For decades, the belief was that if you wanted a special dining experience, you had to be willing to travel to a big city. This did not just refer to five star fine dining, but also when it came to "ethnic food"- something other than just meat and potatoes. The closest thing most people ever experienced was a pizza place that offered pasta dishes or a Chinese takeout restaurant. The reasoning behind this was pretty straight forward: to get authentic food, you had to go where people lived, and recent immigrants tended to stay in the big cities. They had friends and family there and they could find work fairly readily.
As these people settled into their routines, got married and started families, the second and third generations felt more established. More often than not, they spoke the language better, were more familiar with the customs of the new country and did not feel as tied to the cities as their parents and grandparents had. What they did feel tied to, however, was the culture and the food, and they wanted to continue in that world. Wanting a better quality of life for the families they were starting, and not wanting to take on the debt that would be required to open a restaurant in an urban area, they began to move out to the suburbs.
In effect, they were simply doing what their customers had done. More people live in the suburbs today than ever before, but that does not mean they wanted to give up the culture of city life. Part of that culture includes a multi-faceted dining experience. Now they had the freedom of variety without the hassle of having to make a night of it by going into the city.
Over the years, this has slowly spread across the country and these next generation restaurants were still close to major cities like Silver Springs, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC or Fairfield, Connecticut, only forty-five minutes from New York. Now as people look to establish their own identity, you are just as likely to find a fusion restaurant in Appleton, Wisconsin or Topeka, Kansas as you are in San Francisco or Philadelphia.
Of course, not all of these are family restaurants moving to the suburbs. Some are almost the opposite: families that moved to the suburbs years ago to give their children a better life. Now, their kids want to share the families' traditional recipes with the world. As ethnic communities grow across the country, people are looking for a place to get some of their favorite food while introducing other people to it as well. These restaurants serve as a great way to bring people together, and their growing presence in small towns is helping communities grow stronger.
Jack Terry is a freelance writer who has been involved in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years.