Area catching taste of more chain eateries

Thunder Bay, Ont. -- Restaurant chains, including Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, Bar Burrito, Edo Japan, Osmows Shawarma, Mary Brown, Taco Bell, Papa John’s Pizza, and Firehouse Subs, have opened in Thunder Bay in the last two years providing more fast-food variety. Charla Robinson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, says it appears the city is being recognized as an area where there is significant growth potential. "We’ve been getting some attention around things like the huge construction project at the jail, and the significant opportunities with mining in the region,” Robinson said. “As a community, we’ve been raised to a higher level of attention for those folks that are looking for new markets to open things like chain restaurants.” These types of restaurants typically offer takeout food, appealing to thousands of students at the college and university. “The chain sees that as not only their potential customers but also as labour options,” she said. “We hit the top list of where there might be some opportunity for some of these new growth potentials for chain restaurants.” Robinson added that as the community grows, there’s more opportunity for new businesses that can provide some different options that we haven’t had before. “Local businesses, on the other hand, have a different interest level,” she said. “They bring their own special brands and their own promotion, which really reflects the community that we live in. It brings a balance to the community of some national brands, but also to our local businesses.” Bianca Garofalo, the chamber’s new board chairwoman and owner of Bight Restaurant and Bar, El Tres Restaurant and Giorg Cucina e Barra, says the style of restaurants that she operates are predominantly dine-in. “We source food from our community, from our suppliers, and we are making everything in-house,” Garofalo said. “We have a niche that is not something that the chain restaurants are providing people. If you want quick service food, or if you want to buy from a chain where things aren’t coming from the community, it’s a different style of restaurant.” She said the arrival of these chain restaurants is certainly having an impact on other businesses that are locally owned. “Yet more business in Thunder Bay overall is good for job creation, impacting the economy and helping the tax base in the city,” she said. “They’re all good things, but of course, the more different elements that move in, the harder it can be for some locally owned businesses to compete. A lot of these franchises come in with a significant amount of national advertising, support systems, structure for training and hiring and things that local businesses have to build from the ground up. So it does become harder for the little guy.”

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal