The scariest words I heard yesterday?
“Welcome to the New Blogger. We have completely redesigned the ‘Dashboard’.”
My immediate response:
“Who asked you to?”
I can’t tell you what a shiver that announcement sent racing through my body. Suddenly, there’s an entirely new system I have to learn.
What if I can’t learn it?
(I wish there were a function on my keyboard, like, Control – Panic!, where the lettering turns scrawly and jaggedy to underscore my anxiety. But there isn’t. So you will just have to imagine how nervous this announced change made me. And then double it.)
Change can go three ways – it can make things different but ultimately the same, it can make things worse, or it can make things better. That’s why there’s so much resistance to change – the odds are two-to-one against making things better. So why bother?
It was in this unbalanced condition that I arrived (with Dr. M) to have dinner at Nicholl’s, a diner that itself had recently undergone a significant “redesign.”
We originally got the recommendation for Nicholl’s from my stepdaughter Rachel’s grandmother, an annual escapee from the Chicago winters, who at the time was in her mid-eighties. I don’t know why we listened to her – people that age do not have the most active taste buds – but we did.
And we were pleasantly surprised by what we found.
What we discovered was a typical Eastern or Midwestern diner, run by a Greek family. I know this, because I once ran into our clock repair guy there who is Greek, and he told us that the proprietor of Nicholl’s was his cousin. Besides, it looked like every Greek-owned diner we had ever eaten at in Chicago.
I suspect that there are diners like this in every city. I recall the Elm Grill in Toronto, an unpretentious ground floor eatery, where my friend Ira and I would occasionally lunch on school days, after he got his allergy shots in the office building upstairs. The décor and menu were virtually identical with Nicholl’s.
There was a comfortable lived-in feeling to Nicholl’s, the smoke-stained paint job, the chipped tables, the seats, greeting your butt with barely encased springs. There was a polished wood counter facing the kitchen, and the serving people wore black.
Back then, Nicholl’s, anywhere near mealtime, was always packed, the wait, ranging from twenty minutes to longer. The “Waiting Bench” by the cash register was always filled, by seniors, some invariably needing ambulatory assistance, and small children. It was a little precarious. If you didn’t trip over a kid, you caught your foot on a “walker.”
But the wait was worth it. Because of the cuisine.
The original menu was substantial, brimming with traditional “diner food” – hearty soups made from “scratch”, chicken pot pie, BLT’s (I don’t eat “B”, and I don’t care for “T”, but others seem to scarf them down with great enthusiasm), and “grilled cheese on white.”
They closed Nicholl’s for remodeling. When they re-opened, it was different.
The first thing you noticed was the name change. No longer Nicholl’s, it was renamed the JN Kitchen.
Are we hearing “warning signals” before we walk in?
What happened, it would appear, was that a generational coup had taken place. An offspring whose name started with a “J” – Jimmy, Johnny, Joey – Nicholls had apparently bumped, perhaps a Dad, from his dominant position, insisting that “the place needs sprucing up”, and claiming that attracting “the younger crowd” – rather than a clientele verging on senility – would require a younger person at the helm.
This is, of course, all conjecture, as I am not privy to Nicholl’s backroom machinations, but the results provide evidence that a changeover of this nature had indeed taken place.
Acquiescently or otherwise.
Gone is the cosy comfortableness of yesteryear, replaced by well-cushioned seats, a wood-planked ceiling and decorative stainless steel. The menu, offering considerably fewer choices, now includes "designer" pizzas, arugula and fried goat cheese salad, and “brick chicken.” Apparently, they put a brick on the chicken while it’s cooking. This addition made no difference to me, and, I’m sure, brought little joy to the chicken.
“It’s not enough you’re grilling me. You have to put a brick on me as well?”
Okay, fine. Youth will be served. Nothing lasts forever. Times change; you have to change with them. It’s natural. It’s understandable. That’s business. You change, or you die.
JN Kitchen is now less than half full.
Yes, the customers are noticeably younger. But the original patrons have virtually disappeared. (I know it was an older crowd, but could they really all have died at the same time?) The gamble, at least so far, has not panned out. The “Old Reliables” have fled. And the “Young Reliables” have proven unreliable.
You might say, “It’s better. No wait – no ‘walkers’.” And, truth be told, the “brick chicken” is not half bad. (If you can overlook the chicken’s crushed spine.) But the “comfort food” is gone. As are the “comfort surroundings.” The counter has vanished, and the waitpersons don’t wear black anymore. They wear matching checkered shirts and a tie.
Inexplicably, the piped in Tony Bennett music has survived.
From a business standpoint, the JN Kitchen “makeover” is a spectacular failure. Now, hoping that this change is at least “break even”, I shall address myself, with trepidation, to the revamped Blogger “Dashboard.”