Westchester’s ‘Eden’ Pans Panera



Bedford Hills, tony haven of movie stars and their monied class mates, has nothing on the snooty Westchester County (N.Y.) town of Eastchester, which fancies itself a pristine Garden of Eden. However, not all earthly delights need apply.

Bedford Hills, you see, is cheesy enough to allow a “fast-quick casual” restaurant chain like Panera to exist within its beauteous borders. Erstwhile Eastchester is cheeky enough to turn its “other” cheek (the one always left behind) in Panera’s direction and invite a big, fat, wet kiss.

Eastchester’s proudly puritanical town board and supervisor will not gladly suffer the utterly distasteful blight that “fast-quick casual” grub peddlers inflict on municipalities desperate enough to welcome an arriviste like Panera with open arms, open wallets and hungry residents, who enjoy connecting with others or with the internet (at no charge). (Eastchester’s Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts were grandfathered, so tomorrow they’ll wake up and smell the coffee, still.)

Eastchester Supervisor Anthony Colavita, apparently unaware that Panera serves pastries, surprisingly stopped short of saying, “Let them eat cake!” He was, however, quoted by Gannett daily The Journal News as saying, “You can go get your sandwich in Larchmont,” adding, “We aren’t going to cheapen the town with fast food or these formula fast-quick casual places.”

Because it’s been proven time and again that broadly appealing formulas, the bane of elite societies like Eastchester’s, are an invitation to degradation, not to mention immense customer satisfaction.

I have not had the chance to ask the braintrust who rules Eastchester what it has against a “fast-quick casual” restaurant. I imagine the thoughtful answer would be something like, “It’s a restaurant that serves its customers quickly, and, worse, fastly, and, to pour salt AND pepper on the wound, it is – heaven help us for saying it — CASUAL!

“Rest assured you’ll find none of those vices in stately Eastchester. And if a domineering ‘fast-quick casual’ chain like Panera thinks it can storm our ivy-covered barricades and soil our regal bearing, it doesn’t know its panini from its tortellini.”

According to The Journal News article, Eastchester’s “food me once, shame on you; food me twice, shame on me” ruling won a five-star review from John Palazzolo, owner of the uniquely spelled Bon Appetite Deli on White Plains Road. (If he added an “e” to the first word, he could expand both his menu and his clientele by serving Alpo to patrons’ pet dogs).

“A business that comes into town should enhance our quality of life instead of being a dominating force,” he told the newspaper.

And, really, how does it enhance anyone’s quality of life to have a place that serves nutritious, tasty food at reasonable prices, with fast, friendly service and free wi-fi? (It’s a rhetorical question.)

“When you run into these bigger chains,” Mr. Palazzolo patiently explained to the newspaper, “their presence can be dominating. We’re a town, not a city that can handle the traffic.”

Hmm. Let’s see. There’s a Panera in Yorktown, which, as its name subtly hints, is a town — just like Eastchester.

Bedford Hills? Now, that’s a different story. It’s an unincorporated hamlet (in the town of Bedford), and boasts a big city populace of some 3,000. Of course, these days, don’t even try to drive through Bedford Hills unless you’re aching to get stuck in bun-to-bun traffic jams caused by the pushy presence of Panera.

In light of Mr. Palazzolo’s dismissive attitude toward the concept of “fast-quick casual” food service, does that mean his deli is NOT fast, quick or casual? I’m sure it’s a fine establishment that is very popular, and frequented, no doubt, by one or more of the elected officials who showed Panera the back door.

By voting this way, Eastchester’s neighborly legislators also threw Mr. Palazzolo and other local food retailers a very big bon. Time will tell if it comes back to bite them, in the cheek.

March 27, 2013 |

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