Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Red Lobster


Sunday was our 10th wedding anniversary, but we saved the celebration for Monday evening and the grand opening of Jonesboro’s new Red Lobster.

Now a Red Lobster isn’t a big deal where we come from. They’re so common that we hardly ever ate at Red Lobster. The last time I ate at a Red Lobster restaurant was Aug. 31, 1999 in St. Joseph, Mo., when I was riding from Indianapolis to Alma, Colo. I had dinner at the Lobster because it happened to be right next door to my motel.

But a Red Lobster is a very big deal here, just like Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse were, and continue to be, very big deals. That’s because, thanks to an accident of geography and the arrangement of the interstate highway network, Jonesboro -  the fifth largest city in Arkansas - isn’t on the way to anywhere. We’re about 50 miles from the nearest interstate highway (I-55). (The closest thing we have to an interstate is U.S. 63 which is four-lane divided freeway from here to I-55. It’s supposed to evolve into I-555 someday. The sticking point is the lack of a frontage road for farm traffic from Payneway to Marked Tree.)

That’s why we don’t get many drop-in visitors. Our traveling friends have to make major deviations in their travel plans to come here.

In spite of the isolation or because of it, Jonesboro continues to thrive and be an odd little pocket of prosperity in the midst of economic chaos. The 2010 Census showed the city’s population has grown 21.2 percent in 10 years, up from 55,515 in 2000 to 67,263. For whatever reason, the city limits signs still have the 2000 Census figure.

The city’s industrial base is remarkably stable, being largely focused on food products, with the recent addition of Nordex wind turbine’s U.S. manufacturing facility.

Consequently, major franchises like Best Buy, Office Depot, Hilton Gardens hotels, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster – just to name some that have opened since we moved here less than four years ago – see Jonesboro as a good place to be.

As far as last night’s dinner at Red Lobster goes, it was a great dining experience. The wait staff, bolstered by trainers from throughout the Red Lobster network, was friendly and efficient and the food was good.

I got there about 5:15 p.m., signed in and got my remote buzzer with an  estimated waiting time of 55-60 minutes. Maria arrived about 5:40 p.m. and we were seated at 6:15. The weather was pleasant and we had fun sitting on a bench outside and watching people while we waited.

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