… doesn’t exist, does it? Well, it exists, but how can you get to it?
I was thinking about that today while Nancy and I had a fantastic lunch at a Japanese noodle place called Ganbaranba in Cairns. We’ve run across four classes of Asian restaurants in Australia, and you can divide them up by eating utensils:
- Places that give you a knife & fork, and you can’t even get chopsticks if you ask for them
- Places that put out both forks & chopsticks on the table, and let you choose
- Places that give you chopsticks, but you can get a fork if you ask nicely
- Places that give you chopsticks, and you can’t even get a fork if you ask for one
In my experience, the quality of the food goes up as you go down that list. And while I haven’t found any restaurants with edible food in the first category, there are at least a couple of good ones in the second. Ganbaranba is in category four though. And the food was stupendous – if you’re ever anywhere near Cairns, you must try it out. It’s a bit funny to find a place like that in a place like Cairns (population 135,000) though – you can see from the picture that it’s not that big!
When we moved to Palmerston North in New Zealand, there was a great record store there called Pretty on the Inside. The guy that ran it was named Paul, and his philosophy was that you could buy top 40 cds in petrol stations, so there was no point in him carrying them as well. So he had nothing but indie-label stuff, which was absolutely fantastic. But a bit of a tough go in Palmerston North (population 70,000). I had seen similar stores fail in Seattle, with five times the population and a much more vibrant musical scene, so when Paul was moving to Melbourne and closing down the store, I told him it was incredible that he was able to keep the thing going as long as he did.
When he got to Melbourne, he opened another music store, this time an online one. And this time, he decided to specialise in his true love – Japanese noise rock. So he went from serving one pretty small niche, to serving an even smaller niche. This is the classic long tail story that Chris Anderson talks about, and it is something that has really been facilitated by the web.
As someone whose tastes always tend to be out in the long tail, I think this is great. But it still leads to problems when trying to find a place to eat. Any time we get outside of Brisbane, we get category 1 & 2 Asian restaurants. So I was pretty well gobsmacked to find a place as good as Ganbaranba this weekend. I think it works up there because Cairns is basically a tourist town, and a LOT of the tourists there originate from Asia. Consequently, there is a disproportionately high Asian population there as people have moved there to serve these tourists, plus there is the transient population. Plus the small number of people like me that search out place like that. If the restaurant had to depend on just people like me, it would be sunk. As it is, there are sufficient numbers to keep it going.
I’m not quite sure what overall point to draw from all of this. One key idea is that ideas like the long tail, crowdsourcing, and so on all have pretty strong intuitive appeals. But it’s also important to delineate boundaries. What are the situations in which ideas like this don’t apply? We can crowdsource restaurant reviews, but that still won’t provide enough customers to keep a place like Ganbaranba going in most Australian towns with populations less than 500,000 or so. Boundaries are important, and they’re another thing to which we don’t always pay enough attention.
EDIT: My friend Rick brings up this example:
Here’s your long tail in action: See Kogi BBQ in LA. They cook a rapidly changing secret menu, cooked in trucks that park in secret places. You have to twitter to find them, and to order their best specials. They are getting huge lines of devoted followers. Google: “AP Kogi” for more.
Which is a great example of a long tail restaurant. The thing that I was trying to get at is that these can only exist in places where the long tail is physically present – so you need lots of people. And there are a few things (mostly services) that are still like that – you can’t get too niche unless you’re in some place like LA or London…