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Government dictating food choices: Let them eat bread
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There is a school of thought that the Manteca City Council has the power – or should have the power – to dictate exactly what businesses can and can’t open in Manteca.

Joseph Stalin would be proud.

America isn’t exactly an anything goes market for capitalism. There are zoning laws and enough rules and regulations creating the bureaucratic equivalent of the Tower of Babel when it comes to conducting business enterprises.

And there are places that push the envelope. San Francisco, for example, has fine constitutionally drawn rules preserving “neighborhood businesses” that essentially make it next to impossible for chain stores to open. While it may protect the charm of a neighborhood and the bottom line of merchants, it isn’t necessarily something that consumers want since it limits selection and doesn’t put pressure on businesses to lower prices.

The biggest complaint voiced about Manteca’s private sector evolves around places to eat. There are 170-plus businesses with licenses allowing them to prepare food for sale whether it is a sit-down restaurant, fast food establishment, outdoor BBQ, food to go, or a delivery service. Granted there are clones within the 170, such as five McDonald’s and six Subways. 

And as much as you may hate either McDonald’s or Subway, it is clear that a lot of people don’t share the same sentiments.

Somehow many believe it is the city’s failure we have so many fast food restaurants.

The real issue is many of us suffer from the Wizard of Oz complex.

We have fears. We have wants. We have desires. 

But instead of using our own initiatives, we convince ourselves the Wizard of Oz will solve all of our problems.

And when we pull back the facade that we created, we are shocked that they are just like us – powerless.

In reality, we all have the ability to get what we want.

Want a Trader Joe’s in Manteca? Then round up a thousand or so others in Manteca like you and shop each week without failure the Trader Joe’s stores in Modesto and Stockton, making sure to use credit or debit cards so they can track your address. It will pique Trader Joe’s corporate attention to look more closely at Manteca’s demographics and population for a possible store.

Want more variety in places to eat that aren’t chain driven? Then make a concerted effort on a weekly basis to patronize the mom-and-pop restaurants that populate Manteca. The more success such places have the more it will encourage others to open their own unique slant on dining-out cuisine.

A market-driven economy is driven by consumers and not government decree.

Do you really want a local government setting a quota on restaurant types either by brand or menu?

If Manteca was able to legally impose a rule of one McDonald’s per 20,000 residents, would that make the people who go the Lathrop Road or West Yosemite Avenue locations happy if they were forced to close?  For sure if Taqueria La Estrella was limited to one location by government decree instead of the three they have, a lot of folks wouldn’t be happy. 

La Estrella, by the way, made a high-profile location work that had been shuttered for years at Louise and Main, where one of two “fish and chips” style places couldn’t make it. The other is where Luu’s Chicken Bowl is today at North and Main. If there had been a law that required a fast food seafood place at either of those two locations they would still be vacant today. Manteca, by the way, does have a fish place. It’s the Codfather that opened last year just across the way from Luu’s Chicken Bowl.

The private sector, when left to its own devices, can do some pretty amazing stuff.

Consider Ernie’s Food & Spirits that is drawing a higher-end clientele from up and down the valley as well as the Bay Area to Manteca.

In a town where the naysayers bludgeon elected leaders for failing to entice a Red Lobster, how did Manteca end up with a successful venture such as Ernie’s? It certainly didn’t pop up on any wish list.

It is because at the end of the day those who open restaurants, whether they are individual entrepreneurs such as those behind Ernie’s or La Estrella or franchise/chain operations, do so by taking risks based on their read of the market.

Their success is not guaranteed by taxes but by consumer dollars.

A senior municipal planner dictating a certain location for a specific restaurant and elected leaders willing it would never make it happen. It takes individuals and/or companies willing to take a risk based on their read of the market.

And that read is based on whether there are enough consumers willing to spend enough money eating what they serve.

You might not like the system’s results but it is a heck of a lot better than having a central planning committee.

A relatively free marketplace is why you can walk into an American grocery store and have as many as dozen different brands of bread and as many as 20 different types.

Not too long ago the approach that many seemed to advocate produced one choice for bread that you were lucky to find on the shelf when you went to the store.

So would you rather have a government that allows Manteca to end up with three Carl’s Jr. locations, five Starbucks, a New China Restaurant, the Iron Horse Deli, Ernie’s and El Jardin to name a few? Or the Soviet Union?


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 or 209.249.3519.