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Darwinism & Manteca’s dining options

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POSTED March 8, 2014 12:19 a.m.

Willie Weatherford is not the Great Wizard of Restaurants.

Nor or his council colleagues Steve DeBrum, Debby Moorhead, John Harris or Vince Hernandez for that matter.

That runs counter to what apparently a fairly large number of Manteca resident believe.

The mayor — nor anyone from the city for that matter — decides what restaurants open in Manteca. While the city in the past has conducted a survey of Manteca residents and their dining out habits and preferences as well as cobbled together demographic information to assist developers such as those at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley in a bid to lure restaurants, that’s the extent of what they do.

They cannot legally limit the number of Mexican restaurants or put a cap on pizza parlors. They can’t ban new fast food places from opening.

They are not the ones that got Taco Bell interested in possibly opening a third location or convinced Dunkin’ Donuts or Popeye’s Chicken to open franchises here. Nor did they wine and dine Panera Bread to put Manteca on a short list for one of their new locations.

What drives the decision of chain restaurants to locate in the community are demographics. That covers not only household income and dynamics but things such as the number of daytime workers likely to dine out to have lunch.

Rare are the restaurants that can survive solely on dinner service. Manteca, due to the type of weekday jobs that are on the low side for white collar occupations that get a full hour or so for lunch, isn’t a big magnet for many popular sit-down chains.

Since it can easily cost $500,000 plus just to equip and secure a franchise for a national chain restaurant, the decision where to locate one isn’t made lightly.

The weekend lunch business is off the hook for some locations such as Red Robin and Chili’s thanks to attractions such as Bass Pro Shops and Big League Dreams that brings in throngs of people from out-of-town that have to eat.

Some of the negative of not having huge numbers of office workers for the lunch trade can be countered as the city gains population. At 72,000 residents and counting, Manteca is growing. A larger base makes up for not having 2,000 or so daytime office workers commuting into Manteca who get hungry at lunch.

Olive Garden, a restaurant that some believe is needed to fulfill their outlook on better dining choices, didn’t open in Tracy until that community’s numbers got a bit higher. Today with 84,000 residents Tracy has more national chain options than Manteca.

It may surprise you but based on state tax permits issued to places that serve sit down and/or takeout food along with bars and coffee places tossed into the mix, there are 150 options in Manteca. Some are simply the Pizza Hut snack bar style food place inside Target, the offerings at Costco, or places like La Super La Altena Market that prepares a freshly cooked menu of Mexican food items daily. Others are places like Isadore’s, Angelano’s, La Estrella Taqueria, El Jardin, and Athens Burgers or standard interchangeable fare you can find in other communities such as Applebee’s, Black Bear Diner, Panda Express, or Chipolte’s. And, yes, we even have five of the vilified McDonald’s.

Someone is obviously supporting these places.

Even if you think the city should do something to change the mix such as outlaw certain type of restaurants or chains and risk huge legal bills when the constitutionality of such laws are challenged, do you really want the government to decide what type of food can be sold by the private sector?

You might not have a problem if the powers that be think and eat like you do. And before you play your supposed trump card of helping people stay healthy, just remember no matter how “clean” you eat there are people out there who eat even healthier.

My diet 90 percent of the time consists only of almonds, veggie burgers, apples, bananas, oranges, yogurt, non-fat cottage cheese, salad, V8 juice, and nothing else save my daily indulgence in cookies. It’s been like that for eight years.

You certainly don’t want me or others that might eat like me being in a position to exert their dietary beliefs on everyone else by welding government power to decree that restaurants must serve food that mirrors what I believe to be healthy and taste good.

That said I’m sure someone can make me look like a fast food junkie compared to what they eat.

I also can find places even in Manteca that have items that can dovetail into my diet either by asking that something be left off or I can “tolerate” an item that others might view as healthy food but I can only handle once in awhile because it is cooked or has spice and such added.

There were two steak restaurant options at one time — Happy Steak and Sizzler’s. As Manteca became more commuter-based they couldn’t survive.

Then you look at the high end — Ernie’s. They serve something that apparently a lot of folks believe they can’t get in Modesto, Stockton and other places even farther away from Manteca given how they drive here to enjoy it.

The bottom line about Manteca — or any other community for that matter — and dining options is simple: Marketplace economic Darwinism is at work.

Only the restaurants that can keep pace with community tastes as they change or stay stagnant are the ones that survive.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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