Red Rose Cafe (Obama as icon)
I’ve been stopping for lunch lately at a place called the Red Rose café. I used to go there for breakfast from time to time, but they’ve changed owners at least twice. Piner Road in Santa Rosa has always been a mixed industrial commercial section which now consists of a series of strip malls punctuated by power tool and tire stores from back when it was mostly auto repair places. One of the clearer signs of the recession is that each strip mall has at least one vacancy or one store that’s in the midst of going out of business. I’ve also noticed that “Grand Openings” seem to last for more than a year these days. Simply put, it’s getting scary.
The Red Rose café’s new specialty is soul food. My county’s always had a relatively small African-American population. Every few years there’s some place like Soul Brother’s kitchen or Oklahoma Barbeque that appears then disappears. The food at the new version of the Red Rose is quite good. Two days a week they have a buffet that includes red beans and rice, fried chicken (really good), greens, etc. that’s probably one of the better deals going at eight fifty all you can eat. The young woman who waits tables there is very friendly and professional. Children are often there playing near the counter, so I assume it’s a family operation.
The most notable thing about the décor is that the restaurant has two life-sized cutouts of President Obama. The front window has a portrait painted on the glass. There are at least two posters on the wall of Obama and Martin Luther King side by side. There’s also a series of portraits of black historical figures that includes Sojourner Truth and Booker T. Washington. It’s not the usual restaurant décor. More than anything, it reminds me of the way families and businesses frequently put up pictures of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King when I was a child. My insurance agent used to have a picture of Ronald Reagan in his office, but it was personally signed. I’ve never seen photos of George W. Bush hung in anyone’s living room or place of business. Of course, this may be a function of the company I keep. I’d also mention that I’ve never seen Bill Clinton photos.
If we had an Asian president, I’d be excited too. I don’t know that I’d put photos up in my office, but it would be a pretty important symbol of inclusion. It was even a pretty big deal to me when Tiger Woods (think about it, they don’t have Tigers in Africa) started winning golf tournaments. I do think it goes beyond ethnic identification though. Fwiw, my guess is that there are easily as many people in my county who are mixed to the extent that they are as much white as they are black (like Obama). I think a lot of it is that they see Obama as someone who cares about the “little folk” (for all I know the owners of the Red Rose are actually millionaires several times over, but I’ll assume they’re not). Back in the sixties that was the point of the JFK and MLK portraits. Obama iconography is clearly a big business these days.
The newish mom and pop businesses I see in these strip malls all feel very fragile right now. I keep telling my wife that I can’t imagine a worse time to have put your life savings into a business like that. For instance, all the non-chain video stores in my county have pretty much disappeared. With supermarkets now open 24-7, convenience markets have disappeared as well. The mom and pop storefront is unquestionably an endangered species. They are what the entrepreneurial spirit, that we talked about so much for the last twenty plus years, looks like, yet I now drive by them shake my head and wonder what’s going to happen to the people inside in nine months.
The mom and pop business and the “Garage”, that place where people once went to tinker and invent, stand for “the dreamer” aspect of the American economy. For years, Thomas Edison was the saint of the garage until his image gave way to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. A generation ago, big businesses used to routinely post pictures of the little hamburger stands or storefronts that had once been their roots. We owe much of what we’ve achieved as a country to these two traditions. As much as John McCain talked about helping these folk out, I never saw a single one of these places that put up a portrait of John McCain (though I don’t personally know Joe the Plumber). Instead, Obama is the one they trust and believe in. My guess is that the success of the Obama administration might be measured in the number these places that open and flourish in the next four years. They may be the best single barometer we have of how much faith regular people have in our economy.
If you’re ever in Santa Rosa and not too diet conscious, I’d also suggest that you check out the Red Rose Café.