War Is Hell, But Dining Shouldn't Be

Despite a few incidents, most Tucson restaurant operators say war hasn't affected them.

Food and politics: they go together like bread and butter. In the 1970s, Californians boycotted Gallo wine, grapes and iceberg lettuce until the treatment of farm workers improved. Again in the '70s, outspoken Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade left a glut of OJ at the grocery store. Tuna boycotts in the late 1980s challenged the method of intentionally chasing and netting dolphins until the three largest tuna companies adopted safer fishing practices. And vegetarians make ongoing political statements by not eating meat.

With Tucson's economy partially supported by bomb-building Raytheon and the brave men and women in uniform from Davis Monthan Air Force Base contrasting with candle-carrying peace vigil participants, Tucson marches to its own drum. After Sept. 11, mutual sympathies met at Ground Zero and almost everyone's patriotism was at full mast. But today with war raging and sentiments divided fewer flags wave.

So. is your sense of nationalism boycotting what's on the menu? Do your politics or lack of, define dinner? Here's what some local restaurants have to say about the impact of war on dining:

· Tina Fregoso, manager of the French Loaf Bakery & Cafe at the Williams Centre, said that a few customers told her she must change the name because the word "French" was no longer politically correct. However, French baguettes are still selling faster than hotcakes.

· Le Bistro, on Campbell Avenue, said their regular customers are as a gracious as ever and the only complaints they receive are about street construction.

· Nicole and Maurice Cochard, owners of the almost 2-year old Le-delice, haven't felt a decline but have experienced more than a dozen insults. Nicole, who has been a U.S. citizen since 1975, speaks fluent French and English. She said that customer overheard her speaking French on the telephone and spewed, "I don't want anything to do with you," before stomping out.

She said that most of her products are from America and even the pate is made from American ingredients. Some customers won't drink French wines any more, but American wines have always been on the menu.

"We are individuals," Nicole said. "We are not the ones dealing with the president and creating opposition. We just own a restaurant and want to nourish our customers."

· Francois Dessalles, manager of Le Rendez Vous, said that business is up slightly since last year during the same time period from January to March. His loyal clientele are mostly regulars. He did receive a few calls--once a customer cancelled a reservation because she no longer wanted to support the French, and another phone caller stated they were boycotting the restaurant.

Graffiti also recently appeared on the building, but Dessalles said he doesn't think it's French-related, since he sees the same graffiti appearing around the neighborhood.

· Coralie Satta-Williams, owner of Ghini's French Caffe, saw some decline based on the Sept. 11 economy, although a recent room expansion perked up the lunch bunch. She said one customer demanded French toast be renamed "freedom toast," and a few more uttered caustic comments. However, for her regular patrons, it's business as usual.

· Tom Smith, manager of Rumrunner Wine & Cheese Co., says that he hasn't noticed any decline in French wines or French cheese. As a matter of fact, he thought my question was a little silly.

· Formerly from Jordan, Jeff Wer, owner of the 10-year-old Shish Kebab House, says that he has not experienced any discrimination because of the war. During the Gulf War and Sept. 11, he said, he did see a decline in sales. But he thanks his loyal stream of regulars who are almost like a family.

"Since the talk of war and an overall drooping economy, people are eating out less," he said. "When they worry, appetites diminish and a loss of spirit affects the appetite."

· Aladdin's owner, Arwa Farhad, said she has seen no decline. Farhad concurs that a sluggish economy has had more effect on the restaurant business than war.

· Kelley Matthews, owner of Soleil, a restaurant with a French name serving contemporary California-Euro cuisine, said that she hasn't noticed any decline. Since a large percentage of her diners are tourists, she's waiting to see if tourism will still flourish and whether the higher security alert rankings deflate domestic travel.

"March Madness or a televised UA basketball game can influence restaurant attendance more than war," she said.

· And finally, on a national level, IHOP is currently airing a television commercial with a bunch of college kids crammed into a car headed to IHOP for stuffed French toast. Obviously, IHOP didn't jump on the insiduous freedom bandwagon.

The term French toast is an American invention. France calls it "pain perdu," translated to lost bread, an appropriate label because stale bread is the main ingredient.

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