When a major manufacturing base – like the automakers – falters, it may take a while but there is a trickle-down contraction for the rest of the community.
Here in Michigan, the shuttering of restaurants is becoming commonplace as belts tighten. Last night brought news that monster upscale steak chain Morton’s of Chicago was closing its Southfield location. The Southfield Morton’s, a fixture for seventeen years, was once a lucrative franchise. A quick check online reveals that several Morton’s restaurants have recently closed, all over the country, some with little or no notice.
As luck would have it, we dined at that particular Morton’s about a month ago. It was a Saturday night and all of us remarked that the place was so empty that reservations were placed but not needed. Ten years ago the room would have been packed with diners shoulder to shoulder.
Known for aged beef, frisky live lobsters, and enormous sides including whole broccoli heads and size thirteen potatoes, Morton's was my favorite for its molten lava cake dessert.
With the country in a recession, it is not unusual for fine dining establishments to bite the dust. It happened in the early ‘80s under similar economic conditions. The “destination” restaurants – places where one would go for a special occasion dinner – are often the first to close, as the number of customers who can splurge on $100 dinners dwindles.
Destination restaurants like Morton’s, Fleming’s, and the locally based Matt Prentice Group (which includes the stunning Coach Insignia high atop the GM building in downtown Detroit, No. VI Chophouse, and Northern Lakes Seafood Company, just to name a few), have been getting creative in an attempt to draw customers in the doors. Matt Prentice regularly sends out 25%-off coupons in mass mailings and also has a frequent dining program. Morton’s and Fleming’s offer creative meals priced under $40, so one can buy into glitzy ambiance at a fairly reasonable price point.
But it’s not just the trendy eateries that are suffering. In our small town alone, the last couple of years have seen the closures of both of our Wendy’s, several coffeehouses, two rib joints, and a couple of Chinese restaurants, among others. The family diner next door has been bought and sold three times in the last five years. Two weeks ago I wanted to satisfy a craving for sushi, but when I called Mushashi, my favorite Japanese restaurant, I learned with dismay that the place has been closed since March.
Fast food joints like McDonald’s are said to be immune from the economic downturn, but if I’m going to pay good money for a restaurant meal, it’s not going to be for a Big Mac.
I’m fairly skilled in the kitchen and rarely dine out, but I am one who takes my gastronomical excursions into the realm of restaurant food seriously. As the economy continues its downward spiral, the struggles of restaurant owners will only increase.
It's a concern for a gastronome like me.