LFS Nostalgia

April 18, 2011

Written by: Vincent McConeghy

Increasingly, I've come to recognize that what I hold near and dear in foodservice began when I was left to my own accord at the snack bar at Twin Fair.

It would happen like this. 

My mother-flush with her paycheck-would drag my sister and I into Twin Fair on Saturday mornings. This occurred when she hoisted me onto a stool, purchased a bag of popcorn or a sno cone, and told me in no uncertain terms to stay right there until she had completed her shopping.

Fine with me. 

The snack bar of any major department store in the 1970s was a spectacle to behold. To my mind, it employed the most colorful characters (generally those unqualified to work in Auto or Guns), provided real time drama to the boredom of female-driven consumerism, and allowed me to glimpse into the world of how our great nation worked. 

the aristocrats-with their newly minted plastic credit cards-were all shopping with unrestrained savagery in the aisles of Home and Beauty. 

The snack bar contingent, however, was an altogether different demographic. The customers who gravitated to the snack bar seemed to be troubled and brilliant. They had turned their backs to the modern department store experience and sat nursing cups of coffee, exchanging tales of union shenanigans, and smoking cigarettes.

Years later, when I came upon a snack bar in Target and experienced a weird rush of deja-vu, I realized how profound my snack bar disorder had become a part of me. I stared at the menu board, dreamed about the utter simplicity of the operation, and questioned my very entry into the foodservice industry. 

I sought help from a counselor.

'I was always more suited to open a snack bar', was how I attempted to explain myself to the analyst.

Small inventory, certain food cost, high margins, limited seating and a single employee working the entire operation. My therapist challenged me on these assumptions, wisely asking if I understood the great real estate implications of a profitable concession.

My therapy included a significant amount of time on the website of the Gold Medal company of Cinncinnati, manufacturer of concession equipment. I would input bogus numbers into their profit calculator and dream about opening a snack bar. 

The numbers always came out on my side.

People ask me-with some expectation of insight-what's new and exciting in the restaurant industry. They would think less of me if I revealed the true nature of my troubles. 

That on some nights I am apt to roam about a city filled with great restaurants and superb dining choices, and instead  retreat to the snack bar, my back turned to people, reveling in the sparseness of the menu board, each option worse than the next.

As with any disorder, there is treatment. 

But no cure.

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