A theme retailing failure and some views on restaurant and pub trends

A theme retailing failure and some views on restaurant and pub trends

Kevin Coupe

There will be a lot of real estate available on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan after the Christmas holidays. That’s when the flagship Warner Brothers Store, located on 11 floors across the street from Tiffany’s at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, will close its doors.

Suddenly, tourists won’t be able to buy Superman and Batman paraphernalia. Looney Tunes merchandise will be that much tougher to find. And Fifth Avenue will look just a little less like a Midwestern mall.

But there’s always a silver lining.

Actually, the closing of the Warner Brothers store shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Retail and restaurant concepts ranging from the Disney Store to The Gap, The All Star Cafe to Planet Hollywood, are experiencing trouble to varying degrees.

Some of it is because there simply weren’t enough customers for their brand of theme retailing. An awful lot of these concepts were predicated on the fact that tourists would flock to them. Increasingly, however, tourists didn’t have to because there were versions of these stores back home.

On the restaurant side, I’ve always felt that these kinds of operations spent so much money on decor that there was none left to spend on a decent chef. I mean, let’s face it–did anyone ever get a decent meal at Planet Hollywood?

But I like to think that in some way, perhaps we are beginning to react to the sameness that infects our culture. I wasn’t kidding about Fifth Avenue resembling a Midwestern mall; I travel a lot, and I get tired of seeing the same stores and restaurants virtually everywhere I go. And it’s not just in the United States; just what connection does the Disney Store have to the center of London?

Retailers in all venues ought to begin to pay more attention to their physical stores and throw away the cookie cutters. I understand from a financial point of view why it makes sense for a Wal-Mart in Connecticut to look like one in Arkansas. But because they look so much alike, I believe they diminish the unique cultures of both places, and speak less of us as a society.

McRISOTTO ANYONE?

The level of specialization in the food business never ceases to amaze me, but even I was surprised recently by something I read in The New York Times.

People who know me know that my favorite meal, bar none, is risotto.

(In case you don’t know, risotto generally made with arborio rice, which is a kind of cross between pasta and rice. You generally have to stir it for 30 minutes when you make it, and can mix virtually anything into it, usually with parmesan cheese; my favorite is a simple shrimp risotto with onions, garlic and bell peppers.)

Well, according to the Times, a new restaurant has opened in Manhattan called the Risotteria. This place features 45 different combinations of risotto ranging from the sublime to the adventurous; if you’re willing to try your risotto made with carnaroli or vialone nano, instead of arborio, then the number of combinations goes up by a factor of three.

Just as intriguing as the concept in general:

* The risottos are available to eat in or take out, and range in price from $6.50 to $10.50, which is pretty reasonable for New York;

* The chef has figured out how to make risotto in three minutes rather than 30…turning this fabulous Italian dish into, in essence, fast food.

Will risotto parlors become the bagel shops, frozen yogurt stands and coffeehouses of the future? I must admit, I hope not. Risotto has always been something special, and I don’t want it to become too popular. On the other hand, it is the kind of development that food retailers–long laboring in the belief that they are in the packaged product business, not the food business–ought to know about. Perhaps this is the beginning of something big…something trendy.

McRisotto, anybody?

FADING PUB

Sometimes, even tradition must fall in the effort to appeal to the ever-evolving marketplace.

Even if it brings a tear to the eye.

According to Bloomberg, the British pub that we all know and love is fading into memory, replaced by what are called “megapubs.”

These new-age pubs, Bloomberg reports, are “patronized by hundreds of chic urban professionals dressed in very baggy clothes, now offer table service, wine cellars and good food.” They are owned by major breweries, which believe that these new versions of an old standby may be able to revive a relatively flat industry.

That may be true.

But it seems somehow like the heart and soul of a beautiful thing is being ripped out.

Luckily, there’s an alternative.

Ireland.

Where they’d never do something so crass.

I hope.

—- Kevin Coupe is the “content guy” for www.IdeaBeat.com, a virtual community established for the exchange of strategic concepts in food retailing.

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