Every few years, it seems, a lot of Lake Havasu City gets a hankering for never-ending breadsticks.

When that happens, the chain pasta restaurant Olive Garden becomes the iconic symbol of goodness, the be-all of not just quality food but of quality economic development.

Social media has made it easier to fan those flames, as happened recently. Why, people wanted to know, aren’t government and civic leaders doing more to bring an Olive Garden to town?

The Olive Garden clamor got some extra amperage by dusting off a conspiracy theory that existing restaurants, especially the Shugrue’s group, are continually working to keep the pasta chain out of the city.

We guess a topic has really come into its own when it gets a conspiracy theory.

The reality is that Olive Garden and other larger chain restaurants and retailers will probably never come to Lake Havasu City, a city that has the water rights to accommodate a maximum population of 96,000. The national chains generally want a population of at least 100,000 or proximity to an interstate highway.

It’s demographics, not Shugrue’s, keeping Olive Garden out.

The Partnership for Economic Development rightfully doesn’t want to be part of a big discussion about Olive Garden. While PED will work to help any business build in the city, restaurants and retail — with some exceptions — are not an economic driver.

Economic growth occurs when businesses sell items or services that bring dollars in. Restaurants and retail largely just grab dollars from existing competing businesses.

PED’s largest focus right now is in projects that allow the nurturing of business and the quality of life items that will help the economy in the future. We certainly think active recruiting and marketing for right now should play a bigger role, but only if it attracts business that sells to the outside markets.

It makes little sense to use limited taxpayer-funded budgets to recruit and overly assist businesses that don’t produce an economic bang. Moreover, doing so creates a financial disadvantage for existing businesses in the same sector.

Meanwhile, Lake Havasu restaurants could probably do a much better job of telling their own stories, of how each is different, of how each presents a homegrown flavor distinct and appealing and truly Lake Havasu City.

There’s no real foodie culture in the city, but it is latent and evolving. Getting the word out on why local restaurants are better than bland chains would help their own cause and, possibly, create a broader appeal beyond city borders.

Or, at the least, they could point out to to residents that they can fill up on bread at local eateries instead of waiting for Olive Garden.

— Today’s News-Herald


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