Lake Street: Land of a Thousand Franchisees

Chain restaurants changing the character of the village

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By David Hammond

Potbelly is a branded sandwich shop system with locations in several Midwestern, Eastern and Southwestern states. With the advent of a new Potbelly on Lake Street (in the space formerly occupied by Barbara’s Bookstore), the Village gains another popular franchise at the cost of local color

As sandwich shops go, Potbelly is not bad. I’ve been to the State & Lake location a few times and find it more desirable than some nearby dining options.

Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea ranks among the world’s most talked about culinary artists. Achatz loves Potbelly; he even serves the sandwiches to his staff during pre-service get-togethers. He explains his affection for the place in simple terms: “They’re open all day and have sandwiches, soups, pickles, chips…it’s fast, hot, and delicious.”

It’s hard to get excited about another sandwich shop, and to have this large corporate food operation plopped onto our main street raises the possibility that that we will soon have mainly franchise food operations on our main drag.  We already have Bar Louis, Five Guys, Starbuck’s, and nearby Coldstone Creamery. Lake Street is starting to look like any other Western Suburb or mall (the latter now seems the exclusive domain of franchise restaurants).

Of course, if this is the food people want, then we pretty much have to let the invisible hand of the market select what options will be available to fill local stomachs.  And lord knows, it’s better to have a tenant -- any tenant -- on the perennially troubled Lake Street shopping district.

Still, I would prefer restaurants with more personality, like the recently opened Aripo’s (118 N. Marion). And yet, even this one-off, currently single-location Venezuelan sandwich shop boasts the slick graphics and attention to design that suggests that they, too, have plans to replicate their operations at multiple locations.

Maybe it’s inevitable. The era of the small mom and pop restaurant seems to be passing into history, or at least becoming such a small part of the dining market that it’s more an oddity than the commonplace it used to be.

How do you feel about the franchisification of local food options? Good thing, bad thing, or just inevitable and pointless to complain about?

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Reader Comments

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john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2010 2:24 AM

I'm OK with fast food particularly ones that have tasty food, good service, and liveliness. I think both the Venezuelan and Brazilian restaurants are great. I can't say I miss some of the diner style restaurants in OP that have disappeared or in the process of disappearing. The food is bad, but I get a chill up and down my spine when fifty year old waitresses call me honey!

Drewski from OakPark  

Posted: October 29th, 2010 1:59 PM

I'm not a big fan of franchised foods, either, but 5 Guys is hard to resist.I don't know how "local" they are, but we tried Taste Of Brazil on Oak Park Ave, south of the Ike and it was great. You order at the counter and the water comes in plastic cups, but the food was tasty...

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