What's in a Name?

Jan 31, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Photo: Jennifer Silverberg
Photo: Jennifer Silverberg

Photo: Jennifer Silverberg

Reading Joe Bonwich's excellent story on Balaban's closing, I was especially struck by two things.

First, one of the reasons owner Brendan Marsden gave for the restaurant's struggles:

...a total redo of the menu after the 2006 sale had alienated some longtime customers.

"Some people were responsive, but others were very upset," he said.

Second, this tidbit about the terms of the restaurant's sale:

Kent Hirschfelder, director of restaurants and hospitality for Kaplan Real Estate Co., is handling the sale of Balaban's. He said that the restaurant is for sale "with the brand or without the brand," leaving open the possibility that the Balaban's name could live on.

So, assuming a new restaurant does open in Balaban's stead, should the new owner(s) call it Balaban's?

On the one hand, you have the cachet of the Balaban's "brand," which as Bonwich's article makes clear, ties into a very rich vein of St. Louis restaurant history. You also play into the reality that for the first few months after you open, at least, people are going to refer to your restaurant as Balaban's or That Place That Used to be Balaban's anyway.

On the other hand, you might encounter the exact problem Marsden describes: old-school Balaban's fans who won't be happy unless they can have their beef wellington, cucumber bisque and what-not. Then again, regardless what you call it, those customers will probably evaluate you in light of their nostalgia for the good old days at Balaban's.

It's an interesting situation. And yet another reason why the restaurant biz can be such a pain in the ass.

-Ian Froeb