dollars and a lot of hard work can result in a dream conceived, a hope fulfilled, and a door with the family name in lights atop the entrance. How can small establishments compete against national chains, which have deep pockets to spend on terrific décor and research and development of new, exciting menu creations? Remarkably they do, with more than 70 percent of the nation’s one million restaurants classified as single-unit, privately owned restaurants. Local entrepreneurs capitalize on ingenuity, hard work and knowledge of local flavors and tastes, to hold the large national chains at bay. But what about Toledo?
Any visitor driving down Monroe Street in West Toledo would find many familiar dining choices. The national chains are all well represented, with Outback, The Elephant Bar and J Alexander’s, to name a few. Charlie’s, Shorty’s Bar-B-Que, and Rumors, all fine establishments in their own right, might easily be passed by with little notice, due to a lack of name recognition or a flashy ad campaign. Yet it is these establishments and hundreds like them that are the heart and soul of Toledo’s thriving restaurant scene. One of Toledo’s greatest urban legends is that we have more restaurants per capita than New York City, and it is easy to believe. It is in the diversity of choice that makes dining in Toledo so wonderful, and where hidden treasures abound. The Budapest is one great example of this. Established in the late 1950s, without a liquor license to this day, and stationed on an otherwise under-developed portion of Monroe Street, this family-owned restaurant continues to serve Hungarian delicacies. Surrounded by the charm of a bygone era, the portion size, price and flavor of its limited menu is unmatched. This is just one example of many more establishments whose special character is waiting to be rediscovered.
So let’s go, Toledo, take a chance! Next time you choose a restaurant, pass up the flashing lights of those well-known chains, and stop at that local establishment you always wanted to try. Remember, the best way to support local economy is by supporting locally owned businesses.
Michael Sarantou is food and beverage director for the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg.