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Jul 17, 2011 08:15 AM

Suburbia HOA area food vs city food--how much did finding good food have to do with where you live?

It seems, near me, that areas that have more/larger HOAs have more chain restaurants and mom and pop type places are nicer on the interior but food is bland and generic. In/nearer cities, food gets more eclectic and your chances of finding a good hole in the wall place is much higher. Is that true near you? Why is it? Is it the people who like HOAs similarly like their food similarly controlled? That's what I'm finding where I live. People love the Cheescake Factory, PF Changs, etc. Even Thai or Japanese places are pretty uniform--pretty and generic. I know few people who would venture out of the sanitized comfort zone.

Living in suburbia HOA-land, I wish I had thought of this years ago, before we bought our house. How much did finding quickly access to good food factor into where you live, or how much will it in the future?

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    1. re: babette feasts

      Sorry, suburbanite talk--Home Owners Associations and planned communities. Where every house has to look the same.

    2. Not a factor in my purchase, as I do a lot of cooking at home. But I do see your point. I guess if I were to eat out more often I would choose some place with more Mom and Pop, whole in the wall type of places over chains. I rarely if ever eat at chain places.

      2 Replies
      1. re: JEN10

        I cook at home a lot, too, but I also think it's in part to the fact that I have to drive a good distance to get good food. I don't want Chopstix Express.

        1. re: chowser

          I feel the same way. Our little downtown area is 99% independents, otherwise it is chain city. It seems to be what many people want. I can't tell you how many people I know at work who were so excited about the recent opening of Marlin and Rays- s new seafood chain by Ruby Tuesdays. Neighbors invited us to go, but no thanks. According to them, food was just as you would expect from such a place. Also, there is much excitement for a new P F Changs coming to town. Apparently, if people have heard of the name, they will come. I'm going back to my kitchen.

      2. Areas with HOA communities built in are usually areas which used to be farmland/industrial/away from the main city and so don't have any established restaurants in the area, because the community is not established..

        We have moved because of jobs and look for a house that is safe to come home to at night. Coincidentally, all homes purchased have been foreclosures. Price and safety are the concerns. It is nice to be able to walk to a local place, but I can drive anywhere.

        16 Replies
        1. re: Cathy

          The question is, why are the restaurants that subsequently open then generally chains or bland generic ones? And, what I've found is the good places that do unusual foods usually close. If they adapt, they often don't. My husband's uncle opened a restaurant and he wanted it to be authentic cantonese food--with duck tongue, chicken feet, etc. Business was terrible until he started a cheap buffet, with sushi (because all asian food buffets, regardless of nationality will have california rolls). Business is amazing. Is there a reason people in suburbia don't want anything different?

          1. re: chowser

            As you point out, HOA's like homogeneity, and so do the people who choose to live there. A new development doesn't have existing buildings, which means businesses have to be built literally from the ground up. Only chains can afford that. In addition, there may be independent restaurants but they aren't going to be as visible because the chains grab the prime, most visible (i.e. corner) lots. I've visited Las Vegas a fair amount and because I'm staying with friends it's mostly off the strip, out of the tourist areas, in the land of sprawl and massive cookie cutter developments. The chains are highly visible. But most strip malls will have a small storefront restaurant or two -- some specialty chains (like a chain pizza parlor, bakery or coffeeshop) but some independents. You just don't notice them as you're whizzing by.

            To go back to your original question, I would never choose to live in such a place. Not only because of the homogeneity of the food, but the homogeneity in general. Not to mention the occasionally ridiculous CCRs, like that women in Michigan who is facing jail time for the audacity of growing vegetables in her front yard. I've lived in the same house for over 20 years, but if I were to move the kinds of foods available locally would certainly be a factor and I'm thrilled that over the years I've lived here more and more good and interesting food options have sprung up in my neighborhood. It's certainly been a point I emphasize when I'm advertising for a renter.

            Sure I could drive anywhere, but I'm glad that when I get home from work I can walk down to the corner, where there's an organic grocery, and a really good cheese store, butcher shop and bakery. Who wants to drive everywhere?

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Just for fun, I looked up the demographics for Tracy, California: a community that surely would fit the mental image that one gets when one thinks about "HOA": very suburban, LOTS of track houses that all look alike, and lots of new developments and strip malls.

                Is it homogeneous? Not if you are referring to ethnicity in saying that 'HOA's like homogeneity." Per the 2010 census: the population of Tracy is 36.9% Hispanic, 7.2% African American, 27.8% Caucasian, 14.8% Asian, 4% 'other'.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Just a friendly reminder, Folks. This discussion is about food, posts that discuss general HOA issues with the exclusion of food discussion have been removed.

                2. re: chowser

                  I think a lot of people are afraid of the unknown. And many of these are the same people who indulge their kids with a separate meal at home instead of having them eat what is served. I have friends whose kids will eat anything because they were exposed to different things, but know many more people whose kids diet rotate only between the types of foods offerd on typical kids menus.

                  1. re: sherriberry

                    Good points. When I was a kid there was no such thing as a "kid's menu" or separate foods for kids at dinner -- kids ate what adults ate.

                    My sister is raising a little chowhound, and she's always eaten everything -- at a family dinner out when she was just shy of one she reached out and grabbed and ate a piece of radicchio off her grandma's plate, and ended up eating more of her mom's dinner than the kid friendly dish they'd ordered for her. If we're going to be eating out family style my sister will make sure there's one dish she knows my niece will eat, but otherwise, no special food for the chowpup.

                    1. re: sherriberry

                      I think that may or may not be true. Certainly kids who aren't exposed to different foods may shy away from them, but I also have come to believe that my kid was just born with a conservative palate. In this case I think it's sometimes nature, rather than nurture.

                      1. re: Glencora

                        I agree. But only feeding your kid food that he already likes is a sure way to reinforce any tendencies to a conservative palate.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          True. And thank goodness we live in an area with a huge variety of markets and restaurants (and people). He's been exposed to so much, and even though he rejected a lot of it, he's gradually become more adventurous. I hope that when he visits his friends on "the other side of the tunnel" in their big bland houses and goes with them to the malls with all the chain restaurants that he realizes something important is missing. I think he does.

                          1. re: Glencora

                            I'll respond to everyone here--I think you've hit the nail on the head with everything you all have said. Most people who live in HOAs like to know what to expect and expect to know what they get. It's kind of soul-less which is what I'm coming to deal with here. Had I known we'd be here longer, I would have planned better.

                            1. re: chowser

                              Making generalizations about people who live in HOA's is patently misinformed. HOA's have become more prevalent in the past quarter century and likely most prevalent in former exurbs or rural areas that have traditionally had low population density. In time, any area that has a large contingency of HOA's will develop and independent food businesses will proliferate. Also consider the general economy and who has the dollars available to expand existing or open new businesses at any given time.

                              Please don't lump all of us HOA residents in to some arbitrary designation of being predictable and needy of routine, it just is not accurate.

                                1. re: ChinoWayne

                                  "In time, any area that has a large contingency of HOA's will develop and independent food businesses will proliferate."

                                  It might be an area specific thing. My HOAs and others around have been here since the mid 80's. The independent restaurants aren't chow-worthy, nor are the chains but I don't think most people want anything different. They're happy w/ their choices and Starbucks on every corner.

                                  I'm not lumping all HOA-ers as the same--as I said, I live in an HOA. But, there is something, in general, about people who will accept being told what color house they can live in, how much decoration they can have, whether they can have brass numbers on their mail box, whether they can hang their laundry up outside, etc. uniformity.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    You seem to be contending that most HOA residents are incapable of or unwilling to overcome or deviate from the mundane regimentation of the common interest housing communities they live in, ergo there is no local market for any "chow-worthy" food purveyors. Yet you claim to be an HOA resident, and quite obviously you are passionate about and capable of seeking out chow-worthy establishments, whether in you immediate neighborhood, or across town. So are you the only exception to the rule, or is it possible that many of us who could be considered your HOA neighbors also are discerning eaters, and that if there is nothing chow-worthy in our immediate vicinity we are capable of finding a way to get to the chow-worthy venue and that we do represent a local market for chow-worthy venues should they decide to penetrate this geographic area?

                                    I just don't think your generalization about HOA residents as a group holds any water.

                                    1. re: ChinoWayne

                                      Yes, almost everyone I know, in my area, loves the Cheesecake Factory, Starbucks and PF Changs. I'm not saying everyone is like that but I do think that often if someone chooses to live in an HOA, they're fine with everything being sanitized. Not everyone, obviously there are exceptions like those who've said so on this thread but enough that it does dictate the type of restaurants around it. This was not meant to be an attack on CH who live in HOAs but that there aren't enough of us, at least in my area. I was throwing out the idea to see if it's true elsewhere but I seem to have touched a nerve and I apologize if that's the case.

                  2. My city looks like a big square divided into four- NW, NE, SW and SE. The downtown would be a little circle in the middle, where the four quadrants meet. It makes sense that the most eclectic or "niche" restaurants would be in the middle, so people from all quadrants of the city could visit relatively easily. When you eat at a locally-owned, non-chain restaurant in the city center and you talk to other people, it's not like they all walked there. They drove from all corners of the city to come get Ethiopian or Ukrainian food. It would be illogical to open a South Indian restaurant in the extreme far northwest corner of my city, as there wouldn't be enough interest from the local neighbourhood and it would be too long of a drive for people from most of the other quadrants.

                    Also, I would suspect it has something to do with demographics. People living in the suburbs tend to have families with children, and while it would be great if everyone raised their kids on balut eggs and tacos de lengua, it's not going to happen. So they like restaurants with kids menus and crowd-pleasing fare (not to mention seating for mom, dad, two teenagers, a kid and a baby in a high chair, plus grandma and grandpa if they come too!). I rarely eat in my neighbourhood as it is mostly chains, but when I think of the independent restaurants nearby they aren't set up for high chairs and they're not wheelchair accessible, while all the chains are.

                    1. I think it depends on where those HOA communties are. Here in So Cal, there are often smaller, take-out places with all sorts of cuisines that are one of a kind. Their food may not be quite as "authentic" as those within their own ethnic communities, but they're still good. And I do believe it can be harder for those places to survive in the suburbs because rents tend to be higher than in inner city ethnic neighborhoods. (Please excuse the use of the word ethnic, I am not using it in a pejorative sense but only to define it as different from main stream American/chain foods.)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: escondido123

                        That's what I was wondering--if different areas have different experiences w/ HOAs and I'd expect, of all areas, that California would be different. The places I lived in CA (Long Beach, Monterey, Alameda) were established long before HOAs came along and were much more diverse as food choices go. And, as those people moved out, some to HOAs, they bring their expectations with them. Plenty of chains, definitely, but also plenty of good restaurants.