Dear Independent Restaurant Community,
I mean, let’s talk the way we really talk. Not through the filter of PR jargon. Not through public social media snapshots. Not through the apologetic I’m sorry we didn’t live up to your expectation online review bullshit. Let’s. Fucking. Talk.
My partners and I were kids when we launched DiningOut. We were living with roommates in shitty apartments, and we were just stupid enough to believe we could make a magazine. On nights and weekends, I worked as a busboy at BJ’s and bartended for Dave Rubin at Spice of Life Catering, and one day I pestered Kevin Taylor into coughing up $600 for a first ad. I was interviewed by Pat Miller on the radio, and felt like I’d been knighted. I bought a Fisher-Price ring with the money I made from the first year of the publication, and I put it on the finger of my now-wife of 18 years. Over time, my partners and I grew the thing from Denver/Boulder into 18 cities in the US and Canada. We slept on couches and floors until we could afford hotel rooms. We saw it through 9/11 and the 2008 recession and the burgeoning of the digital age.
And now we’re scrapping it. And just like so many of the restaurants that we once marketed for, we’re starting again. Because we need to talk.
I’ve opened my own restaurants over those two-plus decades, knowing full well that selling ads to them was far more lucrative, far less work, and significantly less risk than actually doing the damn thing. I was a vendor, just like the folks who sell us food, and who sell us booze, and who sell us POS systems and reservation software and accounting services and linen delivery and equipment and smallwares, and just like those who rent us space and who charge us taxes. I was a cog that profited from the machine. I don’t apologize for it. The machine doesn’t run without the cogs. The heart doesn’t pump without the vessels. But the heart…
I don’t have to tell you: There’s poetry in the heart. Nobody writes poems about arteries. And with my life, I—like you—wanted to write poetry.
You know who writes poems? Weirdos. Freaks. Outcasts. People who think differently than normal people. People who generally hate spreadsheets. People who look at the world and say, nah, it should be THIS way. Opinionated hotheads. Beautiful enigmas. We spend too many hours to count obsessing over menu items—thousands of careful plates every week—and we feed ourselves midnight burritos. We worry over tiny details in our dining rooms while mail and dishes pile up at home. We’re addicts, each in our own way.
…going forward, the pages of DiningOut will be for us.
We’re it. We’re the last vestige of creativity and originality that qualifies as an industry in this country. Historically, we employ one-tenth of the total workforce, and we pay ourselves shit. Independent restaurants generate over $260 million in Colorado state tax revenue—more than that on the local level—and our profit margins, if we’re successful, are often in the single digits.
Diversity: Monsanto is taking it from our farms; Amazon’s taking it from our retail; big landlords are depriving our neighborhoods of it. We’re it. We’re what’s left—the final network of multiplicity. We, as a group, are the reflection and personality of our communities. We are the thing that makes here different from anywhere. And currently, let’s face it, we’re kind of fucked. Big restaurant chains and automations are homogenizing the industry—and right now, in the midst of our crisis, they are dominating the conversation. With their voice and deep pockets, we know for a fact they’ll take advantage of this present state of madness.
The thing is, collectively, we can have deeper pockets and a louder voice. We can take advantage, too. We can promote leaders to speak to our common needs, and to cut through the white noise. We can leverage the data and reach of powerful orgs like the Restaurant Association and we can maintain the grit and community of those like our partners at Eat Denver. We just have to talk.
Sometimes talking means arguing. Sometimes even loudly. Independents are, by definition, independent. We shouldn’t shy away from that. But at the root of it all, we are the various cells of a single beating organ, pumping nourishment to just about every aspect of the economy and the overall well being of the places we call home. We are wanted, and we are needed. As independent units, we are poetry—we feed the soul of our localities. As an industry, we’re fucking essential.
So going forward, the pages of DiningOut will be for us. In struggle and success, in all of our weirdness and fragmentation, in all of our jealousies and in-fighting and gossiping and poaching and copy-catting, and also, in our deep sharing and our authentic generosity, in our lifting up and helping out, above all, we speak the same language. That’s the one thing we have in common: without the need for translation or explanation, we understand each other. So let’s talk.