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Oddchester: Readers break sonic barrier with poll

If the recent poll Rochester Magazine ran on Facebook is statistically accurate (and as far as I can tell, these things are always right on), then 99 percent of men, women and children in Rochester hope that, if nothing else, DMC brings us a Sonic restaurant.

Every year, one of our most hotly contested categories in our Best Restaurants issue is the "One Restaurant Rochester Needs Immediately."

This year, we want our Sonic. And, in order of votes, our Chili's, our Chick-fil-A, our Red Robin, our Cheesecake Factory, our White Castle, our Cracker Barrel, our IHOP, our Popeye's, our Qdoba and our Dave & Busters.

More than a few respondents were very vocal about the fact the city does not need any more chain restaurants, which is a stance I completely agree with, especially if a local ownership group can create a unique, homegrown establishment that can make a slider exactly like White Castle.

While we love frequenting local restaurants and bars, I will admit — and when my wife reads this, she'll reflect back on a few instances and realize why we left at such strange times — that I've planned family driving trips to pass near specific restaurants when we'd be stopping for food. Heading to Michigan? We just happened to put off leaving until 11 a.m. so we could stop for lunch at Buzzard Billy's in La Crosse. Minnesota Zoo trip? Why look, we're fortuitously passing by Raising Cane's Chicken during mealtime!


I may have a problem.

Many of Rochester's chains, incidentally, are owned by locals who do plenty to give back to the community. The late Phil Henoch, who owned the local McDonald's restaurants from 1973 to 2001, helped found Rochester's Ronald McDonald House.

Bob and Bunny Yanish own the local Perkins restaurants, and anyone who knows the Yanishes will tell you how much they give back to the Salvation Army, among other groups.

(And just to be clear, those people will tell you the Yanishes give back a lot.)

The first year we ran the "One Restaurant Rochester Needs Immediately" category was 2002, and that was the year Olive Garden enthusiasts, apparently rabid for free breadsticks, not only voted en masse, but also regularly called and emailed me directly to "see if there was anything I could do."

As if I could do anything, and, if I could, as if that's what I'd do. Because if I had that kind of pull, there'd be a city ordinance that, wherever I live, developers would be required to build, within walking distance, a White Castle, a Maid-Rite and a Schlotzky's.

No one was happier about the long-awaited announcement of the new Olive Garden restaurant than the late Denny Hanson, who had, during the height of the Olive Garden hysteria, been thrust into the role of part-time-city-council-member-forced-into-the-role-of-full-time-Olive-Garden-spokesperson.

As a regular weekly guest on KROC-AM's "Good Morning" show, Hanson spent much of his time trying to talk about issues important to the city: the possible Highway 52 expansion was jeopardizing frontage road businesses, violent crime rates were up, the DM&E coal trains were threatening to roll through downtown. Yet, for months in early 2002, he repeatedly was bombarded with call-in questions regarding all-you-can-eat breadsticks, salad refills and Lasagna Classico.


Caller: "I was listening to your discussion about the rise in the city's violent crime rates, and I just had a question for councilmember Hanson. If we do get an Olive Garden, it WILL have free breadsticks, correct? I just want you to clarify that all Olive Gardens have free breadsticks, and that that would include the Olive Garden here in Rochester if we do get an Olive Garden."

He finally took to answering by saying "As far as we know, the Olive Garden has not made any firm plans regarding a Rochester location," as if he were pleading the Fifth.

All of the Olive Garden excitement actually may have worked. And now the Sonic drum beat seems to be getting louder and louder.

The winner of next year's "One Restaurant Rochester Needs Immediately" category, though, could be someone completely different.

Which, really, is the beauty of it.

In 2003, the year after Olive Garden's win, the "One Restaurant Rochester Needs Immediately" category ended with a tie, between Chuck E. Cheese and Hooters. Which may be the only time those two restaurants tied in any category, ever.

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