Week of April 21, 2004

A flaw in the system: Both Clay's and Edwards' trolley plans share one major flaw. The areas that they wish to service are already served by MetroLink. Blueberry Hill (in the heart of the Loop) is only five blocks from the Metro stop, and there is a stop about a hundred yards from the History Museum. Downtown is even better served with Union Station, Busch Stadium, Laclede's Landing and the convention center all having Metro stops.

If St. Louis really wants to put down trolley tracks, it should run them down Grand Boulevard from Grand Center to Gravois. This line would tie Saint Louis University, Grand Center and the Grand Metro stop with Tower Grove Park and the South Grand business district. The current Grand Metro stop is crowded and unwelcoming for visitors, and the No. 70 Grand bus is always crowded.
Harold Bruker
St. Louis

Rubber the right way: Joe Edwards has done a lot of good things for U. City and great things for Joe Edward$. I would suggest a trip to Savannah, Georgia, for Joe. They use electric minibuses (trolleys) that are (to use Joe's words) quiet and environmentally sound.
John Koziatek

Playing Ball
Out of the shadows: Mike Seely's March 31 story about the "Shadow Cardinals" is brilliant ["Tony La Russa's Manhattan Project"]. I love the premise, the points Seely makes about La Russa's unconventional managerial decisions, and simply reading the names "Carney Lansford" and "Kent Hrbek."

I laughed many, many times while reading the piece.
Matthew Summers-Sparks
Washington, D.C.

Food Fight
It's a jungle out there: Within every disagreement there are always two sides and then there is the truth. As a loyal friend of restaurant consultant Greg Perez and a loyal customer of Crazy Bowls & Wraps, I can say that this old adage certainly applies to Ben Westhoff's lopsided coverage of the recent menu changes at CBW ["Food Fights," March 31]. First, it is definitely true that Gail and Keith Kitsis have had a fantastic ten-year run with their health-conscious CBW stores. It is also true, but not expressed by Gail Kitsis, that the Kitsises went looking for a menu and operations consultant to help them update their menu and streamline their back-of-house procedures.

For the past ten years, the Kitsises have been pioneers of the healthy eating movement but their position in the marketplace is under serious attack. Today there are healthy offerings on every restaurant menu, not just at CBW. The St. Louis restaurant trade is becoming increasingly more competitive as chains (Qdoba, New York Burrito, Strata) open new locations and every other local restaurant takes notice of consumer demand for healthier fare. It is this cold economic reality that caused the Kitsises to seek outside counsel, not a fear of or pandering to the Atkins revolution.

CBW has a very devoted following, but the Kitsises were looking to increase their sales through an expanded menu that would appeal to more people. What they got from Greg Perez was solid advice about their menu, their prep procedures, their kitchen layouts and the importance of introducing the changes with a cohesive marketing campaign -- a plan that would introduce the changes without alienating their existing clientele.

Change is never easy and I empathize with the Kitsises and CBW's loyal fans. But the present economy and mounting competition threaten CBW's very existence. Perhaps the CBW loyalists wear blinders and don't see past the milkshakes replacing their favorite smoothies. My hunch is that, over time, the Kitsises would have benefited from a healthier bottom line via an increased customer pool and a much more efficient operation. Instead, logic dictates that they will see their sales slip and their profits decline as their "sophisticated clientele" return less often -- as it is inevitable that the CBW cult following will discover that many more restaurants are now offering similar healthy fare, for less money. As for Gail's deriding Perez's belief that CBW's food is "bland," one need not look further than recent comments by Dennis Lombardi of Technomic Inc., arguably the top restaurant consultancy in the United States: "The reason 'healthful concepts' have not worked in the past [and reached past the 20 percent of the consumers who are devoutly healthful] is that when people think 'health food' they do not think tasty food." It seems that Perez was merely referring to the general public's (again, that 80 percent of consumers) perception that CBW's menu is healthy but bland.

Again, the Kitsises sought outside advice and then put together a plan to make changes that they, themselves, approved. It is not Perez's fault that the Kitsises got cold feet midstream and never even spoke to the 80 percent of consumers who have chosen to pass on CBW. For Gail Kitsis to take a coward's stance and say that Perez "screwed up our restaurant so bad" is a gross injustice to Perez. She sought advice. It is like blaming the doctor for your heart attack after you ignored all of his advice and stopped short of following his recommendation to exercise. She signed the checks to Perez. She approved the changes. But like the heart patient, she chose to stop short of following the advice to thoroughly market the expanded menu to the public. She never gave the plan a fair shake (pun intended) but she has the audacity to pass the blame. Karma happens and time will show that the Kitsises' disrespect of Perez and his expertise is not only unjust, but hollow and misplaced.
John Oates
St. Louis

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