I've restrained my thoughts on this topic on the blog for about a year now. Mainly because I don't want to be the one who opens Pandora's box and I also don't want to assume or post anything that isn't true or slanders one of my top 5 restaurants of all-time. But after a recent article in the Post Standard started to shed some light on the subject, I feel like it's time for discussion (i.e. whatever the rumors are, whatever the truth is, whatever the future holds). And since this is a blog about restaurants in the City of Syracuse, I feel like it needs to be discussed. Especially when it concerns the one restaurant that just about everyone around the country associates with our city.
Last year, I learned two surprising pieces of information about Dinosaur: 1) that 70% of the ownership had recently been sold to the owner of TGI Friday's and 2) that everything sold (merchandise, grocery store food, sauces, shirts, books, ect...) all used to be under one name - now everything has their own LLC's more or less (the bottled sauces are now under their own name and sold through a company in Taiwan, if I remember correctly - you've probably noticed the new labels if you're a hardcore fan or have visited the actual restaurant in the past couple of months).
Also last year, was Good Morning America's contest for Best Barbecue In America. I was at Dinosaur when they announced over the loud speaker that they were the winners. Everyone was happy and yelled and clapped, including myself. Anything that puts Syracuse on the map in a positive light is a rarity and when it happens, you really have to soak up the moment. But that being said, does anyone really believe that Dinosaur is the best barbecue in the country? And at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, doesn't it make more sense for them to win a contest on national television if they now have ties to a national chain?
Whether these awards or behind the scene legal technicalities actually affects taste or not is for another discussion. I'm sure that the sauces and recipes will remain the same. But whether this changes the image of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Syracuse's most iconic restaurant of all-time, is absolute worthy of discussion and something that I'm extremely worried about.
Will we feel more proud or less proud of our city now that Dino is corporate?
Will the Syracuse business suffer if locations are built in Boston, Connecticut, and New Jersey?
Will talking with the waitresses while ordering food feel predetermined and fake instead of spontaneous and sassy?
Will some customers feel alienated if it starts to feel more like a generic and polished chain and less like a hole-in-the-wall?
I don't have the answers. Only time will tell. Maybe nothing will change. Maybe it will continue to be amazing and a great asset to the city. I'm not going to debate whether or not it's all good or bad. In the end, it is just a business. And businesses change. But my main issue is: what's going to happen if our most beloved restaurant ever and something that makes each one of us proud to say we're from Syracuse (isn't that rare thing?) morphs into a chain? What do we have left to brag about? And why the heck would we want to brag about it if it's just going to feel exactly the same as the other 9 imitations around the country?
I put the ball in your court.