How will a highly successful chain restaurant affect smaller, local restaurants in Oswego?
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Texas Roadhouse Restaurant is now open in Oswego Plaza, near the former JC Penney off Route 104. It’s the first location in Oswego County. Other nearby locations are in Clay, Syracuse and Watertown.
Founded in 1993 in Indiana, Texas Roadhouse has become a popular restaurant chain nationwide. It has received top accolades for a decade from the likes of Forbes, Newsweek, and Fortune for things like best employer, customer satisfaction and diversity in hiring.
But what happens to locally-owned eateries when an 8,000-sq.-ft. restaurant like this comes to town—and hires 200 people?
“I’m sure it will affect everyone’s business,” said Larry Lombardo, longtime owner of Lombardo’s Bridie Manor at 1830 Bridie Square in Oswego. “With something like that coming, who knows what will happen?”
A new business always generates initial excitement among diners. But Lombardo isn’t worried.
“We’re a family restaurant,” he said. “We have regulars and families who come in.”
Operating in Oswego for 36 years, Lombardo feels confident that he won’t experience staffing issues either.
“We keep our staff very small and they’re happy; there’s no reason [for them] to go someplace else,” he said.
Vivi Jiang, manager of Kiyomi Hibachi Steakhouse at 311 W. Seneca St. in Oswego, said that staffing is already challenging; however, the hardest role for her to fill is a hibachi chef who can perform for diners, not waitstaff or general kitchen staff.
The new restaurant “gives local people an opportunity to work,” she added.
She views Texas Roadhouse as affecting her business’ traffic a little at first. “I’m happy Oswego has this coming. That means we have more places to go out. Oswego is small and has few places to go. I’m happy to see a new, big brand coming. It’s good to have more choices.”
She even made plans to attend the opening. Adding another restaurant to the area may mean more excitement about dining out and after the novelty of Texas Roadhouse fades, diners will drift back to their old favorites to enjoy the various aspects to which they’re accustomed.
Jiang may be onto something.
Unlike buying a cordless drill at a retailer like Lowe’s, dining out is more than just getting food. It’s the experience: the break in the customer’s routine, the restaurant’s ambiance, the server’s attention, and the diner’s history there, according to Yiru Wang, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing in the department of marketing and management at SUNY Oswego.
“It’s a more complex system,” Wang said. “Therefore, the competition may not be similar to the retailing industry, which focuses more on item diversity, supply chain and consumer service.”
Wang thinks about Oswego’s dining scene in categories based upon price level and type, such as local and franchise.
“Differentiation is the key to this competition,” Wang said. “For example, Texas Roadhouse could be more on the franchise and expensive section, KFC could be more on the franchise and cheap section, Bistro 197 is more on the local expensive section, et cetera.
“My understanding is that as long as there are differentiation points from the local restaurants, they are more likely to win and resist the competition. Texas Roadhouse, to my understanding, is more for ‘meat lovers.’ To differentiate, the local restaurants could come up with cuisines such as cauliflower pizza or plant-based protein dishes to satisfy vegetarian appetites. Or, keeping what you are known for.”
Wang views competition among restaurants as generally beneficial, especially if it creates a more diverse landscape of options for diners. She noted Canale’s with its authentic Italian cuisine and ambiance and Kiyomi’s serving Asian fusion cuisine as examples of restaurants not directly competitive with Texas Roadhouse.
“We need to embrace the ‘newcomers’ because it’s already there and advance ourselves as the local restaurants,” she added.
She thinks that Texas Roadhouse “actually brings a good steak destination for meat lovers” and a closer dining option for those who don’t want to drive to Syracuse, Liverpool or Watertown for steak, which keeps diners’ dollars local.
Stefan Yablonski contributed to this article.