Hans Fiene explains the real value of America’s family-owned restaurants in The Federalist, writing (abridged):
After the Wuhan coronavirus killed any hope of a standard birthday party a few weeks ago, my wife tried to comfort our soon-to-be 11-year-old son by reminding him that he could pick anything in the world for his birthday dessert — scoops of cookie dough, banana splits, or even one of those massive Coldstone ice cream cakes we’ve always vetoed in the past.
I nearly wept when my son bypassed all these options and asked his mother, “Can I have Marina cake?”
In the quite likely event that you’ve never heard the term before, “Marina cake” is not the name for a confection invented by Canadian bakers on the coast of Halifax. Rather, this particular cake is named after a woman called Marina — co-owner, with her husband Patrick, of Le Petit Café, a small restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana.
More than this, Marina and Patrick taught me what it means to be content. They taught me what it means to be warm and open, what it means to treat people like family even when you don’t have a biological connection.
I have no doubt they could have run incredibly successful restaurants in America’s greatest restaurant districts.
But they loved their humble life in Bloomington. Instead of using their talents to amass fame and fortune, they used them to build a home-away-from-home for their college student employees. After serving their loyal customers on Friday and Saturday nights and closing for the evening, Le Petit’s owners would share dinner with their employees.
Marina and Patrick are near retirement. But I’ve been thinking about them constantly in the days since the coronavirus has shut down so much of our economy, including the kinds of small, family-owned restaurants that were such a meaningful part of my life.