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Restaurateurs we need you

It happened again on Memorial Day weekend. Out-of-town tourists stopped me as I exited my office in downtown Greenville and asked that fateful question.

“Hi. Excuse me. But do you know anywhere we could get lunch in Greenville?” As I start to answer with a shake of my head, two more downtown residents who overhear the conversation shake their heads, too.

“Well just over the grade in Crescent Mills there is Gigi’s Market and in Taylorsville there’s Young’s Market and Lorraine’s Homemade and the Genesee Store, and if you are going towards Lake Almanor there is Canyon Dam Dogs,” I begin.

“No. We mean in Greenville,” the woman in the hungry family asks.

It’s Saturday and 10:30 a.m.

“There’s deli counter inside Evergreen Market,” I explain. A few days before a friend of mine walked into my office with gas station coffee and a package of donuts. Where did you get that I asked? She smiled and said, “Nellz Mini Mart.”

With the exception of pizza and tacos (and thank you Mountain Valley Pizza and Jose’s Tacos for not giving up on us), there’s nothing to eat for the tourist or visitor in Greenville. And for a writer who was fine with eating at home or bringing a lunch who looked forward to her double cappuccino with non-fat milk as a treat and break between articles and projects, there is no longer any real coffee downtown.

I am frequenting Sterling Sage more than usual because they have free coffee with my candles and cards I get there.

The lack of food in Greenville is a tragedy.

Last weekend with hundreds of people at the Community Center, you could see people eating out of coolers in back of their cars. No restaurant was open yet and no group had stepped up to serve food either.

In my 17 years of willfully living in Greenville and eight years of having an office in downtown, I’ve come to know a few things about food options here and have some theories as to what our problem is.

Even when Anna’s Café was still open, I’d throw up my hands and curse myself when holding events when both Anna’s Café and Jose’s Tacos were closed at the same time.

My cast for the production Serious Moonlight bought many a pizza in the two weeks before the show. We would have distributed our cash more evenly, but by and large only pizza was available to us during rehearsal time.

The first time I drove through  Plumas County was accidentally on a Sunday at 3 p.m. on the way back to the city from a road trip.  We bought fruit at a store in Chester and waited to eat until we got to Chico because there was no food.

Full Disclosure: I’ve been a barista and a bartender, and I’ve lived in the three food capitals of California. I might have a bit of food snobbery in me. I also live on a budget.

I have my own reasons of why I’d frequent a place or not. I have my price points and I’m a good cook. If I can make it at home for cheaper and better than you, I’m not going to go out to eat unless I need something fast or it’s a special occasion or a meeting.

But if you are a restaurant with the right combination of making items I can’t make well, with good ambiance, cleanliness, and no conversational intrusion by the owner or staff (because sometimes I just want to sit with my thoughts), you have me as a customer for life.

It takes a lot of energy to run a small business — and a restaurant always seems to take the most. I get that it’s hard but please note that if you’re thinking about opening something in Greenville we all support your efforts and will try you out.

I think sometimes about my favorite spots on the planet to eat out.

Cool Beans. Cool Beans was a hole in the wall café in the Inner Richmond of San Francisco where I poured coffee right after I moved back to San Francisco from Japan. In graduate school it had been my go to down the street coffee place. It won Best of the Bay awards a few times. The coffee was basic. It was clean, well-lit, and super friendly. The café owners made the neighborhood customers feel like family. Both the men who owned the place together met their future wives there. I served the owner of Amoeba records his double mocha with whole milk and Chris Isaak’s lattes there. I got to see it as a neighborhood customer and as a barista. Here’s what the owners shared with me.

Be real and be personable. Make your business someplace people want to hang out. Have various price points so the whole neighborhood has something they can buy there. Have a limited menu with five good things you can make. Have something no one else has. Be careful about who you hire. It’s better to be a tiny hole in the wall with a crowd outside the door waiting to get in, than a big place with empty tables. I have taken those things to heart for my theatre troupe — the only business I’ve ever tried to run — and so far it seems to be working.

Sometimes on social media, someone in Plumas County will throw out a question in a forum—what food is needed up here? The answers run the gamut of 20,000 people’s taste, of course, but here’s what I think.

There needs to be a coffeehouse (or teahouse—I don’t discriminate) with Internet open in the afternoons after school where students can hang. And of course a Thai food place because as far as I’m concerned, the entire world would be a better place if everyone had a cheap neighborhood Thai food restaurant. There would literally be no wars (when’s the last time you heard about Thailand going to war with anyone? Thank you).

No one entity can be open seven days a week breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but maybe whomever comes next can coordinate with Jose’s to cover what they can’t? To potential entrepreneurs maybe open something that doesn’t already exist? (So don’t open a pizza or taco place). Remember that if you look at Greenville’s demographics, we have a retired population, we have a smattering of students, we have out-of-towners trying to find something to eat while attending events in town.

Kudos to newcomers Gigi’s Market, Jose’s Tacos, and Genesee Store for making a go of it. They’ve clearly thought out who their potential customer is.

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