By Marilou Shea
We hear it all the time—buy local, stays local.
But what does it really mean and why does it matter?
In the Tri-Cities, there’s a lot of good reasons, right here, to buy local flavor.
The New Economics Foundation, an independent economic think tank based in London, compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket versus at a local farmers market or community-supported agriculture program and found that twice the money stayed in the community when folks bought locally.
“That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive,” said author and NEF researcher David Boyle.
Boyle compared money circulation at a local level to blood flow and that resonated with me more than theoretical jargon about micro-economics.
I get the “money is like blood” metaphor. The more circulation, the greater the benefits to the economy.
Boyle argued that local economies may suffer not because too little cash flows in but because of what too much flows out—like a wound that can’t be staunched. Purchases made at big box stores, online or at company-owned restaurants don’t help our local economy much.
I believe the correlation can be applied to the restaurant scene in the Tri-Cities.
It’s the darndest thing though, no one I’ve talked to can describe the customer base in the Tri-Cities in one crisp paragraph.
People say they want to support local businesses and yet the local Olive Garden can boast it’s one of the highest grossing locations nationally.
We want the cache of brand names, consistent quality, template menu offerings at a bargain price to take root here.
Do we give local restaurants and their creative kitchen talent the same chance to win our loyalty?
Fat Olives in Richland wishes you would.
It’s a gourmet, locally-owned and operated restaurant vying for your lunch and dinner dollars.
If you’re like me and always associated them with their incredible pizza, you’re in for a delicious surprise.
Haven’t tried their grilled flank steak? The Instagram photo alone is enough to make me a believer because it is so masterfully presented.
Owner JD Nolan described the menu as Northwest fare with an Italian flair.
Their revenue pie looks like this: 40 percent catering/60 percent restaurant. Of the 60 percent, about 30 percent accounts for customers who come to get their pizza fix.
Nolan said he believes that patronizing local restaurants is vital for our community because it creates jobs and the money stays local (there’s that phrase again), prompting a healthy recipe for him to give back to the community that in turn supports him, his family, his employees and their families.
Fat Olives supports local charities’ requests for in-kind or product donations. Nolan is also a board member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties.
His restaurant business employs 18 full-time and 10 part-time employees. A majority of the talent — front-of-house and back-of-house — are homegrown locals who grew up in the Mid-Columbia.
Eating local is not about punishing chains or franchises. It is about supporting and sustaining local economies at a human scale across communities—our community. We are helping local entrepreneurs in the Tri-Cities make a decent living at something they are passionate about, and I believe that model applies everywhere—from our growers to our farmers’ markets, to food trucks and coffee outlets.
I’m in favor of giving local restaurants a fair shake. Are you?
[panel title="About Marilou Shea:" style="info"]
Food Love columnist Marilou Shea is the creator of Food Truck Fridays and adjunct faculty at Columbia Basin College’s Food Truck Academy.
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