Saturday, February 02, 2013

History As A Guide

Running errands on a recent day, I was meandering my way back home. As I drove down one of my usual strips I noted a formerly deserted storefront, now reoccupied. It had housed, what? A pizza place? A pharmacy? A video rental place? (Remember those?) No matter: what's done is done. The point was that it had been empty a while, buffeted by the tectonic shift in retail from bricks and mortar to online, a movement from which no business seems immune.

But good for the landlord; he had a new tenant. It appeared to be a burger joint, one of the new breed that offers basically the same thing you get at McDonald's, just with a brioche bun and organic cheese from contended cows for a $12 premium. Still, I made a mental note to add it to our "try" list when the opportunity arose. Then, as I drove past, I looked more closely at the stylish sign hanging out front. Below the designer graphic with the establishment's name, in a classic serif font, was the legend "Established 2012."

Not "Opened."  Not "Started." Not "Born." Rather, "Established," a word that conjures up time itself. When you use that term, you are not just talking about an inception date, but rather something that has a long history, an institution that has endured and prospered. It has permanence and durability, often gained in spite of long and sometimes difficult odds. The United States was and is established. Likewise with Glenlivet Scotch, Ford Motors and The New York Times. Even the Rolling Stones have been around long enough to be considered established, though these days they could also be considered mummified.

So why would a new venture try and evoke a long and proud tradition of existence, even though they don't have the goods to back it up? After all, we're a culture that craves the latest and greatest, be it cell phones, cars or clothing. "That's so last year" has been replaced with "That's so last month." In fact, more and more, the yardstick for measuring the cutting edge isn't the calendar, but the clock. In a world of Twitter feeds and Facebook postings and Tumblr blogs, each updated hourly, old isn't 5 months or even 5 days: it's 5 minutes.

To be sure, there are areas where we value longevity. We want our financial experts and institutions to have a track record. That's not to say that they shouldn't be up on current advancements in the field. Rather, they need to have the seasoning that enables them to evaluate and understand anything new in the context of what went before. Same with our medical professionals and our accountants. And of course, Betty White.

But restaurants? They fit squarely in the former category. How often has a place which had been the "must go" establishment one month, where you couldn't get a reservation for love nor money, gone to all but begging for business six months later, handing out coupons for free appetizers on Tuesday nights. In that environment, describing a new up and coming place as "established" would seem almost counterintuitive, sort of like trying to sell an iPhone by touting it as using the same design as it had back when it was introduced in the Mesozoic era of smartphones in 2007. Oh wait; that is how they sell them. Never mind.

So while the aforementioned burger place might have high hopes and lofty designs on the future, it remains to be seen how things will go. Make no mistake: I wish the owners the best of luck, I really do. I, and I'm sure others in town, will give it a whirl in the not-too-distant future. And if the food is good, and if the service is acceptable, and if the price is right, it will survive and perhaps even thrive. Should that be the case, and it's still serving them up in a few years, then feel free to go and add "established" to the sign with my blessing. But until then, perhaps it would be best to not tempt fate, and just be a little more humble. There seems to be plenty of space below the name, so how about changing the subtitle to "Sticking our foot in the door of dining trends in 2012, and hope you all keep coming back."


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to eat out, as long as it better than what he makes at home. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

No comments: