Second Helpings

West-Side For years, I've thought the west side of town was full of untapped restaurant potential. Some smart entrepreneur, I figured, would eventually look at the demographics--tens of thousands of new residents, armed with disposable income--and realize there's gold in them thar new developments. Why not offer them a decent restaurant meal in the neighborhood, instead of watching them drive to Scottsdale?

Well, I'm starting to have second thoughts. I don't know why, but the number of west siders interested in non-chain fare still hasn't reached a critical mass. The latest evidence? The demise of Kiawe Grill and North Valley Grill.

Kiawe Grill opened last fall near Metrocenter. It featured Pacific Rim fare, the hottest concept around--check out ObaChine, Restaurant Hapa, Roy's and Zen 32. I adored the appetizers of tempura oysters and lobster potstickers. I thought salmon with lemongrass cream, scallops in a chile-lime marinade and wok-seared prawns in a garlic-black bean sauce could hold their own against the higher-priced Scottsdale competition.

But west siders stayed away. The place couldn't hold on for six months.
The out-of-business sign on North Valley Grill is even more surprising. Unlike Kiawe Grill, it offered basic American fare that even local yokels should have found unthreatening. And it was well-positioned in Arrowhead Towne Center, around lots of foot traffic.

The food was way better than the chain-fare alternatives, and reasonably priced to boot. The marvelously tender double pork chop, coated with a maple glaze, got a well-deserved Best of Phoenix. Meat loaf was as good as mom's. Jambalaya and ribs were first-rate. And desserts were homemade and scrumptious, especially the whiskey-soaked blueberry bread pudding and apple pan dowdy. Why couldn't this place survive more than a year?

Okay, west siders, they built it, and you didn't come. So don't expect Christopher Gross to open his new place on the avenues. Too many of you won't let go of your chains.

It Pays to Advertise? That's what I'm asking myself, after running across some marketing advice in a restaurant trade magazine. It seems that consultant Tom Feltenstein has not only crossed the boundary of good taste, he's taken a flying leap over it.

His idea: "Put marketing materials in every area of the restaurant, from the parking lot to the bathroom. Between 35 and 40 percent of your customers use the bathroom before they order dessert. So you should have big, beautiful pictures of desserts in your bathrooms. What the eye sees, the eye buys."

Yikes. I don't know about you, but I don't want to see pictures of banana cream pie above the urinal, decals touting the charms of chocolate mousse inside the stall door or posters of creme brulee next to the paper-towel dispenser. But that's America for you--the only place, according to a French observer, "that went directly from barbarism to degeneracy, without stopping at civilization."

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at hseftel@newtimes.com or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

 
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