Owners of some independent restaurants in Lawrence are looking into banding together to boost their effectiveness in competing with a common foe: chain restaurants.
Doug Holiday, owner/operator of Bigg's Barbeque, organized a meeting Tuesday that drew representatives from nearly a dozen Lawrence restaurants. Together, they agreed to pursue printing table tents designed to educate diners about the value of frequenting places that are independently owned.
Holiday cited research indicating that every $100 spent at an independent restaurant generates $68 in local economic activity, compared with $43 generated on the same amount of spending at a chain restaurant.
Holiday acknowledges that while getting independent business owners to work together can be difficult - "it's like herding cats," he said - the foundation of Tuesday's meeting could lead to more partnerships, such as with coordinated advertising or even cooperative purchases so that group discounts could be negotiated with suppliers.
"I told everybody: We're competing with corporate chains," Holiday said. "We all have something in common: We aren't traded on the Nasdaq. And you can see the CEO when you come in our restaurant. You can come in, and you'll likely see the owner."
Such an approach already has taken hold in at least 17 communities in the form of chapters of DineOriginals, the brand name for the Council of Independent Restaurants of America Inc.
The organization represents more than 600 independent restaurants, who together spend $450 million a year on goods and services and generate $1.4 billion in sales.
"We would be among the top 10 chains in the country," said Don Luria, who helped establish the organization in 1999 and continues to serve as president.
DineOriginals works to highlight the local flavors, concepts and services that are unique to each community, and therefore boost the profile of such operations to the point of drawing more business. Luria said his family's own restaurant in Tuscon, Ariz., used group purchasing to cut its food costs from 31.5 percent of expenses to 27.5 percent, saving $110,000 while generating sales of $3 million a year.
"It's the chains that are our competition, not other independent restaurateurs," Luria said. "We need to work together for our own benefit. Otherwise, we're just going to disappear, like the drug stores and bookstores and hardware stores."
Holiday said he was encouraged to meet Tuesday with restaurateurs from all over town, representing such operations as Bucky's, 23rd St. Brewery, Don's Steak House, Scarlet Orchid, Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse, Molly McGee's, Tortas Jalisco, J.B. Stout's, Johnny's and Marisco's.
Now it's a matter of working together.
"Everybody has their own ideas and interests. That's what makes local independent restaurants so cool," Holiday said. "We'll see what we can do to make our businesses better and help the local economy, too."