Posted by: thescoundrel | January 23, 2007

Quad City Restaurants, what is wrong with this list?


I have lived near or in the Quad City region since I was eight years old. I am now older than eight years old, well, that probably depends on whom you talk to. At least physically no one can argue that point. I like living in the Quad City region or I would have left for greener pastures long ago. I spent most of my adolescent life and part of my Adult life living in small local villages and Quad City prime. I attended college here in the Quad City region and received an associate’s degree in business management. Most of my Adult life has been has been spent working for various companies in the Quad City region. I also remember that when my family first moved up here this was a region where the community and business revolved around the agricultural industry. Even many of the business revolved or feed upon the agricultural population. The local commerce alternative has since been evolving (de-evolving?) into an industry that revolves around the Hospitality, Gaming and Tourism industries. The QC community has gone to a great deal of effort to sell itself as the Las Vegas alternative. An idea I have always found plausible. Despite the recent growth pains of violent activity that has started to rear its ugly head the last few years, the QC has always been a family friendly type place that I felt could be marketed to attract tourists from anywhere. Even Las Vegas has been trying to reshape its image and make itself into a more family friendly location. However as of late I have been reading problems pointing to the struggling of this tourism movement.

I spent several years in the local Hospitality Industry. I have observed how the industry promotes itself locally from the grunts working the front line up to the stuffed shirts and blouses at the top wheeling and dealing. I also represented the companies I worked for at times in the Hospitality Development meetings designed to plan meet and greet itineraries to entice outside tourism groups. Can anyone in the industry at the time ever forget the National  Women’s Bowling tournament held in the Quad City area? Despite several problems that came with the massive migration of untold amounts of women bowlers into our small community, it had to be one of the most exciting moments in time I ever spent in any industry. People from all over came into this region and exposed most every town and business to the diverse cultural individualities this country has to offer. Many of them even came bearing gifts of their cultural differences.

 I am far from an expert but there have always been some personal observations I have always felt that played a part in holding the QC region back from becoming a major player in the game. But I am curious as to what the QC community also thinks about what are the current successes and failures attempting to make this area into a mini Las Vegas. Here is one of my personal lists of weaknesses regarding QC tourism development. I am not going to comment on the list at this time, other than to say I find all these places fine establishments filling a need in our community. But considering the industrial changes we are going though, what is wrong with this list? (Other than you personally do not like their food or service and that I cannot spell well or that the spell checker is useless on proper names.)

 

Applebees, Biaggis, Bennigans, Dennys, Village Inn, Hardees, McDonalds, Fazolis, Burger King, Olive Garden, Outback, Cheddars, Subway, Red Lobster, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Taco Johns, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, Dominos, Godfathers, Sbarro, Steak Escape, Blimpies, Cracker Barrel etc. etc. etc.

  

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Responses

  1. I’ve commented on this to friends before. There are no unique flavors to this area. Very few restaurants here are local. There are a couple if you look hard enough.

  2. The local restaurants with “local flavor” tend to be ethnic, like Le Mekong and Maria’s on Moline’s 7th Street. An exception to the “ethnic” rule would be Faithful Pilot, and I am sure there are more, but can’t think of them at the moment.

    Or am I missing the point here, Scoundrel?

  3. Jim’s Ribs, Harris Pizza, Lagomarcino’s, Hungry Hobo, La Flama, Theo’s Java Cafe, Fireworks, Happy Joes, Grinders that’s just off the top of my head. RJBoars (are they local? Or is the one in Rock Island just run really friendly). Belgian Village, Hunters, Mulkey’s…Jeez, and that’s just in 5 minutes.

    I’ll admit, we have a lot of chains too, but there are local places. What do you want?

  4. Despite a considerable amount of hits on this post only three people ventured a guess as to what I was getting at. Actually you all three hit on one of our problems as I see it. We have many fine eating establishments in this conurbation wannabe. Some are national chains (a necessary but not unique component to attracting outsiders) and some are local eateries. But despite all these fine eating-places, this area has no identity when it comes to restaurants as a tourist attraction. Chains, like those I mentioned, are available most any destination or place where you want to get off the interstate. Yet, even though there are a few exceptions, those are often the most visible and most promoted places in the area.

    The Quad City area stumbles every time they try to make a gambling attraction out of this area. The QC Downs, which used to be thriving, has changed from a energetic location that used to offer live harness racing, and draw huge crowds – many from as far away as Chicago, to an off tract betting parlor. When the gambling boats were voted in it was naturally assumed that the idea of riverboat gambling would be the big draw. It was not. Then they went dockside; this was supposed to get the boats over the hump. It still has not given the industry the big boost they thought they would get. A big part of the money the boats rake in, is recycled Quad City money. It is evident that to make them the successful business this community desires, there needs to be a better promoted supporting cast. Restaurants are a part of the problem. All the places I mentioned are good places to eat, but they are national and non-locally based pre-fabricated food chains. They do not offer your tourist a reason to say to their friend and family: hey I just had a special time in the Quad Cities that I cannot get somewhere else. If you say St. Louis you might first think of the Arch, but the second thing that comes to mind is that St. Louis is the stopping place for some of the best BBQ Ribs in the country. (I refuse to accept their Satanic assisted baseball team as a tourist attraction.) The same could be said of Kansas City, steak and BBQ. (Although it is clear their baseball team has no connection to Satan.) Heck, Chicago sells itself on hot dogs and deep-dish pizza despite having a fantastic amount of fine eating places attractions. People make trips just to eat their identifiable cuisine. Texas offers their identifiable and unique cuisine, as do a lot of places in the south. You travel on the coast and expect high quality seafood. This community has to find a way to make our region and restaurants an identity that becomes a vital part of the attraction to the QC. Even when I was in the Hospitality industry there seemed a lack of promotion of non-national chains within the industry. When General Growth owned the malls, they intentionally raised the rent rate to drive out independents and so that only national or large chains could afford to locate in the mall. The local media though championing the gambling boats, are weak at promoting restaurants that offer the QC as a special stop along the road. A way many of us common folk can assist is instead of taking visiting family and friends out to some “comfort zone” national chain we can introduce them to one of our more unique and special identity creating restaurants or locations. We have the restaurants and many other special places to visit; for some reason our community and its leaders are failing at properly promoting and exposing what we have to offer. We are not Las Vegas, so we have to find a way to promote all our supporting tourism infrastructures that are unique and have individualism and that when combined with the boats, that outsiders have a reason to pull off the interstate or plan trips to where the “now entering” signs scream welcome to the Quad Cities, then give them a memorable and special revelation of the QC and as they leave an exit ramp that offers up a warm invitation that says “Ya’ll come back now, bring your friends and family, and we will give you more of that same special treatment!” But it all starts with creating and promoting a unique identity. And who knows, maybe then, Shane over at Complacency Chronicles will not have to be embarrassed when he invites his friends to the Quad Cities.

  5. Well, OK, a few observations/questions here:

    1. For obvious reasons, don’t you think it’s a little unfair to compare the QCs to Chicago, STL and KC?

    2. While the QCs proper don’t seem to have much personality, the QCs could be promoted as a hub for the various and sundry unique identities surrounding it: i.e. Pella, Amanas, Bishop Hill, etc. maybe even Galena and Dubuque.

    3. The QCs seem to have plenty of seasonal draws, i.e. Bix, Deere Golf Classic, Bike races, and continual “festivals” during the summer, why not draw on them?

    4. Have you noticed all the new hotels going up in the area? Do they know something we don’t, or are they just mindlessly overbuilding?

    5. Or how about this idea? Preserve as many of the abandoned factories as we can, then promote nostalgia tours for those who want to remember the glory days when the USA was a manufacturing powerhouse.

    Hey, we’re only limited by our imagination!

  6. Actually Paladin, it may seem unfair, but the large cities are the main competition when you are chasing the tourism dollar. They have the bigger tourist infrastructure that feeds the imagination of the traveler. But we do have great personality and things to offer as an attraction. We have all those things you mentioned and more, we just need to take advantage of what we have to offer. We do have great restaurants that offer up individuality. We are way overstocked on Hotels and Motels and we keep on building more. We have many options spread across the QC, that offers up the tourist a great entertainment experience, besides the boats. We have tons of cultural, musical and many competition events, a planetarium, an IMAX, we have a couple small but worthy museums etc. etc. etc. We have a lot of transient business, military and fun-seekers that stay at our various locations throughout the year. We have the draws and we have uniqueness. We have everything needed to create a success story. My point was we don’t seem to be managing the process very well. We do a poor job of promotion and of creating ways for the tourism infrastructure to feed from each other. We need an identity that says hey stop here, have fun, we have entertainment for everyone the year round, tell your friends and comeback with your money. We do not have that Identity. There are many factors that create this problem including a lot of infighting among the cities and businesses that make up the QC. I still think a lot of the problem is fighting amongst the city leaders. They talk a good talk when they say promote the Quad Cities as one big happy family. But they often fail to walk the walk when it comes time to support each other. I picked on restaurants because it is a problem that I used to argue with my superiors when I was in the Hospitality business. Food is a big part of any regional identity. We often identify regions by what they feed us when we visit them. Go down south you will be served grits often. It is part of the identity. Go Southwest and spicy food is associated with the area. These things are ingrained in the culture. We need to create an food identity. I have always thought that we should pick up on one or more of the many ethnic styles that are prevelant in this area and run with the ball, like NYC. The problem is businesses like national and regional restaurant chains; they are usually a turnkey operation. But they do not create a special identity and when you are competing with the big cities for that tourist dollar, Identity is the best punch a smaller area has to offer.

  7. Please excuse my ignorance, but I’m totally baffled at this point.

    Are you saying that “…we just need to take advantage of what we have to offer” is doable, or are you saying that because of problems x,y & z, it isn’t?

    If it can be done, what do you think needs to be done, that CAN realistically be done? (huh? what? hee!hee!)

  8. I am sorry if I am failing to get across my point. I wish I had a good clear answer for you on the solution. Is it possible, I say yes! Is it probable, I do not have an answer! As I said in my posts all those places are fine eating establishments, I have visited and found good experiences at all of them. They are needed because many people do not like to get out of their comfort zones when going out to eat. But they are also places that you can find in almost any other major city. They will not make us special! I think the solution is in learning how to celebrate each cities uniqueness and contribution to the Quad Cities. But it has to include a team play spirit I do not see evolving between the cities. Heck it is even posted in Wikipedia about we still quibble about which cities comprise Quad City prime. What kind of face does that show potential visitors?

    I was reading on the QC Online about the talk of an Amtrak linking us to Chicago. What little I saw posted talked about how great it would be to be able to have the transportation to go to Chicago. It reminded me of the poke in the ribs I put in my post earlier about Shane over at Complacency Chronicles. What I was getting at there was that very often we tend to walk past the wealth the Quad Cities has to offer because we see it as normalcy and thus not worthy. We live and breathe around these places in the QC area all day. Guess what people in Chicago and other places do the same thing. They want new experiences, often no more than variations of places and events they see or have available where they live. These are all thing we have to offer. We should not be asking about how great it would be to go to Chicago, but how great of a way that train would be to promote the Quad Cities to the people looking to get away from the Big Windy City. What a great way to expose people feeling trapped in Chicago than to offer them up some small town hospitality. Maybe they will like it and bring some other friends that are also tired of the Big City. Introduce them to some of our various ethnic restaurant cuisines; expose them to upcoming competition events, music events and cultural events. We have so much to offer but we keep dragging our feet or missing the mark when we make a jump. Once again someone is talking of opening a door for this area. The business and city leaderships need to grasp on this prospect and use it to create a path of opportunity

  9. OK, I think I’m getting it. My dense thinking is not your fault. My brain is a Hemingway brain that is required to reduce information to a short, few, pithy sentences. For this reason, I mostly read fiction instead of nonfiction.

    But even so, I’m not sure you are right, even if you are James Fenimore Cooper and not Hemingway. I moved up here 30 years ago and my sister moved to Davenport 35 years ago because her husband was a Palmer student. When our parents came visiting, there was a division of labor. My sister and my Mother are both shoppers. My Dad and I are both history buffs. So Mom and Sis would go off shopping and Dad and I would go to RI Arsenal, Nauvoo, Galena, etc. There was plenty to do despite our divergent interests.

    I confess I have no experience in the hospitality industry and I bow to your superior knowledge, but my own limited experience in entertaining out-of-towners runs counter to your claims.

    On the other hand, there is a difference between entertaining your parents and entertaining your peers.

  10. I’m coming in way late on this post and normally I wouldn’t stop to leave a comment only because I’m just passin’ thru, however you have taken on something that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while.

    The fact is, I’ve lived all over the country (including St. Louis) and I’ve lived in the Quad Cities on the Illinois side off and on for the last 25 years. After all of my living experiences in larger cities and smaller urban areas, the problem in Rock Island seems to be the lack of good customer service and pleasant living areas.

    I moved back in 1996 by no choice of my own and I’ll be moving again to the southwest next year – by choice – and I will not be coming back to live here. Ever.

    Not only has crime increased tremendously (along with the lack of good customer service), but the reason so many college and high school grads leave the area is simply due to lack of opportunity. This area has turned into nothing but a retail market and to a very small extent tourism, yet college grads want more out of their degree than managing McDonalds, clerking at Wal-Mart or working on a gambling boat – which I might add – will eventually be a belly up business when smoking is banned on the Illinois side.

    There’s more to life than living here.

  11. Welcome and thanks for your thoughts Tina. I agree with your statement that the QC area is struggling with few good opportunities for a recent college graduate. The business community seems to lack direction. Part of that I attribute to the lack of political leadership in this state for some time. I have seen the good and the ugly of the service industry. I think the ugly you can partially attribute to the job market changeover. I have seen first hand the difficulty people who have spent their entire lives working in a union factory have trying to make the adjustment of working in service related jobs. It is a far different environment than they are used to. I do not think it will be an easy transition for any factory worker. But I also do not expect to see the Union Factory jobs to be on the upswing in this region, probably those factory positions still here will eventually move away also. I have stated on many boards that unless the QC learns to adapt and find ways to attract cutting edge technology jobs, service jobs will be all they have left. So they must eventually commit and adapt to some type of new existence or it will dry up and become a ghost town of empty buildings and poverty stricken leftovers.

  12. Does anyone remember or know of a place near the Quad Citiy Downs that was once called
    Garden Track Addition??? It is where I grew up. There was a small store there that my parents owned. Bud and Fran Ross.
    Our neighbors were Ken and Etta Lenhardt, Tisdale’s, The old Reed Foundry, Smolinski’s.
    My parents built and rented out five homes made by my father, Oscar “Bud” and older brother Walt Ross now retired Chiropractor.
    Please let me know by emailing me any information at melodeeross@aol.com. would be appreciated.


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