Robrt Pela on Phoenix's Chain Restaurant Problem | Phoenix New Times

There's Nowhere to Eat in This Town

Corporate is winning the battle against independent at 44th and Indian School.
Nothing to eat
Nothing to eat showcake/Shutterstock
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If I were going to open a restaurant next week, I’d do so at 44th Street and Indian School. I figure I could survive on the overflow alone from the bazillion chain restaurants that have set up shop at this Arcadia intersection. I’d call my diner Incentivize, Already! and I’d serve waffle-infused pigeon burgers and bacon-and-bleu-cheese flavored gelato, which are pretty much the only two foods you can’t find at this ersatz Phoenix food court.

The other thing you can’t find there: Much in the way of independent restaurants.

Things start slow on the northeast corner, with a Chick Fil A (a name that has troubled me since the 1970s—did the owners of this place really think Americans wouldn’t be able to pronounce “filet”?) and Pete’s Fish and Chips. Across the street, the southeast corner goes a little deeper with an Einstein’s Bagels and Sushi Brokers. And then all hell breaks loose, chain-restaurant wise.

The southwest corner of this gastronomic traffic circle offers up burgers (Smashburger), burritos (Uberrito) salads for the health-conscious (Zoe’s Kitchen) and dessert (Creamistry). This corner, at least, adds some local flavor to the glut of franchises: Fox Restaurant’s popular pizza place, Doughbird, and Hash Kitchen, the Maggiore Group’s newish breakfast spot.

But then the northwest corner offers nothing but chains, although two of them—Wildflower Bread Company and Mod Pizza—are local. They’re joined by Starbucks, Nekter Juice Bar, Pei Wei, Rubios, Subway, and Pita Jungle. Don’t feel like crossing the street for ice cream? This group includes Nothing Bundt Cakes, a national franchise featuring bundts in several sizes and flavors.

Presumably Arcadia residents want nothing but franchise diners, fast-food drive-thrus and pizzerias, so good for them. And it’s nice that the palates of so many socioeconomic and ethnic groups are being addressed by this hodgepodge of Indian School eateries: sub sandwiches and bagels for the budget-minded; sushi and nine dollar kiwi juice for those with deeper pockets. One could argue that this pile of eating spots makes a nod to international cuisine, I suppose: There’s Italian, Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean, and American fare, all jammed into four high-traffic corners. To float this argument, you’d probably have to call Pei Wei’s menu “Chinese-inspired” and convince someone that Pete’s offers “British cuisine.”

But here’s what’s missing from this restaurant micro pocket: Originality. Risk-taking. Something I've never seen before. I have no insight into who’s selecting particular intersections for foodie development, or why chain restaurants want to compete so closely for fast-food appetites. All I know is that anything truly good is dwarfed by this parade of same-old food factories.

How long till there's a Doughbird on every corner, Mr. Fox?

If you don't live near Arcadia, you can still see examples of this phenomenon all over town. Even when it's local, it's becoming homogenous. And no one else can seem to stay in business.

It's enough to ruin my appetite.
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