Skip to content

The Bayer That Ate Monsanto

September 15, 2016

There is a bear in the woods. It’s one of the best political ads ever created, and at one point I worked for the guy who made it. Man, that’s a powerful spot.

When I heard the news yesterday, I couldn’t help but chuckle. There have been so many people running around for years wishing Monsanto would go away. And now, most likely, the company is gone. Just like that. All it took was $57B.

My argument has always been that the actions of one company in the transgenic industry doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, because there are so many players in the field. And right now, they are consolidating.

You can read the full story in the WSJ, but DuPont and Dow Chemical could be merging soon, and Syngenta is being taken over by China National Chemical Corp. Yes, there will be antitrust investigations, and once upon a time these mega-alliances would have seemed far too big and detrimental to the public interest. But those days are long, long gone. The WSJ doesn’t cover that last part though.

The thing I find so funny is that for most Americans Bayer has an almost charming and benign brand. It’s reliable. It’s mostly harmless. It’s helpful. It’s aspirin. Of course, in reality, that’s only a small part of a much much larger enterprise. But I just can’t see as many armchair activists getting worked up over the evils of Bayer.

Maybe I’m wrong. Heck, I was just wrong yesterday. Gah! I hate it when that happens. But as long as we’re talking about business, consolidation, and speculation, how about a subject that’s a little closer to most of us at home.

Did you see what’s happening in Troy?

Two beloved businesses shut their doors: The Malt Room at Brown’s and The Brown Bag. Apparently, this summer was a very difficult period for Troy restaurants. Which is strange, because from all outside appearances, the Troy business community seems to be thriving.

Sure, there have been closures. And some tragic ones. Sentinel Butchery didn’t make it. It’s been a while, but Dante’s Frozen Yogurt is long gone. Which, I actually did enjoy, once management fixed the problem of their spoons.

On the other side, there have been a ton of openings. And I think that has business owners feeling a little worried, as they see the same sized pie of consumers being divided up by more and more establishments.

Certainly, I would feel differently if I had a financial stake in the outcome. However, more businesses in downtown is a good thing. And so is media attention, even for your competition. And here’s why.

For starters, now that Troy is hot, the buzz is absolutely bringing in more people from outside of the city. And that’s beneficial. With more vacant storefronts getting filled, that makes the area even more enticing for outsiders to visit. And that means that the pie is expanding.

Is it expanding fast enough to support all the restaurants in the area? Maybe not. But it does present the opportunity to tap into a growing consumer base.

The restaurant business is brutal. Even great places don’t always make it. Which is why it’s important to remember to visit those establishments you love, while they are still around. And it’s equally important to share the love.

I know the temptation of having discovered a great place, and not wanting to let others in on the secret. After all, it’s crowded enough already. Can you imagine how hard it will be to find a table once everyone knows about it? But if you truly love a place, you need to help it succeed. Part of that involves spreading the word. The other part involves actually getting down there as often as you can to support it.

Part of me wonders how much some of the struggles are based on outdated business models. After all, change is the constant state of the universe. People are drinking less when they go out these days. They are also looking for smaller portions, better quality ingredients, and lower prices.

Which isn’t to say people want inexpensive food. But I’d imagine it would be easier to sell an $8 bowl of organic locally milled polenta with a poached pastured egg, than a $16 half-pound cheeseburger with bacon. For less than a cup of grain, combined with a little bit of cheese, butter, water, and salt, $8 is not inexpensive. However, there is more value and differentiation in that proposition.

A crowded local landscape also means needing to find more ways to stand out from the rest of the pack. Which can mean lots of different things.

Extending hours is a good one. I keep hearing from people how they desperately wish Illium Cafe was open for Sunday brunch. Promoting “Happy Hour” specials can get people into a place, or tempt them to climb the stairs to somewhere like The Tavern Bar. And now that The Brown Bag is closed, it leaves a niche in the market unfilled.

Troy has some long standing restaurants that have weathered the ebbs and flow of the city’s economic climate for decades. Famous Lunch is a great example, and they haven’t changed a thing. Bacchus has also kept its doors open for 20 years, which is a huge accomplishment. At one point in time, this may have been one of the only places to go for wood fired pizza, but now even that segment is exploding, and there are many more competitors in the category outside of Troy. Maybe a little innovation wouldn’t be a bad thing. Especially now that there is a growing wood-fired pizza culture in the area. Without a doubt Bacchus has the best looking oven in the region. But as one of the old advertising greats used to say, “telling is selling.”

Everyone has advice, and there is no magic bullet. Each business owner will have to figure out how to survive in a changing environment.

I’m going to miss The Brown Bag. Despite the long wait times and the occasional surly attitude, they made a mean late night egg and cheese sandwich. And the Malt Room was doing good stuff, it’s a loss for the cocktail culture of the area to lose a bar that was elevating the form.

They say bad news comes in threes. I say, “fight the future.” Remember that your beloved businesses require your support. So get out there and eat. And if you can’t, don’t be shy about recommending your favorite places so others can enjoy them in your absence.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Angelos Tzelepis permalink
    September 15, 2016 2:08 pm

    There’s only so much money to go around, too. Especially as the Troy rents go up and up. Are there the salaries in the area to support all of this? People keep building places to spend money like it’s a real city, but it doesn’t have a real city’s economy.

  2. Eamon Millar permalink
    September 15, 2016 4:57 pm

    I’m still afraid that Troy’s renaissance is built on a very shaky foundation. I’ve long wondered how Troy could support such an explosion of restaurants, and the answer is that maybe they can’t. All we need is another economic downturn – even a little one – and all of the work improving Troy could be gone overnight. Without a doubt, good, cool, interesting restaurants drive urban growth, and we are seeing that in Troy. I think it’s a reactionary event based on markets and economies driven by globalization and digitization – it is one of the last bastions of local goods and local economies and we crave that public socialization that a restaurant can provide, another thing so lacking in many peoples lives. I just hope that it lasts, and man, I wish a little of it would make its way to Albany.

  3. By the numbers permalink
    September 15, 2016 5:00 pm

    According to a frequently cited study on failed restaurants, 60% do not make it past the first year, and 80% go under in five years.

    That’s a big pool of percentage for all sorts of stuff to force a restaurant, even a good one over a cliff.

    For example, you liked Brown Bag and so did many other people, but the owner was a bit of a loose cannon. And that cannon seems to have blown him right over the edge.

    Inexperience, bad people management, lack of accounting skills, spotty customer service and sub-par food quality and execution are the most obvious culprits of restaurant demise, but there certainly are a lot more.

    BTW, isn’t DeFazio’s the long time champ of wood fired pizza in Troy?

  4. September 15, 2016 11:55 pm

    I don’t know what Brown’s could have expected from the Malt Room (which I liked quite a bit). It seems like they were relying wholly on word of mouth to bring in customers; I can’t remember there ever being even a decent web presence–it was always really hard to find consistent info about this place that I think was an unclear concept to many–which is kind of crazy when you have a location that’s not even visible from the street.

    So hopefully it’s not actually a harbinger of bad things to come in Troy and instead just another example of bad business sense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: