The closing of Godfather's Pizza in Storm Lake is sudden if not surprising. Our hearts go out to employees who are left to find other opportunities.
We've lost two longtime pizzerias - HoneyKissed and now Godfathers, and in between, opened a new one that seems to be absolutely thriving, Pizza Ranch. Over the years, we've lost a few eating options - from Baker's Court to KFC. New options, like Zimmy's and a few ethnic eateries, have come along.
Times change, people's habits change, the economics change, competition changes, situations with real estate and the lives of the people who run businesses change.
A couple of things are clear in this evolutionary process, which are as true in any other form of business as they are in restaurants.
Above all else, customer service is vital. People are mobile, people have options. When they walk through your door, there had better be someone there to help them, and that someone better be wearing a smile and be ready to bend over backwards to make sure their customer is satisfied. At Pizza Ranch, for example, you've probably been told, "If you don't see the pizza you like on the buffet, tell me and we'll get it made and bring it to you." I've never been pushy enough to take them up on it, but the fact that they offer makes a difference.
Indeed, we will eat occasionally at a place because the food is good or because it's handy. But we will eat there regularly if we are made to feel welcome and comfortable, and if there is someone waiting on us who seems genuinely glad we came in.
It is no different than if you are buying a pair of boots, a car or opening a checking account. You could do all those things at the next big city over, or online. But if there's a place you feel appreciated, where you know they will take care of you, and make it right if there are any issues, you will repay them with loyalty. Restaurants included.
I was at Subway the other day, and ordered a new kind of sandwich that turned out not to be what I expected. The person behind the counter saw the look on my face and insisted on making me something else. And a few days before that, I was at Hardees, and an older gentleman came in and sat down way in the back. Now, it's a fast food place, you order at the counter and wait for your grub. But the boss himself spotted the man and went to take his order like he was a playboy in a swanky Parisian cafe, so the man wouldn't have to stand at the counter. Service matters. Little kindnesses mean a lot.
I have my pet peeves. It's a very uncomfortable feeling when you come into an eating place, and everyone is scurrying around, but no one seems the least bit interested in helping you or even acknowledging you exist. It isn't rocket science. Even if you're busy, a simple eye contact, smile and an "I'll be right with you" is all it takes.
I'm also not likely to go back to the restaurant where, an hour before closing, the workers are mopping floors for the night, sweeping under your feet, shutting off lights or smoking cigarettes leaning out the door while you are trying to enjoy your food. If they do everything in their power to let you know they wish you weren't there, you probably won't ever be again. If your hours say open, be open. Mop floors after the customers are gone.
At the other end of the spectrum, we've all been places where it seems like no employee would have any idea what a mop does. I'm not a squeamish guy, but if an eating place is dirty and dingy looking, with a month's worth of dead flies on the windowsills, spilled food all over the floor, tables that are sticky and clearly aren't wiped down between customers, and it is serving old, cold food off a filthy buffet, I'll go hungry first. And if a restaurant bathroom looks like it belongs in a prisoner of war camp, you have to wonder what the level of cleanliness in the kitchen looks like.
Shortly before KFC closed, I recall going in and ordering a buffet and being told, and I kid you not, "We're out of chicken today, and potatoes and coleslaw and dessert. Do you still want buffet?"
Oh sure. Ten bucks for a plate of Jell-O will be just fine.
Stuff happens. A school bus cleans you out, a delivery truck runs late. Everybody understands if some item is momentarily out or some piece of equipment is on the fritz. But if you are a chicken place, have chicken. And don't be "out" because you don't really feel like making it.
I'm not saying any shortcomings have doomed any local business; sometimes circumstances just are what they are. But for businesses we still have, and will get in the future, these things can make the difference.
We're sorry to see any longtime business go. But even in a loss there is an opportunity.
The one-time Baker's Court site is a key location as Highway 7 comes into Storm Lake. The former KFC is prime real estate on busy Flindt Drive, across from a school and walking distance from two busy meat companies. And Godfather's leaves what may well be the most prime-time corner in the city, Lake and Milwaukee.
We've lost restaurants, but we have some sweet, prime-time to lure in or incubate new eateries or stores we need.
Some of the chains say Storm Lake isn't big enough, which is bull. We're a college town, a tourism town, a blue-collar town. We have people, and they love food.
On our Facebook page, HuHot, Wendy's, Red Robin, Culvers, Sonic, Olive Garden, Perkins, Jimmy John's, Applebees, Buffalo Wild Wings, Fazolis and more, people are calling for you.
Challenge. Give me one lunch hour. I'll drive you around to the eating place parking lots. Then tell me you couldn't make money in Storm Lake.