FOOD- THE DISH- Check, please! Just Curry feels the pinch
Last week, Just Curry owner Alex George announced on his Facebook page that he was closing his Corner location on Wertland Street in the 14th Street Parking Garage on Monday, January 12. He said nothing about his Transit Center location, which never re-opened after the holidays, and so many of us thought– including George, its seems– that that meant the end of Just Curry.
But George tells Dish that he has decided to re-open the Transit Center location on Monday, January 19, despite the "tough economic conditions" that forced him to close the the new Corner location.
George originally opened Just Curry on the Corner in a space behind the Satellite Ballroom in 2006 and returned to the Wertland Street location just five months ago. Now, the student-centric district is bereft.
"I had no choice," says George, pointing out that the first week of January sales were down 78 percent from the same week last year. "The Corner never recovered after summer."
Instead of the deluge of business he was expecting in the fall when students returned, sales increased only 10 percent, he says.
"After the election, sales went up, but just when you thought it was going to be good again, the students left," he says, "that was the last nail in the coffin."
George, a native of the South American nation of Guyana, left his job as a private chef for a wealthy local family to focus on the food which he grew up enjoying.
"My true love is curries," he told Dish, characterizing his food as French, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Indian, with an emphasis on the Caribbean.
Indeed, in short order, his curries became our loves as well, replacing the smell of diesel fumes at the Transit Center with one that made visitors salivate.
George may have served notice of what was to come when he responded to a question last November about Mesob, the Ethiopian restaurant that used to occupy his former Corner location; we were trying to track down the owners to find out if they might re-open (If you're out there, former Mesob owners, give Dish a call, as folks are missing what was the only Ethiopian restaurant in town!).
"I can't imagine anyone wanting or having the resources to open a restaurant in this economic climate," said George. "Things have picked up a little at Just Curry since the election. I hope it's not too little too late."
Still, George says he's going to try to make a go of it in the Transit Center, keeping it a one or two-man operation to see if he can "ride out the storm." He also says he plans to honor the Just Curry punch cards that customers still have. Meanwhile, he says the Corner location is for sale as a turn-key operation.
And get this, another Corner restaurant, Zydeco on Elliewood, appears to have closed in December.
This likely won't be the last bad dining news as the Federal Reserve predicts economic gloom and doom to continue for at least the next year.
As a result, restaurants are watching their bottom lines as foodies appear to be watching their pennies. For instance, one long-time local restaurant owner tells Dish he was "very disturbed and depressed" by something he'd never heard before in his 42 years in the business.
"A couple came in recently and asked to split a scotch on the rocks," he says. "And it was rail scotch. I mean, I understand people wanting to stretch their dining dollars... but this was sacrilege!"
Indeed, while 2009 may be shaping up to be "the year of living frugally," let's not get carried way folks!
What's next? Barackburgers?
For those planning to celebrate the Inauguration by feasting, here's a suggestion for staying on message.
Kate Collier over at Feast! says the upscale West Main food store just received a delivery from Simply Sausage, an artisanal sausage company in Maryland, which has created what they call "Barackwurst," an all-natural cocktail-sized sausage with symbolic ingredients. The sausage combines, says Collier, elements of a Chicago hot dog and a DC half-smoke, containing equal amounts of beef (representing the legendary Chicago stockyards) and pork (representing Obama's plan to cut the stuff in Washington).
And get this: the Barackwurst also has equal amounts of black and white pepper. Talk about a political correct wiener! (And a metaphor that should have a warning label: handle with care!)
Not surprisingly, Collier says the owner of Simply Sausage, Stanley Feder, is a retired CIA analyst who has a PhD in political science. Hence the wonkish wurst concept.
Commander in Beef?
As the writers at Saturday Night Live look ahead to the next four years of an Obama administration, you can bet they'll be lampooning Obama's uncanny ability to discuss almost anything as if he were an expert on the subject. And food and restaurants appear to be no exception.
An old video clip from a Chicago-based PBS restaurant review show called "Check, Please!" which aired in 2001 and was tracked down by LA Times blogger Patrick Goldstein [The Big Picture: Patrick Goldstein on the collision of entertainment, media and pop culture, January 8, 2009], plays almost like a SNL skit, as Obama sits with two other amateur restaurant reviewers, a fireman, and a retail buyer (at the time, Obama was a State senator), and reviews his favorite Chicago restaurants.
As Goldstein reports, Obama waxed so eloquent on Hyde Park's Dixie Kitchen and the Bait Shop that the program director decided not to air the segment because Obama was "too thoughtful and articulate to pass for an amateur."
"It was unbalanced, to put it charitably," said the program director. You can see clips of the segment by visiting Goldstein's La Times blog, http://www.latimes.com/blogs, The Big Picture, or doing a simple search on YouTube.