The Flattening of Taste: The Rise (and Maybe Fall) of The Hipster-Foodie Chain
I had to do a fly-by-night trip to Chicago this week. One of those deals where you fly in early on a Monday morning and have a few meetings, stay overnight, have meetings the next day, fly home that night. I took a later flight on Tuesday night because I wanted some time in the afternoon to see the Art Institute of Chicago and their amazing collection (it is indeed amazing).
What I really want to talk about is the culinary experience though.
On Monday night, I had dinner at a local restaurant called Howells & Hood. The food was excellent but there was nothing uniquely Chicago about the place. The restaurant seems like many other hipster gastropubs with well-made farm to table meals (I had roast chicken) and a large selection of craft beers. The decor was typical of many restaurants. The best part about the restaurant was the ability to have beers by companies that are not available in the Bay Area. The best was a Mole Porter from a brewery out of Durango, Colorado. The name of the restaurant even sounds like it could be created via a partial parody generator.
For lunch on Tuesday, I darted into Shake Shack. I didn’t know there was one in Chicago. I just caught a glimpse of it while looking down a street for oncoming traffic. I decided to eat there for the same reason people choose to eat at chains, I knew the quality and what to expect. I remember when Shake Shack was originally a shack in Madison Square Park. People would send their interns to wait on-line for a few hours to get a burger and a shake. This was in the Summer of 2004, a bit into the long rise of the Hipster as a consumerist target, Shake Shack might be one of the earliest examples of the Foodie must-experience. Something akin the mania for the Cronut.
For the past few years, I have been curious about the rise of the hipster food chain. These businesses tend to start in a few select areas like NYC, San Francisco-Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and maybe some other cities. Hipster Food Chains don’t offer fancy foods but comfort foods and daily staples that are usually regarded as being several cuts above the most common variant. A list of hipster food chains can include Stumptown Roasters (Portland with locations New York, Seattle and Los Angeles), Blue Bottle Coffee (Bay Area origins with expansions to Los Angeles and New York), Shake Shack (which seems to be going for the most likely to become a widespread franchise), and Pok Pok (a Portland Thai restaurant that decided to open an outpost in Brooklyn). This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.
I can see why these businesses would want more than one location. The Internet has largely flattened taste via global audience. A foodie blogger raving about Stumptown Roasters in Portland has an audience that goes across the United States and Globe. There are plenty of people out there with similar tastes and not expanding is leaving money on the table. What I am more interested in though are the dangers of expanding too much. Many of these businesses have their cache and allegiances because they are seen as caring about quantity over quality. I wonder if they risk losing costumers and appeal from too much expansion. Shack Shack seems to have approximately 35 locations. I think I trust them enough to maintain quality over this number of places. If they get somewhere north of one hundred openings, I would probably be concerned about them becoming bland and uninteresting like McDonalds and the Olive Garden.
How much do you think these businesses can expand before they lose their semi-elite cool status and people start complaining and noticing a significant drop in quality? Does the Internet flatten tastes?
Image From Wikimedia Commons.
or just look at them
snooki weight loss Day in the Life of a Fashion Couture Designer
cartoon pornCareers in the Fashion Industry