Local Eateries vs. Chains a Tough Battle

Locally owned restaurants say they struggle to compete

By Alan Van Zandt | avanzandt@kq2.com

Published 06/30 2015 11:19PM

Updated 06/30 2015 11:19PM

Restaurants can come and go in a blink of an eye in what has always been a tough business.

With new national chains streaming into town in recent years, it's made it even more difficult for the home grown, local eateries to keep pace.

But they do what they can to survive.

At  Bad Art Bistro in downtown St. Joseph, their dishes are part art and part  food. The cooks at the restaurant try to set themselves apart.

"It's a culinary-driven restaurant, it's a chef-driven restaurant, said Owner/Manager Andrew Clark. "My background, my guys, my sous chef, they know how to execute dishes over and over and over again."

It's a daily battle for Bad Art Bistro against the well-known, national chain restaurants.

"St. Joseph is a very corporate orientated food city," Clark said. "I rail against that constantly. I want people spending money downtown here, not necessarily at my restaurant, but across the street or at least in downtown St. Joseph."

The locally-owned Ground Round restaurant reinvented itself a few years ago with a move downtown. They say if they'd stayed in the eastern part of the city, there is no way they could have kept competing with the chain restaurants.

"We have a lot of character down here with this old building," said Owner Marsha Hayes. "There's a lot more atmosphere. We're not the vanilla, box cookie-cutter type place anymore."

For smaller, locally owned restaurants, it can be hard to cut through the clutter of large, corporate restaurant marketing campaigns and name recognition.

"I think if you're a corporate restaurant, you have no problem selling yourself," Clark said.

But the closing earlier this week of Famous Dave's in the North Shoppes reminds all businesses that tough times can hit anyway.

"Restaurants that have recently closed are parts of larger chains that have requirements that they do a certain amount of business to continue to operate," said R. Patt Lilly, President of the Greater St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce. "When they don't the decision to close those restaurants."

For local owners like Hayes, she knows it takes a lot of work every day to keep her business running.

"A lot of people think there's big bucks and just opening up a restaurant and serving some food. No, It's very tough," she said.

The St. Joseph Health Department currently has almost 200 food licenses issued in the city. That includes both chain restaurants and local eateries.

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