I remember when Joe's Crab Shack opened in Harlem. I was both excited and sad.
I enjoy eating at Joe's in Nyack, part of a national seafood restaurant chain. I have a severe weakness for fried coconut shrimp.
Despite being a fan, I've not eaten at Joe's restaurant on Frederick Douglass Boulevard -- NYC's only location. When I go to Harlem, I like to eat at area restaurants that serve good, locally prepared dishes.
Unfortunately, those eateries are slowly disappearing. National chains, like Joe's Crab Shack and the Red Lobster that opened recently next to the Apollo Theater, are replacing some of my favorite neighborhood restaurants.
Those eateries have succumbed to gentrification because they can't afford ballooning commercial rents or compete with big chains.
The popular (and yummy) Mobay Uptown closed last year, citing increasing rents and changes brought about by gentrification.
On the other hand, national-chain restaurants bring jobs to the community and some people find their monotony comforting, even if they prefer dishes from smaller local restaurants.
Brand recognition is powerful -- very powerful -- and gentrifiers moving into a neighborhood that is transforming might feel more comfortable having meals and drinks at places they frequented in the cities or towns from which they moved.
That's not to say the locals also don't eat at the chain restaurants. They do because brand recognition is that powerful. If you see something often enough in commercials, you might find yourself trying it.
Harlem is a vibrant city neighborhood that can do without too many strip malls or national chains. If I wanted to live near strip malls or chain restaurants, I would live in Westchester.
But I don't live there. I live uptown. I don't want precooked meals in frozen bags from a factory. I want red beans and rice that don't originate from a food-processing plant thousands of miles away. I want it made by the mom-and-pop businesses I love. They help make this city awesome.
Leave the national restaurant chains to the suburbs. That's where they belong. I don't want to see my favorite parts of the city engulfed by chains.