Thursday, December 14, 2006

Looking for a re-Pete...

It's been nearly a week since the owners of the Pete Harris Cafe filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, forcing them to shut the doors for the immediate future.

But the question remains: is there a future for the celebrated, family-owned restaurant in historic Ledbetter Heights?

As a relative newcomer to the area, I've seen a handful of restaurants close over the past few months (Pete Harris, Semolina's and Santa Maria Barbecue) and one that appears headed for similar trouble (Caliente, according to its manager). To me, that's more disturbing than the arrival of P.F. Chang's, T.G.I. Friday's and Logan's Roadhouse, all in southeast Shreveport, is exciting.

Don't get me wrong: I love national-chain restaurants and southeast Shreveport; I'm no snob in that regard. To me, a chain restaurant is simply a replication of a successful eatery. But on some level, I'd like to see the chains and the smaller, family-owned restaurants co-exist prosperously.

Without being a party-pooper, that should mean: no more development along Youree Drive until other parts of Shreveport prove they can handle it. The survival of places like Pete Harris and Caliente are integral to any effort at revitalizing Shreveport's dying inner city.

City Councilman Joe Shyne, who was a lunchtime regular at Pete Harris, is mounting a 13th-hour effort to save the restaurant, recently meeting with a few interested investors. "It needs to be saved," Shyne said. "It means too much ... it's history."

We can all agree there's a place in the future for historical landmarks like Pete Harris, right? Is it the city's job to look after inner-city institutions, albeit a private one, like this? Is this solely the responsibility of owners who couldn't handle the financial burden? Or do we, the paying customers and economic engines behind the city's increasing sales tax revenue base, share in the blame for the death of Pete Harris and restaurants like it?


denny said...

Even the nationally-backed chains will fail if they have ineffective or bad staffing. And still, bankruptcy can happen to the best business people. The test is will they recover from it? If they show resourcefulness and care, it's possible. Saving history though? There's nothing historic about the eatery itself. It's not even the original construction of the restaurant ... so it's not the building that's historic. It's the idea behind it that's historic. Afterall, there hasn't been a "Pete" for some time now. If Joe Shyne can get interested people to chip in and save the day ... great. But, lets leave taxpayer funds out of this business and all other private ventures. I mean how is that fair to someone who wants to maybe come in the same area and start his own version of Pete Harris Cafe. Just the idea that your competitor has the benefit of city assistance would be enough to potentially stifle any competitor from entering the area.

denny said...

To be fair ... a 5-year or 10-year tax break (for Pete Harris and any new venture) like they dangle in front of the big employers might be a nice touch though if it were specific to that area as an effort to attract development. And if the city hasn't considered that, then they should seriously think about it because a city without an inner-city is just ... what ... a doughnut.