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Thursday, April 22, 2010

This Week's Mercury Food Section: Business Relationships

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Thu, Apr 22, 2010 at 12:22 PM

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This week we discuss the closing of the beloved downtown cafe Half and Half. During my interview with owners Robin Rosenberg and Jeff Heisler, I was struck by this comment from Heisler:

"I had two customers cry today when I told them. I feel guilty, but I'm also excited to be doing something new."

Oooooohhhh. We're talking Guilt and Obligation after the jump.

That particular quote got me thinking about those bars, cafes, and restaurants I've loved that have long since closed, or changed in some irrevocable way. In most of the cases the closures or changes were out of necessity, due to some sort of catastrophic event or lack of revenue. Very rarely have I seen closures due to business owners becoming bored, or simply wanting something new.

The Half and Half closure brings to light a difficult issue with customer loyalty particularly complicated in businesses that revolve around nourishment. I feel the ties that bind customer to restaurateur are stronger compared to those that bind consumers to other businesses—be they TV networks or fashion boutiques. When someone cooks for you and serves you, it's a weirdly intimate act. And like it or not, on some level (sometimes subconscious, sometimes not) it's an emotional act. Because of that, a loyal customer can often feel their relationship with the business is more akin to friend or family than simply someone engaged in a business transaction. Hell, everyone knows your name at Cheers. The rest of the world (sometimes even your own family) could give two shits about what you call yourself.

So when a restaurant you love fails, it can feel like a catastrophe. When it's given up, it can feel like a kind of betrayal.

The questions for me (and you, Blogtownies) are: Should any of this matter to a business owner? Does a business that has worked to build a relationship with customers have any obligation to them, beside providing the best service to the best of their ability? Is guilt over closing warranted? Or do customers like the wet-eyed Half and Half regulars just need to wipe their tears and let everyone get on with their lives?

On Topic...

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