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Friday, March 11, 2005 | I have often wondered why there are so many eaters in San Diego as opposed to diners. We are a very large city; we have major colleges and universities that draw well-traveled, knowledgeable people to their ranks; a large portion of the people who live here have a great deal of disposable income. So why is it that there are only a handful of restaurants around the county that encourage people to dine?

All you have to do is look on just about every major street corner – McDonald’s, Jack In the Box, Burger King, Taco Bell – the list goes on. Looking beyond fast food are the chains which seem to multiply overnight: The Cheesecake Factory, The Claim Jumper, Denny’s, Chipotle, Buca di Beppo.

Now take a look around and see if you can remember the last free-standing, single-owner restaurant that opened in San Diego. I’m talking about a restaurant where you go to experience a meal. I write a restaurant column for the James Beard Foundation’s newsletter. Most months I have to really hunt to find something to submit. So, here’s what I think are some of the stumbling blocks in San Diego:

1. Our local planning and building departments make it very hard on small restaurant owners. Getting through the planning process takes months often with many delays. These small business owners don’t have an endless money supply. By the time the restaurant opens, they are out of funds.

Pamela J. Wischkaemper is a local food consultant and is the founder of San Diego Gastronomically Correct, a group that goes on the road twice a year to promote the San Diego restaurant industry. The only criterion for membership is having cooked at the James Beard House in New York. Nineteen chefs in San Diego are members.

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