Mention development and readers’ inevitably comment that one thing Crestview needs more of is more places to eat. Does it really? Are choices really that limited in the county’s biggest city?

CRESTVIEW — When the City Council green-lighted four development projects in February, including two new eateries, City Councilman Doug Faircloth welcomed the new businesses, “especially Jimmy John’s and David's Catfish House.”

“I agree,” then-Councilman Joe Blocker, now council president, said. “Anytime we can get more places to eat is alright with me.”

And it’s alright with residents, many of whom consistently lament a perceived shortage of dining establishments in the county seat.

The announcement unleashed an inevitable flurry of Facebook comments as readers itemized a litany of chain restaurants and stores they want “the city” to bring them:

While stores like Costco and Target top their wish lists, restaurant chains include Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Chuck-E-Cheese’s for the kids are also in demand.

Does Crestview really have such a dearth of places to eat? The numbers say no.

COUNT THE CHOICES

A check of YellowPages.com for “Crestview restaurants” brought up 108 listings. Eliminating places that have closed, are duplicate listings, or are out of town narrowed the list to 65 current eateries within the Hub City, not counting several others that are not Yellow Pages customers.

Of them, 37 are national or regional chain establishments, and of those, 12 can be considered “fast food,” which commentators on the News Bulletin’s website and Facebook pages tend to feel the city has a sufficient number of.

“We need less fast food and more shops,” Grenda Wright Bush wrote.

“There's enough fast food joints already in this town!” Paul Thompson commented. “If we have to have more eateries, how about healthier ones like Zoe's Kitchen.”

CHAINS VS. LOCALS

Matthew Bryant, who settled in Crestview in the early 2000s, says he and his wife’s dilemma is not deciding to go out to eat, but where to go.

“We were immediately impressed with the number of places to eat when we got here,” Bryant said. “Not many towns this size have so many choices, especially locally-grown places.”

It’s those “mom-and-pop” establishments that provide the local flavors and atmosphere many people seek. Plus they like supporting the local economy.

That’s not to say corporate chains are bad.

“I used to like to eat at chain restaurants,” Mike Carroll, owner of Hub City Smokehouse and Grill, said. “At one point in time, somebody had to build the first Olive Garden.”

But, Carroll said, locally owned establishments have more flexibility to effect immediate changes when needed, among other advantages.

“We had a problem with our pancakes being too fluffy. I fixed that immediately, rather than having to go to corporate. We can make immediate changes as opposed to a chain.”

“Big corporate chains, you don’t get that personal touch that you get with local people,” Wayne Scott, owner of Wayne’s Catfish House, said. “We have a lot of customers we do special food for that you don’t get with corporate chains.”

He should know. For years he was manager of Ryan’s Steak House, where “seasoning our food wasn’t an option because they wanted the food to taste the same across the country,” Scott said.

“I can see some company chef in Chicago saying, ‘tomato gravy? What the hell is that?’” Carroll said. “Plus, the mom-and-pops are a little bit more personable.”

TRICKLE DOWN

Many local restaurants rely on local suppliers for their food, Main Street Crestview Association Director Brenda Smith said. Supporting their restaurants has a trickle-down effect across the economy.

“It’s like helping your neighbor,” she said. “You keep everybody in business. By purchasing local you’re helping the local farmer, and you’re getting the benefits of seasonal foods, and they’re fresher because they don’t have to be shipped.”

While the Bryants generally prefer the local restaurants—“The Wild Olive is the bomb,” Bryant said. “It’s the first place we take out-of-town visitors”—they do have favorite chain eateries where they know the food and menu will be consistent from city to city.

“If we’re traveling and I see a Houston’s, I’m there,” Bryant said. “But when we’re home, we like choosing a local place because we know it’s food we won’t find anyplace else.”