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Closed restaurants are no longer a mystery

Barbara Fredricksen
Published September 27, 2003

I'm really not into conspiracy theories, but after 15 years of living in west Pasco, this is one conspiracy I'm ready to buy.

I call it "The Plot of the Determined Naysayers."

The scam goes something like this: An experienced cook opens a small diner near me using tried and true recipes that bring appreciative oohs and ahhs from family and friends. I go try the food. Sure enough, it's marvelous.

A month later, I go back to the restaurant, and the food is awful.

It's obvious what's happened. Sometime between my visit and review, The Determined Naysayers have shown up, complained about everything and convinced the owner to take all the spices, flavorings and taste out of the food. The owner does, the rest of the world hates it, and the restaurant fails. Once again, these taste-challenged villains have prevailed.

A few months ago, I actually heard it happening at a new TexMex place - a branch of a small place up the road that was and remains terrific - where several loud people were grousing that a salsa, which tasted more like a mild gazpacho than a zingy salsa, was too hot. And, sure enough, the next time I went, the salsa was as bland as tomatoes out of a can. And the restaurant is now gone.

The same thing happened at two other first-time branches, one an Italian place, the other a seafood restaurant. One establishment subsequently closed its Pasco branch, opened farther south, and is enjoying huge success. The other closed up shop.

One reason places like Outback Steakhouse, Pit Boss Bar-be-cue, Applebee's and Carrabba's are so successful is that they have standards, and they stick with them. When the Determined Naysayers show up, the manager courteously smiles and keeps on doing the thing that made his place popular at the start.

I'm happy to say that we have some equally Determined small proprietors in west Pasco who also hold firm: Juan's Black Bean Deli, Cafe Grand, Banchiang Thai, to name a few.

I'm sad to say that some good places have left or shut down after promising starts, and I strongly suspect it's because they adjusted their food downward to please, yes, the Determined Naysayers and their dead palates.

Move over, Oliver Stone.

* * *

Richey Suncoast Theatre got something of surprise a few weeks ago, when board president Charlie Skelton learned that the next show on its schedule, the comedy Harvey, has had its performance rights pulled because of an upcoming revival of the show on Broadway.

This sent the theater scrambling for a replacement.

"We chose The Cemetery Club, because it's at least on par, comedy-wise, with Harvey," Skelton said. Despite the gloomy sound of its name, it's really quite funny.

It's about a group of widows who meet once a month for tea before they go visit their husbands' graves. One day, they meet a man who is visiting the grave of his wife, and romance starts to bloom between him and one of the widows. How this sits with the other widows is the crux of the play, and it can be heart-warming and touching.

Stage West Community Playhouse did the show six years ago, with mixed results. It's a play that depends on strong performances and a wise directorial hand. Directing rookie Fiona Donohue is facing a big challenge, but she has a fine cast to help her out: award-winning veterans Leanne Germann (Victor/Victoria; Once Upon a Mattress), Anne Lakey (Call Me Madam), Toni Saperstein (Beau Jest, and Richey Suncoast newcomers Anna Murray, social director of Heritage Springs, and Mike Jones, a veteran of productions at Timber Greens.

Skelton said those who bought tickets for Harvey and don't want to see The Cemetery Club can exchange their seats for another show. Play dates are Oct. 23-Nov. 9.

* * *

The Show Palace Dinner Theatre has signed customer favorite Matt McGee to a full-time contract. McGee has charmed audiences in La Cage aux Folles, My Fair Lady, Love, Sex and the I.R.S. and gives what are, arguably, the absolute best curtain speeches of anyone around. In his new job, he'll be in Show Palace productions, do press releases, serve as assistant stage manager and create special shows at the Palace Grand, like the Thanksgiving show he's doing with singer Sara DelBeato, and, of course, pre-show welcomes.

Tom Hansen, by the way, has been named stage manager, adding to his already long slate of Show Palace duties designing, building and painting sets and doing light designs.

On the "loss" side, actor/costumer Eric Michelsen is taking a Show Palace sabbatical to appear in the national tour of Oklahoma! He'll play Ike Skidmore, a burly cowboy. Michelsen was last seen as the menacing Bill Sykes in Oliver!, but his costumes are seen in every show.

Michelsen recently returned from a trip to New York City, where he told colleagues he got a little thrill seeing the name of Show Palace alumna Kissy Simmons (Narrator in Joseph/Dreamcoat; Red Hot Ragtime) in big lights on Broadway, where she's playing Nala in The Lion King, a role she did in the Broadway tour that came to Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

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