I love diners and greasy spoons. Those "Greek" joints that serve hearty breakfasts and lunch. "Family style" restaurants where you could get a dinner for four with out maxing out the credit cards. The late or all night joints that serve food to "absorb" all the alcohol you drank or serve the denizens of the graveyard shift.
These places are disappearing. Three in my neighborhood bit the dust. Others I used to frequent are gone or soon will be closed.
A few months ago I was talking to a noted Chicago columnist and foodie who wondered why these places were going out of business.
There are several reasons. They have to do with economics, trends, politics, and fads.
People do not have to eat large breakfasts or lunches to keep their bodies fueled. You do not burn calories in a service economy, sitting in a cubicle.
Young people, who are faddish about everything, contributed heavily to the decline.
The thin skeletal look is in. These wasted looking people eat yogurt and granola for breakfast, fastidiously measured and weighed. Lunch is rabbit food brought from home or picked up at a store or coffee shop.
They have to fit in those skinny jeans.
These are the same health conscious faddish people who will go out on weekends, ingest copious amounts of alcohol, bum cigarettes because they do not smoke, and, in the wee hours will stand in long lines to get a burrito as big as their head or crowd some of the remaining diners, stuffing their maws.
You see them at Jim's Original. Young, skinny, health food fanatics from all over the area, waiting in line for one of the famous greasy Maxwell Street Polish with grilled onions. The more adventurous or drunk order the pork chop sandwich.
During the work week, they would not be caught dead eating that stuff, especially in public.
The economy tanking in 2008 did not help. Many of the family owned places could not stay open. Weekend crowds did not pay all the bills and allow for a profit.
Other owners finally realized they were old. They did not want to work hard any more. Their children were grown and they wanted to live a little before they died. Hearses do not have luggage racks.
Food styles changed. People want a dining experience. Cooks and chefs are more than willing to give it to them. That is how to make money in the restaurant business.
The young and oh so hip do not want mere omelettes, potatoes, or sanguiches. They want fries cooked in duck fat. They want food laden with truffle oil. They seek beef or greens with strange names. They want artistic looking food.
The increasing numbers of political food snobs make things worse. They ask questions about the sourcing of everything from coffee, chocolate, meats, fowl, and fish. Sustainable, green, sourcing, organic, humane, economic or social justice, fair trade, and free range are some of their buzz words.
Connectivity assisted in the demise. Everyplace must have Wi-Fi. It is hard to play with your tablet or laptop while eating a blue plate special or wrestling a gyros or beef sandwich. Better to sit in a corporate run coffee or tea shop typing away or staring at the screen while the coffee gets cold and the salad wilts. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, these people must be connected. Connectivity is their life blood. Who needs food?
Last, there is the American dream. Working people are not raising their kids to labor. No one raises their children to take over the diner, bus and wait tables, mop floors, clean bathrooms, wash dishes, throw out leaking trash or love the fire.
We raise our kids to be better than us. Get educations, Get white collar jobs. Work behind desks instead of scraping a flat top or mopping floors after a hard day of serving people.
We raise out children to be the served not the servers.
If the next generation makes some money and decides to open a restaurant, it will be a gastro pub, butchery, charcuterie and cheese joint, winery, or vegan place. Something trendy that fits their image.
Me, I am old school. All I want is a good sanguich, three egg omelette or a 3+3+3 with mounds of hash browns.
Give me a large bowl of soup, like split pea, navy bean, beef barley, or tomato rosemarina with some good bread.
Give me a hefty bowl of good old fashioned diner chili, a thick slab of meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas, a patty or tuna melt, or Montechristo with maple syrup on the side.
I want a waitress that knows my name or calls me hon or sweetie. I want to drink coffee from a thick china mug.
I want to hear clanking, crashing and cursing in Spanish, Spanglish, and Greek (or other languages) coming from the kitchen.
I want to eat food made and served by genuine people instead of pretentious snobs. I want to rub shoulders at a counter with working stiffs or the owner if he takes a short break.
Maybe in this day and age that is just too much to ask.
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