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Monday, December 29, 2008

This Year/Next Year: More Questions Than Answers

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Mon, Dec 29, 2008 at 2:35 PM

In this week’s Last Supper, I spend some time exploring how a few of the newer restaurants are dealing with the current economic climate and how they plan to address the new year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the room to discuss a couple ethical issues that have been rolling around in my head for the last month.

As I mention in my column, I had a little attitude adjustment re. my view towards recent restaurant closings. Oddly enough, this change in my views was concurrent with the closing of Lucier.

Up till that point I had not thought about the interconnectedness of Portland restaurants. Then it hit me: the dining community in Portland is very much like an ecosystem. One part relies on the other and when one link in the chain is broken (like a species being lost) there is the possibility for a debilitating chain reaction. Therefore, if a restaurant goes under, its suppliers—from food to equipment—have lost revenue. How do you make up revenue? Raise prices or decrease inventory. Either way, the remaining restaurants are left holding the bag.

There are so many industries that are linked to a healthy restaurant community that a significant loss of restaurants or bars could be devastating far beyond a small community of mouthy foodies.

As a “fer instance,” here’s an e-mail, I recently received:

I enjoyed your article about how restaurants have been affected by the state of the economy. However, you left a HUGE industry out of the mix: not only are the food and equipment industries affected by restaurant closures, but there are 60 or more wine distributors that have been affected. In addition, several Wine Bars, bottle shops, local wineries, and grocery (retail) wine departments, in Portland that have been hugely affected by the economic downturn...

Carrie Harmon
Sales at Vinum Importing

Alright, so maybe I’m coming to this realization a little late in the game. Either way, I’m willing to admit that statements I’ve made previously on this blog were short sighted at best. Needless to say my eyes have been opened. So, what’s this got to do with Lucier?

Well, I’d noticed how rabidly against Lucier so many people in the Portland foodie community had become. Yeah, I get it. The place was apparently pretentious, snooty, and high priced. I can’t make a judgment on the food, having never had the chance to eat there, but whether it was good or not, I’m baffled by folks on food forums and blogs who seemed to take pleasure in the fact of Lucier's closing. For the reasons I’ve mentioned above (and others) this really shouldn’t be something to be happy about.

But this is where the ethical issues come in. As eaters in Portland, what is our responsibility to the restaurant industry? Do we have one? Is it important for us to eat widely in our city, giving our money to local eateries regardless of their décor or food quality?

And what about those places that had survived because the economy had been strong enough to support them, but are now sinking into the mire? You know, the ones where the food/service/atmosphere is just so-so? How should we view these places now? Do we slam them on food blogs and give them bad reviews on the Mercury restaurant listings page? Or, do we keep our mouths shut?

Is our dining pleasure at this moment more important than a healthy restaurant community, or vice-versa? Is there a way to help foster a healthy dining ecosystem without sacrificing quality, or are we forced to sit on the sidelines and hope for the best?

What do you think, Blogtownies? Your opinions are greatly appreciated.

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