“You can see a lot just by looking” is one of those cockeyed bits of wisdom from longtime baseball legend and esteemed philosopher Yogi Berra, ranking right up there with “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
Over the past two weeks, I have been seeing a lot just by looking each day when I drive by the new Cracker Barrel Old Country Store on Rockford Street in Mount Airy.
Every day is different, but presents the same sight: a full parking lot there. Even though Cracker Barrel’s lot is pretty big, it looks to be totally occupied nearly every time I pass.
Now I know that other establishments in town also continue to be busy from what I can tell. This makes me think the situation is not a matter of there being only so much restaurant business here, which is all being sucked up by Cracker Barrel at the moment due to the novelty of that popular eatery’s arrival.
I believe it is more of a situation in which people in Mount Airy are simply starved for anything resembling a good restaurant, and that there always will be plenty of customer traffic for same.
As a person who is not exactly a culinary expert, but who certainly knows his way around a table (and has been called the unflattering nickname “Buffet Buster” on occasion), I do have some definite observations about the Mount Airy restaurant scene.
One is that it has an overabundance of fast-food places. Now these restaurants do have their place in the world — namely, supplying food fast — yet they are not my cup of tea. Let’s just say I don’t like waiting in line at a counter or drive-through and having my vittles thrust at me in a paper bag.
No, I am more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, who prefers what one might call country-boy cooking. When I once found myself on live television at age 5 and was asked basic questions such as where I lived and what my favorite foods were, I immediately replied “pinto beans and fried potatoes.”
Unfortunately, Mount Airy doesn’t have a great deal of those country-boy establishments, of which Cracker Barrel certainly is one, although it is a chain operation.
Another thing in its favor is that Cracker Barrel is open until at least 10 p.m. each day, which means you can arrive after the accepted local “witching hour” and actually get a good meal.
That highlights another of my pet peeves with restaurants in Mount Airy, especially the home-grown ones, where owners often are more interested in their own convenience as far as operating schedules rather than adequately serving customers. That’s why most of them start shutting down their kitchens as early in the evening as possible — as if trying to avoid vampires after dark.
In doing so, they are in lockstep with a town that generally possesses little or nothing in the way of night life where the sidewalks are rolled up at 5 p.m.
However, there is a bright side to the story, in that what’s happening at Cracker Barrel should be a signal to other major restaurant chains about eyeballing Mount Airy as a possible gold mine of profits. Again, I think there is plenty of business to go around, especially at night.
It would be nice if Cracker Barrel is only the beginning, and we also got an Outback Steakhouse, an Olive Garden, a Red Lobster, a Boston Market and even a Denny’s or an International House of Pancakes.
Those are just the ones I could think of for my restaurant wish list at the moment. I am sure there are other favorites among readers.
Unfortunately, executives of those chains apparently just look at Mount Airy on a map and see where its population is in the 10,000 range and don’t consider us to be a viable location.
I think if company officials paid a visit and saw just how much commerce there truly is here, they would salivate over the profit potential. Traffic on Rockford Street alone was estimated at 25,000 vehicles a day in one recent study, which includes interstate travelers who get off the beaten path for a good meal.
All this makes me hearken back to what is occurring each day when I pass by the new restaurant on Rockford Street, which provides a reminder of another thing Yogi Berra said about a certain eatery:
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,” he opined.
Somehow I don’t think Yogi was talking about Cracker Barrel.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.