Restaurant owner serves up reasons for failure

By Calvin Palmer

It had been some time since my wife and I dined at the West Inn Cantina in the Avondale district of Jacksonville, Florida.

West Inn is on my list of “approved” restaurants because of its covered smoking section and, besides, it serves an excellent chicken tortilla soup — or rather it did.

We discovered on Saturday night that the restaurant has closed.

I was intrigued as to the reason and, for once, The Florida Times-Union provided the answer in a story it ran on December 17, 2009.

Co-owner Linda Spofford told the newspaper the restaurant was closing because of the downturn in the economy and a roadwork project that lasted seven months. The bar and liquor store will remain open.

“We’re not planning on closing down,” Linda said. “We’re staying here. We’re keeping all our restaurant equipment, too, so if things get better we have the option of reopening that.”

It turns out 20 employees were laid off just two weeks before Christmas.

“It’s been very devastating,” Linda said. “But with the economy and all that road construction — our road was closed for seven months — that just killed us.”

Those sound plausible reasons for closing the restaurant operation but something about them does not quite ring true.

Four other restaurants in close vicinity to the West Inn Cantina have been subjected to the same economic conditions and roadwork project. They are still going strong.

I will wager that a visit from Gordon Ramsay would have revealed the real reasons why the restaurant section of the West Inn Cantina has closed its doors and those home truths, and the manner of their delivery, would not have been particularly palatable for Linda Spofford.

For starters, based on my own experiences, the wait staff had little enthusiasm for either customers or the food on the menu. Welcoming smile, forget it. I gained the distinct impression that, simply by turning up at the door, I represented an imposition on their time.

In fact, the reason why it had been such a long time since our last visit to the West Inn Cantina was down to the uninterested wait staff. They couldn’t have cared less about us as a customers and it showed.

I am no culinary expert but imagine that Gordon Ramsay would have also found the menu to be somewhat lacking, apart from the chicken tortilla soup.

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares airs regularly on BBC America and shows that many restaurateurs seem to be obvilious to their own faults and inhabit a fantasy land as far as their business is concerned.

It would appear that Linda Spofford shares this unfortunate and unbecoming trait.

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