As Yalies moved back onto campus this fall, students could see the neighborhood had changed. Chains stores like Panera have begun to fill the city streets, with the promise of Pinkberry soon to come. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as excited for the father of all froyos — but I’m a little concerned about the impact this will have on local businesses.
As I think about the mom-and-pop shops that will be damaged by incoming chain stores, I can’t help but be reminded of Woodberry Kitchen, the farm-to-table restaurant that I worked at this summer.
It was late in April when I began my pursuit of a summer job. My parents relentlessly emphasized the importance of having a “real job” — not an unpaid internship — so with that in mind I applied for a job as a hostess at Woodberry Kitchen. What I thought would be an insignificant first job that would keep me busy for the summer ended up entirely changing my perspective about small local businesses.
I knew before starting my job that Woodberry Kitchen is a farm-to-table restaurant with fresh and tasty food. But what I didn’t know until later is that being farm–to-table doesn’t just mean supplying fresh and tasty food, it also means stimulating the neighborhood’s local economy by providing pivotal business to nearby farmers’ markets, Community Shared Agriculture programs and farms in the community. On top of this, Woodberry Kitchen bought all of their light fixtures and vases from their neighboring glass blowing shop, and all of their tables and chairs from a local woodworker. I watched them spend weeks canning their fresh summer produce so that they would have peaches in the winter without importing them from across the country. Gone were the days of eating at large chain restaurants with little care for the customers and the food quality — I was a changed foodie.
Though Woodberry Kitchen goes above and beyond in their dedication to sustainability and their farm-to-table mission, working there made clear to me how much one small business could impact a community.
The recent influx of chain restaurants opening in New Haven is taking away business from smaller independent restaurants. Instead, customers are turning to large-scale restaurants that don’t benefit our city or its local economy.
It’s not as if we have a real need for the new restaurants — we already have eateries in the area that carry all of the cuisine that these new chain establishments are bringing in. We already have more frozen yogurt shops on campus than I can count on one hand, and yet we are bringing in a Pinkberry. Now, instead of Yale students grabbing soup, salad or a sandwich at Atticus or Book Trader Cafe, we might turn to a larger scale business like Panera. Instead of getting a burrito from Tomatillo or Rubamba, we may opt to dip into our already dwindling college budgets for Chipotle.
Most of us are on meal plans and have to make conscious decisions to eat out of the dining halls and spend money at restaurants, so when we do, why are we choosing to eat at generic establishments?
Independent local restaurants are often unable to produce everything themselves and are thus forced to look to other local businesses for product supply. Some of the community’s favorite restaurants encapsulate this well. Atticus gets their bread from the owner’s New Haven bakery called Chabaso, and Caseus supplies their cheese to numerous independent restaurants throughout the city. The restaurant Heirloom, located in The Study, displays a list of all of the local establishments that supply their ingredients. These are just a few examples of restaurants that are spurring a positive cycle of small business stimulation that would otherwise not exist. They are also helping consumers by letting us know where our food is coming from. Rather than wondering from which obscure location our ingredients are being imported, we can take solace in the fact that they are coming from just down the road. And there’s no denying that fresh food tastes better.
We, as Yale students, hold an immense amount of consumer power in this city. We are responsible for so much of the revenue of the restaurants in the area, and we have the power to choose restaurants that are good for us and for our community. After all, who doesn’t want to eat their way through midterms with fresh, local food?
Ally Daniels is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.