A few years ago, in a tiny building near one of the busier intersections in my small town, an enterprising woman opened a Thai restaurant. This was the fifth or maybe sixth person to try this location. For whatever reason, this one stuck. I first tried the place a few months after it was established and instantly fell in love with their curry.
The place's proximity to my office and the friendly nature of the owner gave me a convenient excuse to keep coming back. The delicious food gave me a compulsion to do so. I'm not a fanatic about spicy food, but I appreciate it. The way their curry was spiced was just right. It was a collective heat that made me break a sweat by the time I finished the meal, but didn't burn my mouth. It was strong, but not in an in-your-face "If you don't appreciate this you're a sissy!" kind of way. There was nuance to it that took a while to understand, but made me appreciate it all the more when I did.
It was perfect and I was hooked. I went there so often that all I had to do to order was call them up and say "Hi, it's J.J." The owner would ask about my day, we'd chit-chat for a minute or two, and then the call would end with an "Ok, see you in five minutes" without me even having to say what I wanted.
Like anything great, it didn't stay secret for long (and I certainly wasn't trying to keep it a secret). After a time, the place had outgrown the little shack. The owner bought a bigger place, hired additional staff, and started enjoying the spoils of her success.
Me? I was thrilled for her. The entire town knew about how awesome this place was and I felt like I was on the ground floor of rewarding somebody I genuinely like and who had worked hard to earn the success she was enjoying. I was there for opening weekend of the new digs and continued to support them even through the growing pains associated with running a restaurant with ten times the capacity of the old place with three times more staff.
But then things started to change.
Nothing horrible, mind you. It was barely noticeable. Certainly nothing Earth-shattering. It's just that the curry... man, the one thing that got me hooked on the place, the thing that was the heart and soul of that restaurant: it lost its spice. I had never had to tell them how to make it before; they just knew. The regular stuff was perfect.
I experimented for a while asking them to make it "hot", or "medium" or "a bit more spice than usual". I ended up with varying degrees of spiciness ranging from blindingly searing to absurdly bland. Every once in a while I'd get it exactly as I remembered it and I would be happy, but it never lasted very long.
Eventually, I caught the owner in the restaurant and asked her about why the curry wasn't like it used to be. She explained to me that with all her new customers, she had been getting too many people asking to make the menu milder, so she had told the cooks to lower the amount of spice by default. The food was blander, but it had wider appeal and that was just good business for the owner.
I don't blame her at all. She's living the American dream. Her restaurant is more successful than it's ever been and all of that was built on the back of her hard work and dedication. I still visit there and pay my money to enjoy their food. I'm just not hooked on it anymore. I go there at about the same rate as I visit my other three or four favorite restaurants in town. I just don't consider it "My" place anymore.
That's something I just have to live with.
(Author's note: I wrote about this topic before in 2010 for The Production Line. In that oddly prophetic piece, I used an analogy involving spicy restaurant food. In real-world time, I wrote that article a few months before the Thai place in town moved into their new building. I'm currently exploring ways to sue my real life for copying me)