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Today's word on journalism

March 17, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1863-2009

"Can Seattle's oldest newspaper be successfully transformed into a child of the information age? The Northwest is a land of big dreams. With the demise of the Soviet Union, one quipster noted that Puget Sound is now home to three empires still bent on global dominion: Microsoft, Amazon.com and Starbuck's. If the stars align properly and with a quality product, Seattle will show the way to a new model for journalism of the written word."

--Joel Connelly, columnist, in today's final print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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Cache Valley restaurants struggle to stay open in hard times

By Seth Bracken

February 19, 2009 | LOGAN -- Empty chairs, wide open spaces, no hustle, no bustle; a restaurant owners' worst nightmare. But it's been this way for local restaurants for months now, and bills are piling up.

Joaquin Huerta owns and operates Mi Ranchito de Logan, on the south end of town, just entering Providence. He says that they are holding on, for now.

"The business just left," says Huerta. "There's no money and I am about three months behind on my payments for the building. I don't know what's going to happen."

The restaurant boasts authentic Mexican food, and by the looks of it, they have the expertise to make it. The menu is in Spanish and there are about 20 or so pictures on the wall to help those that don't speak Spanish to know what they are ordering.

The restaurant opened in May 2008, said Huerta. He is a native of Mexico and has been here for just a couple of years. The average meal costs about $8, he said.

"When we opened, we didn't have enough space. There were so many people that came to eat," said Huerta.

Because of an impressive start, Huerta said he took an aggressive marketing approach and tried to expand his building and reach out to a broader clientele. There are loans, assistance and training through governmental organizations, he said. For more information see Small Business Administration.

"But it all changed starting in November," he said.

He has had to lay off his entire staff and now runs the restaurant as a strictly family operation. Huerta, his wife and his two daughters are the only workers now.

"There's no work, so we don't really need workers," said Huerta.

The economy isn't just affecting the newly started restaurants, or the restaurants that cater to a family audience. Callaway's, in Smithfield, has been serving Cache Valley for years, and is just now hitting record lows.

There was a sharp drop in sales several months ago, said Michelle Howell, manager.

"Nine months ago, we were desperate for help," said Howell. "But sales have been lousy since about November."

They are trying to combat the struggling business but it's difficult because the cost of food is also on the rise, said Howell. However, in order to cut back on costs, they stopped all delivery services, started a daily special for $7.95, and cut back the hours of all the workers, she said.

"There are less hours for everyone," said Howell. "Like tonight, we have had two customers and sold less than $100."

In order to stay afloat, the restaurant needs to pull in about $2,000 worth of sales on the weekend and less than half of that on a week night, said Howell.

"We're not in ultra-panic yet," she said. "But this is the worst I have seen it in my seven years here. It just gives me a pit in my stomach."

Callaway's owners are in Park City trying to open a new location and hope to earn enough money to pull the store in Smithfield out of the hole, said Howell.

"We're fighting to keep the doors open," she said.

Callaway's is an upper-end restaurant that has dinner prices of around $15. They serve pizza, pasta and steaks. It is elegantly designed with wood paneled walls, and many private booths. To see pictures of the restaurant or view the menu, click here.

Local restaurants that are faster and less expensive are being affected also. The Royal Express is snuggled in between a hair-care store and a karate dojo. It would almost be easy to miss if it weren't for the fragrance of egg rolls, General Tsao's Chicken, and all of the other delectable dishes that wavers through the air in the strip mall's parking lot.

Tony Wang, the son of the owner, tries to stay positive about business and is looking forward to when sales pick up a bit.

"It's not getting any worse," said Wang. "We've kind of flat-lined in our sales, but they are definitely down."

People are buying less, there are fewer customers and they use more coupons, said Wang. But instead of trying to cut back, they are attempting to increase the quality of the food to attract more customers and to set themselves apart from their competition, said Wang.

They are also a family business and had to let all of the workers go except one to stay in business, said Wang.

"Last year we sold about 30 or 40 percent more than we do now," said Wang. "Now we're just trying to keep our necks above water."

To see more on how the economy is effecting businesses nationwide, and for economic forecasts go to the freakonomics blog, hosted by The New York Times.

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