I am one seriously pissed off panda. I can't remember the last time I was this angry. We have rising gas prices, plummeting real estate values, double-digit unemployment, the specter of economic depression, and stock markets that have fallen with such rapidity that they threaten to drag the rest of the country into the Abyss with them. While criminally irresponsible Wall Street CEOs demand handouts from the federal government, and usurious financial institutions exploit us with our own tax dollars, small businesses, the backbone of the American economy, collapse left and right.
(What we're losing.)
Are you worried about your job? I am. Everyone I know is. Consumers aren't spending. Retirement savings, home values, and investment portfolios have been cut in half. The unemployment rate hasn't been this high since 1983. People aren't just feeling poor, they're becoming poor. Businesses can't get the short-term loans they need for day-to-day operations. Even if they could, who's going to buy their goods or services? Credit card rates are being arbitrarily jacked up in excess of 30%. 30%! You'd get a better deal from Big Tony. Sure, his boys might break your legs, but at least he'd have the decency not to do it while taking a federal handout. It's not just us, either. Thanks to globalization, the world is now flat. Everyone is getting screwed with their pants on in an international clusterfuck.
If you're not worried, you haven't been paying attention.
"But Chubbypanda," you say, "Isn't this blog supposed to be about food? Why are you ranting about the economy like Rick Santelli before his entirely justified and glorious bitch slapping by John Stewart?"
Because, dear reader, everything is about the economy these days, even food. People are eating out less. A lot less. Restaurant spending is down 12%. Around the county, independent restaurants are closing shop left and right. From small mom & pop eateries to iconic mainstays like New York's Rainbow Room Grill, the recession is taking its toll.
(You'd pick a Big Mac over this Croque Madame?)
Even more recession proof chains are feeling the burn. Ruth Chris Steakhouse posted a $53.9 million loss for 2008 and its stock has dropped from $20 a share to less than $1. Where are people going when they do decide to eat out? I'll let the following headline answer that question for me.
McDonald's posts sizzling 80% profit rise in 2008.
(Food for the soul.)
How, then, are charming eateries like Hamilton Petit Cafe going to survive? Many of them aren't. This one didn't.
A tiny little operation tucked in the middle of Huntington Beach, Hamilton Petit Cafe garnered a glowing review from the local town paper, the Huntington Beach Independent, when it opened in 2007. The owner, a sweet Vietnamese lady, ran the front, waited on tables, and helped the cooks in the back. She poured her life into her restaurant, her attempt at the American dream. Business was good for a time.
(A signature dish.)
They served a superb selection of French and Vietnamese cafe food. Heavenly crepes, which enfolded flavorful fillings in their crispy yet resilient folds. Hot and cold sandwiches, including the ham and melted cheese goodness that was their Croque Madame (third from top). Covered with Béchamel sauce and a fried egg "over easy", it was hot, crispy, savory, and unctuous. The lip and artery coating combo was worth the cholesterol hit. Vietnamese Spring Rolls filled to bursting with fresh herbs, a selection of tasty Pho, coffees, fresh fruit smoothies, and a few home-style dishes like their comforting Chicken Curry rounded out a satisfying menu where nothing was over $10. Nothing.
Delicious food at great prices from a family-run business, Hamilton Petit Cafe was the type of restaurant I started this blog to promote and celebrate.
Then, the first stirrings of what would eventually become full-fledged meltdowns in the real estate and financial sectors began. Fears rose and customers became less frequent. By the time Cat and I first stepped through their doors this Saturday, the end was inevitable. The owner, her face lined with the cares and worries of two years worth of struggle still welcomed us warmly to the vacant restaurant. She stopped by frequently as we ate to make sure we had everything we needed. It wasn't until I was settling our check that the owner told us the restaurant had been sold. In a few days' time, maybe a week, Hamilton Petit Cafe would be gone. The buyer was an aspiring sushi chef who was setting out on his own for the very first time. The owner told us that she hoped we had enjoyed our food, and that we'd come back later to support the new sushi restaurant. When asked if she would be reopening Hamilton Petit Cafe in another location, she mustered a sad smile and shook her head. It was just too hard, she told us.
We've all had restaurants close on us before (Red Onion/New Shanghai) and, other than the occasional pang of regret, we forget and move on without considering the extent of the tragedy in this already too-frequent event. There's the owner's heartache and the potential for continued financial hardship. There are the cooks, dishwasher, wait staff, and busboys, all of whom have lost their jobs during a period of double-digit unemployment. There are the local businesses who used to serve Hamilton Petit Cafe; butchers, grocers, restaurant suppliers, launderers, etc., who have lost just a little bit more revenue in a time when they can ill afford it. Eventually, they too may need to downsize or close.
What can we do? How can we help? We can vote with our dollars. We can support local, small businesses and restaurants that give back to our communities and generate the majority of jobs in the United States. The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics in 2004 reported that for every $100 spent at a local small business, $68 remained in the local economy. In contrast, only $43 remained in the local economy for every $100 spent at a regional or nation chain. That's a difference of $25, and each those dollars add up. They keep our friends and neighbors employed and promote diversity in products and services.
Times are tough and many of us are frightened. We don't know if our jobs are going to be around next month or if anything will be left in our retirement accounts when we need them the most. We don't know what's going to happen in the next few years. So, we economize. We spend less and eat out less, which are probably good choices with all things considered. But, that doesn't mean we need to settle for a mediocre meal at the nearest Mc-Crap-In-The-Shack when we do go out. Look around and explore your town. Odds are that there are plenty of mom & pop eateries offering affordable eats. Do you have a favorite local restaurant? Save up your money and eat there as a monthly treat. Your business keeps them alive. Have faith in our country and our economy. We have the skills, the resources, the knowledge, and the drive to pull out of this recession and we eventually will. But, if you want your favorite restaurants to still be around once we do, if you want to preserve the unique character and diversity of your local businesses, you need to decide whether you'd rather have a Croque Madame or a Big Mac. What's it going to be?
Hamilton Petit Cafe - Times are tough and local businesses need our support. It may be too late for Hamilton Petit Cafe, but there's still hope for your favorite local restaurants.
Fruit Smoothie - 3.25
Vietnamese Spring Rolls - 3.95
Croque Madame - 5.95
Chicken Curry - 6.95
Strawberry Crepe - 7.95
Homemade Flan - 2.5
Hamilton Petit Cafe
9556 Hamilton Ave
Huntington Beach, CA 92646