Commentary: Breaking the mold

Tough economic times are continuing to spell disaster for restauranteurs the nation over.

The National Restaurant Association released yet another list of disappointing numbers of how the industry is suffering under the continued hardship. The Columbus Dispatch reports 34 percent of restaurant owners are reporting a drop of sales in July, and 76 percent of customers are eating out less and ordering fewer items when they do. Like so many other industries, restaurant owners are becoming more and more discouraged by the persistent downturn.

It’s awful to hear restaurants seemingly taking the hardship particularly badly. As I have mentioned before, independent places have been experiencing unusually high turnover in recent years, and as a result a lot of tried and true institutions have closed their doors.

With times like these, it is particularity important to celebrate successful innovations in the restaurant business. some places are expanding, bucking the trend. Among the great local place any restaurant should take a page from:

  • FUSIAN in Cincinnati, which is expanding this fall, one year after opening its first location. The cafe sells a typically straightforward menu item – sushi – and makes it fully customizable. With atypical ingredients like steak, you can take a typically rigid menu item and make it appealing to you.
  • Casa Nueva in Athens seizes the initiative wrought by the local population. While the town has had a huge demand for local-only ingredients. Finding an unusual item people in the town have an unusual knack for seems to be working for a lot of places I have seen.
  • Smashburger has exploded  to a major chain in recent years, and one of the secrets to its success is a different menu for every state. It’s great replay value when different locations offer different things. Almost makes it an adventure to try them all.
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