Tuesday, July 21, 2009

despite relaxed liquor laws, fast food still rules east county

New Colesville McDonalds
The McDonald's on East Randolph Road in Colesville, shown under construction in June 2007.

If there's anything East County has no shortage of, it's fast-food joints. My parents will never mention this when they eventually try to sell our house, but we live within a five-minute drive of two KFCs, a Burger King, two locations of Wendy's, and four McDonald's restaurants. The few awesome non-chain places that exist, like Cuba de Ayer and Old Hickory Grille in Burtonsville, are quickly overshadowed by all that is fried and breaded.

That's why I'm disappointed to say that the east side may soon get its very own Chick-Fil-A, located in the Westech Village Corner at Route 29 and Tech Road. Next Thursday (the 30th), the Planning Board will decide whether or not a Longhorn Steakhouse planned for the new shopping center can be swapped out (warning! PDF file.) for the iconic chicken restaurant.

Now, don't get me wrong: I love the place, and will regularly drive to their current locations in Fulton and Downtown Silver Spring for the titular Chick-Fil-A sandwich. I may even camp outside for a chance to have a lifetime supply of those sandwiches, as is done at every new store they open. But I'd rather keep going out of my way to enjoy Chick-Fil-A if it means we get a slightly classier place here.

Five years after Montgomery County loosened restrictions on obtaining liquor licenses that encouraged most sit-down restaurants to locate in busier locales like Bethesda or along Rockville Pike, the east side is still hurting for them. Whether you're trying to take your family out or cutting a business deal, you want to do it over a nice meal and right now, that's all we have. Yet the restaurants that open here are not only chains but fast-food chains like my beloved Wendy's, which wants to build a new store in Colesville on a site formerly intended for offices.

It's no surprise that not one but two of the District 4 County Council candidates I interviewed in 2008 pointed out that the recently-opened IHOP on Tech Road is constantly packed. But the lack of high-end dining options in East County may have as much to do with economics as politics. Wendy's and Chick-Fil-A know to open here because their counterparts have already done well here. A high-end restaurant like Houston's that would otherwise locate in an established dining destination like Bethesda doesn't have any precedents to say whether or not it would do well here.

It's a chicken-or-egg proposition. Through loosening liquor restrictions, we've made it easier for sit-down restaurants to open in East County. But is a hungry populace enough to convince more upscale places to be pioneers in a territory filled with fast food?


Dr. F. said...

That's why I'm glad for La Palapa3 and Cafe Oromia in Burtonsville.

Wasn't crazy about a Longhorn steakhouse going in on Tech Rd. but I love the Panera's and IHops and Moe's. Was kind of hoping we'd get maybe a Romano's Macaroni Grill or a Bertucci's or California Pizza Kitchen pizza place. Oh well...

Thomas Hardman said...

I'm reaching a position of absolute conviction that fast-food places -- Wendy's in particular -- are a pox on the landscape and a plague on humanity. Their only saving grace, ever, is that you can elect to patronize the establishments only with drive-thru.

One the other hand, I'm getting dead sick of seeing that the alternative mostly seems to constitute someplace where a burger or a gyro is over $8.00 with taxes. If some restaurant is charging pretty much a minimum of close to ten dollars for the least expensive entree on the menu, they damn well ought to serve liquor so you can wash down the outrage and add some extra tax income to the county coffers.

I realize that inflation in prices in MoCo is sinfully outrageous and has been so for many years -- this is what you get when the majority of the residents make on average above $100K/year, but there's something just wrong about poor people having to eat at fast-food joints that serve CRAP food, and with the rich bastards not even noticing when a basic entree like a burger with fixings hits the ten dollar mark... which is what the poor expect to pay, in total, for an economy dinner for two.

IHOP is packed because it's one of the few places that serves a wide variety of traditional and generally wholesome meals appropriate for any time of day, and can do it for under ten dollars an entree. It's good food at a non-premium price.

If someone can offer the same, and do it with booze served at all legal hours, they're a much-needed gold mine.

I'm just dead sick of all of the low-rent food joints that seem to exist mostly to employ illegal aliens to sell slow-acting and obesity-inducing poison to the low-income or budget-conscious citizens.

When's the last time the County sent out food-quality analysts to check for lithium content, anyways?