In a preview of new site The Upshot, New York Times writer Neil Irwin argues that most people eat at Sbarro just because it's there, not necessarily because they crave Sbarro. The chain filed for bankruptcy this week for the second time in three years, which Irwin says is ultimately a real-estate concern: a reported 14.6 percent decrease in shopping-mall foot traffic between the 2012 and 2013 holiday seasons, continuing a trend, which is particularly hard on mediocre options lining the food court.
The solution? Well, Irwin argues that if good food thrives in places where overhead is lower, drastic times at the American shopping mall may call for drastic measures. Lower rents for vendors could change the rote nature of the food court into a "new hotbed of innovation."
The idea is certainly tantalizing — imagine the old hot buffet replaced with a kind of mall-ified, wacky tasting-menu experience — but Sbarro has already tried reinvention, recently adding "Brooklyn Fresh" to its name in an attempt to reinvigorate itself with street cred. It doesn't seem to have gone very far at all, and in the meantime, the food court may have metaphorically left the building altogether. Places like Eataly, as well as the recently announced Eataly megaplex, the planned arrays at Brookfield Place, Hudson Yards, and Anthony Bourdain's street-food opus not only prove that innovation has already gone elsewhere, but that the reinvented food court has already supplanted the cultural position once occupied by the shopping mall.
This Is the Real Reason Sbarro Is in Bankruptcy [Economix/New York Times]