It is immensely difficult to find a restaurant in Scottsdale without a website as of late. In fact, there are none to be found. Basic PR 101 of today states that for publicity and establishment, a restaurant should have at least that, and the addition of a Facebook page, Yelp review, and Urban Spoon write-up are icing on the cake. Most patrons find a lack of online visibility inconvenient to the point of frustration when trying to locate a restaurant’s hours or menu. This movement for online accessibility is great for mainstream eateries, but is a double-edged sword for “hole in the wall” cafes, bistros, pubs and diners.
“Hole in the wall”—synonymous with “Mom and Pop shop”—refers to a small, locally owned business frequently with home-style cooking, whether it be local or international cuisine. Often, “hole in the wall” carries the connotation of a 1-room (or 0 room!) locale, run by a family with an intimate connection with the style of food they are serving (immigrant to the US, recipes in the family for generations, etc.). Words most linked with hole in the wall are traditional, cultural, and yes, authentic.
When looking for quality hole in the wall restaurants, customers often find them hidden away in unpopular strip malls, along the side of the road, or through word of mouth; most usually do not advertise. In fact, most frequenters might even take pride in the fact that they have uncovered a hidden treasure of a spot that is off the mainstream map. Says resident hole in the wall connoisseur Shane Gibson, “There is no justice in reading about a hole in the wall place online, it must be either dumb luck or a recommendation from some friend who stumbled in there at 3AM and by some miracle remembered where it was.” But, with the rise of online media coverage, does having a website make a hole in the wall restaurant a less authentic hole in the wall?
“There is no justice in reading about a hole in the wall place online, it must be either dumb luck or a recommendation from some friend who stumbled in there at 3AM and by some miracle remembered where it was.”
Most Mom and Pop shops in the Scottsdale area have gone digital, even such favorites including Osha Thai, Huachinango Mexican Grill, and Chino Banditos (in Phoenix). Chino Bandido’s website proudly states that their first restaurant was “modeled after those hole-in-the-wall places that Frank and Eve [owners] love.” While it’s not clear whether these establishments consider themselves hole in the wall, their reviewers do. Comments like “This is the only place you can find real pad thai, ” or “Finally! Tamales like my grandma makes them!” on user review sites reveal their support for these restaurants with explicit mentions of the hole in the wall term. Thus, some patrons are not discouraged if a hole in the wall has online coverage, and many even promote it. “My opinion on hole in the wall restaurant with website, Facebook pages, and other online coverage is totally positive,” says Tempe food fanatic Ruben Rush. “As a hole in the wall restaurant owner, you must try so hard to market your restaurant by using all the marketing tools you can get your hands on to stay in operation.”
On the other hand, those who have mastered fine art of hole in the wall finding and frequenting mom and popshops may be deterred by such exposure. Adds Gibson, “Given that the hole in the wall must spend a large portion of its money on the food, I would say that they would have little to no presence online, save for perhaps an out-dated website that a family member put together over the course of a weekend in a rush.” Promotional activity online on the part of a restaurant means they have the time, energy, resources, and money for it, almost all of which go against the flourescent lighting and linoleum tiling charm of hole in the walls.
Like up-and-comer indie music acts that are under the radar, hole in-the wall patrons get excited to discover a place with good, cheap food that is not online. Those establishments are now the real best kept secrets. What are your hidden treasures of Scottsdale?