By Divya Balakumar
I am fighting a war (not literally) and I’m fighting it alone.
Last Friday night, on what was indeed a magical ‘date night’ with my fiancé, I began this solo war. The night started with dinner at Pizza e Mozzarella Bar, a little Italian eatery serving wood oven pizzas—it was delightful. Under no circumstances would I, Divya Balakumar, usually ever consume an entire pizza and feel utterly guiltless thereafter.
But oh, that night, guiltlessly did I devour that entire pizza.
We decided to finish date night with a slow stroll through the city into North Adelaide when I saw (as far as my poor little eyes could see) a crowd huddled outside a building on King William Street.
‘What’s that?’ I asked Marcus, who didn’t have a clue but was equipped with better eyesight than me.
I squinted to read the signage but it was just an incandescent rectangle of white with squiggly black lines.
Relentless, I paced up and was sure by this point I was at my target heart rate.
Lo and behold, it was ‘Jamie’s Italian’.
Before I proceed, let me clarify something, and let me say it loudly and proudly: I don’t hate Jamie Oliver. In fact, I don’t even dislike him—not even a tiny bit. I opposite-of-despise him.
I have loved watching his TV shows. I have enjoyed watching him grab spaghetti with his big, manly hands and toss them around in a bowl, addressing the camerawoman as ‘babe’ (and convincing myself he was talking to me). I never tire of how impressed he seems by his own ability to throw things together in 15 minutes and still make it look tempting and pretty.
Granted, I may have never attempted any of his recipes, but the thing about Jamie is that he is great to watch. He makes a beautiful mess in the kitchen, and that is totally okay.
But what isn’t okay—and this is where I get irrationally feisty—is a big, franchise restaurant infiltrating the beautiful streets of innocent little Adelaide (and the bellies of our self-proclaimed foodies).
As soon as I looked into the packed restaurant (no doubt it was a VIP night of some sort), I was filled with a strange emotion, akin to betrayal—dramatic, I know.
The visuals of these laughing, aristocrat-types interspersed with the flashy décor and busy service made me cringe. I imagined the throngs of people who would be waiting with bated breath for their turn to eat here, and it hurt me.
At this juncture, you should know that I try, I really do try my very best to support solely small businesses (or at least smaller businesses). I buy only local South Australian milk, I violently oppose shopping at that big supermarket with annoying jingles (you know the one!), and I defiantly buy my fruit and veg from a dedicated fruit and veg store; I really do try.
Naturally, I started imagining the worst for little, non-franchise restaurants around Adelaide. I thought back to all the cute establishments I had been to and supported, and I worried just a little bit for their futures. I worried that these classy spaces would resort to spruikers (Lord knows how much I loathe them), no thanks to the monopoly created by franchises. Look, I know one big bad wolf can’t possibly do that much damage, but it’s like a disease, isn’t it?
You start with one, and then we grow greedy for more, and they feed into our need and — oh calamity, next thing you know, small businesses become obsolete. (Please indulge my need for dramatics.)
I fed my frustrations that night, giving in to dessert—from a small, non-franchise business on O’Connell Street that has the best hot chocolate in Adelaide, possibly the universe—and pondered my sudden quest (and slightly absurd rage).
And then it dawned on me: if there is one thing I have learned about Australia and you ‘fair dinkum’ Aussies, it’s that you love your small businesses. You love going to your local baker, your neighbourhood deli, the hairdresser around the corner; you love it all.
I know I can rest well at night knowing that I am not alone in this war on the big corporations.