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Feb 9, 2007 04:40 PM

Restaurant Tragedies

Just curious- does anyone have an experience with a restaurant that you found fantastic in every way - great food, service, atmosphere-yet it never caught on with the general public and didn't survive?
If you've had this experience, why do you think it didn't make it? I'm not talking about restaurants with poor management, owners with personal problems or other such circumstances. I mean a restaurant that seemed to be doing everything right, did have customers that raved about it but just couldn't get a big enough customer base to stay in business.
Any experiences?


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  1. Maybe I'm off-topic, maybe not, but I have seen numerous restaurants with much going for them and fold for one very identifiable reason - A JINX LOCATION.

    Restaurant after restaurant will open in that location, struggle for 4 or 5 months, and close. Why? Because you can't see it while driving - maybe it's right there to be seen but at that intersection everybody's looking at oncoming traffic in another direction - maybe it's right out in the open but by the time you could see it from your car, it's too late to turn in, you'd have to turn around and go back - or you can't see the sign.

    This usually happens when newbie owners have wanted to open a restaurant ALL THEIR LIVES and rent a location that used to be a restaurant and is now closed ... not thinking about WHY it's closed.

    I remember a pleasant little Italian place that I finally noticed and actually turned around and went back to. I was the only customer at dinnertime. There was the owner's wife as hostess, his kids as staff, all looking worried ("there go our life savings") and the owner, who cooked a mean marinara sauce, coming across like failed salesman character Gil on "The Simpsons," desperate for the success that (he is well aware) has already eluded him and rapidly circling the drain, chatting to me incessantly and begging me to "tell my friends." Of course the place was closed in a couple of weeks, and there went the retirement and the college fund and maybe even the house, all because it's Dad's dream and of course, as TV teaches us, "if you dream hard enough you can do anything."

    4 Replies
    1. re: wayne keyser

      It's so true about jinxed locations, maybe it's just that people perceive it as doomed from day 1. Unless it's got some big name chef or something really unusual and they advertise/PR like crazy. Then maybe they have a tiny chance.

      1. re: coll

        Any place that begs you to 'tell your friends about us' is probably doomed... if it's good enough to be worth recommending, you will without being begged, and if it's not then sorry...
        we went to a lovely new pizza place once and were one of their first customers. The food was great for awhile, but business was very slow. Once they started cutting corners on the food quality we quit going (and so apparantly did everyone else) because the restaurant changed hands soon after.

      2. re: wayne keyser

        This definitely happens. Has anyone seen the Seinfeld episode about this? Hilarious, but all too true, unfortunately.

        1. re: wayne keyser

          Location, location, location. I used to work at Malaysian restaurant that was sandwiched in between two gas stations. We were slammed on the weekends and dead during the week (except for the odd senior who had a coupon). Eventually the owner wanted out. Since the kitchen was set-up for Asian-styloe cuisine it was very appealing to restauranteurs looking to set up an Asian based eatery. I have seen so many attempts at that location (from sushi to Hawaiin), every time I hear of of a new one setting up shop, I exclaim, "I have to try it before it goes out of business!"

        2. All the Rotelli's restaurants in our area are gone. They had good food and were nice places in decent locations and had nice "furniture." The only complaint I ever heard was that the surfaces were hard and the noise level was too high. Could that by itself have caused them to sink? I was at Benihana for the first time ever last night. You want to talk about noise level!! They aren't sinking.

          3 Replies
          1. re: yayadave

            I wouldn't say Rotelli's was exceptional in any way. There was one close by, we found the pizza acceptable (read: better than Vocelli), but we didn't care for their red sauce or the cheese in their lasagne and manicotti. In the location near us, a Bravo opened across the street which was much better.

            Sometimes you just don't know. A location might exceed every metric the consultants tell you to measure, but something like lack of parking on certain nights might kill you in the long run. More often than not, however, is a lack of focusing on managing expenses, which killed some very good places in Pittsburgh.

            1. re: Panini Guy

              Probably the biggest overall problem is not having enough start-up money to keep the place running until it "turns the corner" and shows a profit. Next is lack of managerial skills, knowledge. Also, people don't seem to know that being a great home and neighborhood and family and church function cook does not necessarily transfer to the restaurant kitchen. Then there are those people who think owning their own bar/restaurant is a chance to party with their friends and swish around in the dining room - big time owner. You loose your butt that way. Owning your own joint is tremendously hard work. You don't own it; it owns you.

              Right, Rotelli's is not exceptional. Especially in the Pittsburgh area where you can go to any area of the city and get decent Italian food, even with out the chains. But they did not seem to me to be bad enough to go under. The one you wrote about on Rt. 19 was down in an area where several places have gone down. And it is a high traffic area. Go figure!

              1. re: Panini Guy

                Thinking of places that had NO reason to go down, there was J J Rose's. It was an independent operation in a high class area of the city, in a beautiful old house, with superb service and food. Then it just wasn't ther any more.

            2. Norman's in LA. Excellent food, excellent service, beautiful space, superb sommelier. I think the reason it folded had a lot to do with the fact that people in Los Angeles rarely brave the traffic and inconvenience of the Sunset Strip for fine food. If the location had been different I probably would have dined there much more often. I loved it so much, but living on the other side of town I rarely had the opportunity to visit.

              1. Sticky Buns, a bakery in San Francisco, in the early 1980's...

                They had two stores--one on Market Street (sort of upper-middle Market, If I'm remembering right) and one in Glen Park, the neighborhood where I lived. Both were probably lousy locations, with minimal foot traffic and no parking to speak of. The menu was very limited--pecan sticky buns and raisin sticky buns. These were light and huge and drowned in the most delicious, buttery, cinnamon-y, sticky syrup. They were the Platonic ideal of cinnamon rolls. I risked a parking ticket every morning on my way to work, double-parking or stopping in the bus zone, to stand in line and get one. I wasn't the only one--all my friends adored them. Then one day, they were just gone--the doors locked, no sign, no explanation. I never heard what happened. Twenty-something years on, and I still miss them.

                1. There is a location in Piscataway, NJ that surely qualifies as a hard-luck location. Although I don't have an accurate count, I would estimate that there have been at least 5 different restaurants in the same building over a period of about 12 years, and in some cases, the building was vacant for months at a time in between businesses.

                  Perhaps the most long-lasting restaurant in that location was Rackley's, which specialized in ribs. They were probably there for at least three years, but then succumbed. I can't recall the names of most of the other tenants, but the one whose demise I really regretted was The International Grille. Run by a husband and wife from Russia, they had a head chef who had previously been employed at some high-end Manhattan restaurants. While the decor of International Grille was overwrought and fairly dreadful, the service was friendly and efficient, the prices were decent, and the food was truly excellent. However, for whatever reason, they never attracted much of a following and they closed up after a couple of years.

                  Following International Grillle, there was another management at that location which lasted for an even shorter period of time, followed by another period of vacancy. I have always wondered whether the fact that the restaurant is located directly under high-tension electrical lines had anything to do with the apparent bad karma that seemed to be associated with that location.

                  Presently, Charlie Brown's Steakhouse (a truly mediocre, diner-like cuisine, masquerading as fine dining) is in that space, and judging from the parking lot, it appears that they are doing better in that location than their predecessors. I will not be going there, but apparently Charlie Brown's does have a following that overcomes whatever bad karma had condemned their predecessors to failure. Time will tell, I suppose.