With Chains Like Ikea and White Castle on the Way, Are We a Real City at Last?

Not until we get a Waffle House


Before we start, let’s fire up The Jeffersons theme song, because we’re movin’ on up (movin’ on up!). See, we might have rapid growth, Michelin-starred restaurants and a world-class performing arts center, but we were never really close to being a capital-C City until recently. In the span of a couple of weeks this summer, it was announced we’d get an Ikea in the southwest and a White Castle at Casino Royale. (Not together … even if you could build a sturdy bookcase out of White Castle sliders.) All the other City stuff, like population density and a strip-mall-per-person ratio below 1-to-1, doesn’t even matter anymore.

Actually, it’s been a good run these last few years for products and businesses popular in the rest of the country finally dialing up directions to the desert. We’ve already got the likes of Steak ’n Shake and Dunkin’ Donuts. (Which made a thousand blue-collar East Coast hearts melt at once with the sublime joy that comes from knowing there’s a place to get coffee other than a shop too busy selling Jakob Dylan CDs to notice its brew tastes like the runoff from a dumpster fire.)

How will we know when we’ve truly arrived as a metropolis, though? When we, in the spirit of both civic pride and Pokémon, collect ’em all:

Chick-fil-A: The favorite restaurant of chicken enthusiasts, Mike Huckabee and—just gonna guess here—most of the members of Skillet is an obvious place to start. But if this Southern staple known as much for its right-wing views as its addictive poultry had trouble coming to terms with Chicago in the wake of their gay marriage controversy, we can’t imagine they’re going to leap at the chance to open on Industrial between two strip clubs, a sex-toy shop and what appears to be a used-condom recycling facility. Good thing St. George is a short drive away.

Crate & Barrel: Being the hipper version of Pottery Barn is like being the funniest guy in the Blue Valentine cast. But people who look down at Target and up at Gwyneth Paltrow’s magazine GOOP need someplace to shop, too. They just have to go to Southern California to do it right now.

Friendly’s: This Northeast favorite is a glorified diner, sure. But it’s a glorified diner that produces its own line of ice cream and offers up Reese’s sundaes that are big enough for roughly two average 6-year-olds to climb inside and eat their way out. You just have to travel to about Dayton, Ohio, to get one. (Friendly’s also offers something called a Fribble. Go ahead, just say it out loud. “Fribble.” You’re booking tickets to Dayton right now, aren’t you?)

Eataly: On a more upscale tip, Mario Batali’s Eataly—it’s like an Amazon warehouse for obscure packaged and fresh Italian food—has been rumored to come here for a few years. Rumors Batali himself started by musing about bringing this glorious temple of pasta to the Venetian. Right now the only U.S. locations are in midtown Manhattan and Chicago, but expansion plans are under way for Washington, D.C., Philly, L.A., São Paulo, Moscow and London. Moscow? Isn’t Russia way too busy invading former states to appreciate the sublime beauty of an olive-oil aisle bigger than your average Walgreens?

Waffle House: If Eataly had a meth-addled cousin that it pretends not to know when they see each other at the bar, it’s Waffle House. The breakfast might be subpar compared with a million other places around town, but putting one of these bad boys next to Dino’s would be the cheapest entertainment the rest of us ever got. Corporate is making a huge mistake coming only as close as Phoenix.

Howard Johnson’s (Mad Men 1966 version): Time and the inevitable march of culture may have reduced the once-mighty HoJo’s empire to a mere three restaurants, but if they could time-travel a mid-mod orange roof titan to center Strip and drop Jessica Paré in a booth, we promise to load up on orange sherbet seven days a week. HoJo’s isn’t a destination; it’s on the way to someplace. Someplace like where corporate chef Jacques Pépin once noted they served up “the best Manhattan cocktail in town—it came with a full pitcher for refills alongside the initial filled glass.” If that didn’t make you weep for being born in the wrong decade, you need to go see if you can find where you left your soul. At least you can still make a pilgrimage to Lake George, New York, where one of the remaining HoJo’s celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Mega Lo Mart: Hardware, sundries and Chuck Mangione as spokesman? When are they going to expand out of Arlen, Texas?

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