Another thing that troubles me about Potbelly's growth is that to me it serves as a reminder that eccentric one-of-a-kind businesses -- like the original Potbelly's -- have become increasingly scarce. I have worked in Manhattan's financial district on and off for about seven years, and even in that short time, two of my favorite lunch spots have closed, while more and more chains appear.
The most positive thing I have to say about Potbelly's growth is that Potbelly the chain is -- overall -- remarkably true to Peter's vision. It's part of a kind of fast food renaissance in America exemplified above all by Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG).
I use the phrase "fast food renaissance" because, much as I hate McDonald's (MCD) and nearly all it represents, I learned from the brilliant book "Fast Food Nation" that the people who created the fast food industry were true American visionaries. Unfortunately, their vision eventually led us down the road of sameness, obesity and traffic jams.
Chipotle, on the other hand, gets so many things right. It is so good, it kills nearly every incentive for me to go to a mom-and-pop Mexican take-out place for lunch. Sure, I'll go to the mom-and-pop place much of the time to give them my support, but I fear it's a futile exercise. They may be able to match Chipotle for price and quality, but it'll take a lot of hard work, and it's hard to see how they can surpass it. Soon, mom-and-pop Mexican will go the way of the free jukebox, and of six-year-old kids going to the store by themselves.-- Written by Dan Freed in New York. Follow @dan_freed
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