On Saturday, my husband’s siblings and their spouses had their annual lunch at Mimi’s Cafe in Layton. We were stunned when our server told us the restaurant was closing today (Memorial Day). She said that business was down, and the rent was high in that location (on Antelope Avenue) — adding, “Well, at least that’s what they’re telling us.”
That surprised to hear that business was down, because it seems every time I’ve eaten there, it’s been fairly busy. Antelope Drive has developed into a restaurant destination.
I do know the rise of the fast-casual restaurant (think Cafe Rio, Rumbi Island Grill, Noodles, Cafe Zupa’s, Chipotle) has put a dent in a lot of sit-down service restaurants. when news reports announced the recent sale of Red Lobster, they used the word “troubled” to describe the restaurant chain. That’s a word I would never think of in describing Red Lobster.
But, when the economy tanked, people had to cut their restaurant budget. They still wanted something perceived as “healthy” and “higher quality” than fast food. Fast-casual restaurants have limited service — you order up front, and stand in line as the staff builds your meal. So you don’t have to tip, which shaves 15-20 percent off what you would pay at a full-service restaurant, and the price point is often lower. You usually get your meal faster, a boon for today’s hurry-up lifestyle.
I’m only speculating on the reasons why Mimi’s is closing in Layton. My brother-in-law suggested several other possible reasons, such as the company choosing to take a loss on that location for tax purposes.
But for the Phillips siblings, it marked the end of an era. Kim’s mother, Marian Price Phillips, enjoyed Mimi’s, so we went there a few times for family dinners. When she passed away, we went there for lunch to make funeral plans, after a long morning with the mortician. After that, we made it a tradition to meet there for lunch on Memorial Day weekend, as a stop-off from visiting family grave sites. We joked that we should just ask for the key to the building so next year we could come back, even if we had to bring our own food.
We also talked about how, once a restaurant has closes in a certain location, that spot seems to be cursed. It seems that every town has at least one or two locations like this. The first restaurant might have great beginnings — good food, nice ambience, lots of “buzz.” But for one reason or another, it folds. It’s followed by a succession of new owners, new names and concepts that never quite catch on.
I’m thinking of a place in Layton (near the Sam’s Club) that was originally a Shoney’s. It seemed to have a lot of business — especially on those “Kids Eat Free” nights. But it closed. It became a Brazilian barbecue for maybe a year.
The next reincarnation was a salad bar restaurant, but I figured that wouldn’t last when both times I visited, the lettuce was wilted and brown on the edges. (If you’re a salad bar, you’d better get the lettuce right!) The last time I remembered to look, it has become an Asian buffet, and I don’t know if it’s changed hands since then or not.
For patrons who miss a restaurant that closes, there’s a little tinge of sadness. But it’s nothing compared to the financial and emotional upheaval for the people who worked there — owners losing their business to the bank, families uprooted as their parents scramble to find a new job, college kids who depended on a job to get through school.
So, I always hope that every restaurant can find a way to be successful.
And I hope that by next Memorial Day weekend, there will be a great restaurant in that same building so that we can continue our tradition.