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Driving home from a round of golf on Monday, two friends and I were absolutely starving and searching for somewhere to eat along the way. Seeing that it was a nearly two-hour drive home, we figured this would be an easy process.

Time for a hungerbuster, fries and a blizzard.

Two-hour drives in Texas yield at least 3-4 McDonald’s, two “Texas Stop Signs” (that’s Dairy Queen, of course), a few Starbucks and a handful of Whataburgers.

But on our way home, we counted just TWO roadside eateries open for business. And the one we stopped in told us they wouldn’t serve hot food until 5pm, so we were forced to buy some readymade pizzas (and they weren’t quite Dr. Oetker material, in case any of you fellow expats were wondering).

It got me thinking: Belgium really hasn’t bought into the chain mentality. As much as I miss the convenience of pulling off the road, grabbing a half-pound burger and a quarter-gallon of coke — all in less than 10 minutes — I’m a bit thankful Belgium has resisted chain restaurants. Because of a lack of chains (especially of the fast food variety), it’s not only easy to avoid calorie binges, but the “mom and pop stores” have managed to survive.

When I take a walk out of our apartment and take a left, within a 30-second walk is a little corner store owned by a Polish couple, specializing in Polish goods. Next to it is a mini-grocery owned by a man who lives in the apartment above his store. To my knowledge, he’s the store’s only employee. He works there six days a week and offers a friendly smile every time I butcher his native language.

A few minutes farther down the road is mine and Jenna’s go-to to-go restaurant, an Indian place where the wife is the hostess, server, busboy and cashier, while her husband fills the roles of sous chef, head chef and dishwasher. The restaurant cozily seats just 24 people, but we usually just get takeout.

If, instead, I take a right outside our front door, there are two secondhand stores selling this and that; three more corner stores that sell fresh fruit and veggies; a take-out Chinese place owned by a former karate champion; a small family-owned butcher; a one-man barbershop operated by the same guy for the past 17 years (more on him another time); and a couple small pubs.

All these independently-owned stores are within a two-minute walk from our apartment — and our neighborhood is by no means unique. All around Brussels are similar scenes; restaurants, newspaper stands, antique stores and convenient shops, almost 100 percent of them owned by a family, most of which live in the same building as their business.

I don’t hate or avoid chains by any means, but they usually lack the personality and character of stores that often have been owned by a single family for generations. Now if only a few of these “mom and pops” stores would open up along the highway for hungry drivers.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Wifey
    May 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    It would also be nice if they stayed open past 7pm during the week and were open on Sundays. 🙂 But then they wouldn’t be family-owned. Personally, I’m looking forward to Starbucks and Chipotle (now Swankys!) on my 4 minute commute to and from the office. Sorry, love.

  2. Sterling
    May 3, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Don’t worry, y’all soon have 10 Popeye’s and 7 Church’s within a 5 mile radius in Memphis.

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