Russ Rosler and I went to the North Market for lunch yesterday, and as we eating our excellent cassoulet we suddenly realized that everyone eating at the tables around us was big — with bulging biceps and tight shirts and thick necks. It was as if the normal schlubs eating at the North Market had been replaced with a bunch of weightlifters. We both quickly realized that “the Arnold” must be back in town, and indeed it is. Of course, the real name of the event is the The Arnold Sports Festival, and as usual it offers an enormous number of events, including bodybuilding competitions, “strong man” contests, powerlifting, mixed martial arts, arm wrestling, and just about any kind of fitness or health-related activity you can imagine. Dozens of exhibitors also offer all kinds of products that relate to health, fitness, and looking buff.
When you walk among the attendees at the Arnold you tend to feel like a puny wuss. It is a bit dispiriting, but the pudgy, year-long residents of Columbus gladly put up with a few days of feeling like pencil-necked geeks because the Arnold pumps — and I use that term advisedly — tens of millions of tourism dollars into the tills of the City’s hotels, restaurants, and other businesses and into the City’s tax coffers, too.
From what Russ and I saw yesterday, it looks like the Festival has had a good turnout despite the economy. I hope so, because it is a great event for Columbus.
Lately I’ve been seeing TV commercials for fish fillet sandwiches at Wendy’s. I checked the menu selections at Wendy’s corporate website and, sure enough, select Wendy’s locations are now selling a “premium fish fillet sandwich” of “hand-cut fillets of North Pacific cod in a crisp Panko crumb breading.” I don’t know what “Panko” is, but I’ve never liked fillet o’ fish sandwiches, and I’m not about to start now — Panko crumb coating or no. To me, what is notable about this fishy development is that it shows just how far Wendy’s has strayed from its original business model.
The original Wendy’s had a simple premise and simple menu. (I became very familiar with it because my high school girlfriend worked at one of the first few Wendy’s restaurants, on King Avenue in Grandview, and I often went to pick her up from work.) In those days, it was advertised as “Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hambergers” and featured old-fashioned lettering and tables covered in turn of the century ads. It sold tasty, fresh, square-shaped burgers — “singles,” “doubles,” and “triples,” depending on how many patties you wanted on your burger — chili, fries, soft drinks, and a dessert concoction called a “Frosty.” The business model, as I understand it, was that the unused burger meat from one day was put into the chili the next day.
With the introduction of the fish fillet sandwich and the rest of Wendy’s now extensive menu, the business has come very far from its early days, or even the early ’80s, when Clara Peller famously asked “Where’s the beef?” in Wendy’s TV ads. It just shows how fast food places seem to move, relentlessly and inexorably, to the yellow stripe in the middle of the road, offering the same products and the same kinds of food. Pretty much every fast-food place now sells meat on a bun or in “wraps.” Is there really much difference any more between the menus at Wendy’s and McDonald’s, or for that matter the menus at Taco Bell and KFC?