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The Restaurateur

The Restaurateur: Like Hoops of Fire

Daniel Maestri's restaurant has a long and proud history. It started in his grandmother's kitchen in "middle of nowhere" Arkansas in the 1920s, where 75 cents could get diners all they could eat.

During the Great Depression, the operation moved into a little farmhouse and Maestri's Restaurant was born. But instead of relying on the restaurant in order to get through the tough times as his grandmother did, Maestri is hoping just to survive.

Daniel took over the operations in 1979 and says he wouldn't be around today if it weren't for Sam Walton. The restaurant is located just outside Bentonville, Ark., where the mega-discounter is headquartered.

It's an area where a lot of things stay the same — some of the restaurant's employees have been there 15, 20, 25 years and are like family.

But economic changes have brought with them some serious problems. Sales are down as much as 30 percent from 2007, Maestri says. He's looking for investors to shore up his finances, but as any small business owner these days knows, those are hard to find.

According to a June survey by Pew Research Center, nearly half of Americans (48 percent) say they expect economic conditions in 2010 to be better than today, up from 40 percent in February.

Over the same period,the percentage saying they expect their personal finances to improve at least some has risen from 54 percent to 63 percent. Despite these positive signs, Pew found no indication that Americans are more willing to spend money.

Roughly three-quarters (76 percent) reported they have cut back on vacation spending, been eating at restaurants less often, or have delayed purchasing a car or major home items. That figure is largely unchanged from February (79 percent) and last December (77 percent).

When changes in savings, investment and home-purchasing decisions are factored in, nearly nine-in-ten Americans (87 percent) say they have made at least one spending cutback or an investment or saving adjustment. This also is about the same as in February (86 percent) and December (85 percent).

Similarly, a January report from Restaurants and Institutions found:

  • 58.7 percent of Americans say the economy has affected their dining-out habits
  • 85.9 percent are eating out less often
  • About three-quarters say they're choosing less-expensive restaurants
  • 50.1 percent take advantage of coupons or special deals more often
  • 49.1 percent choose restaurants closer to home
  • 48.1 percent adjust their orders to reduce the check

Maestri hasn't had to make any staffing cuts yet, but the outlook isn't great. The National Restaurant Association forecasts that, while overall restaurant industry sales will increase in current dollars by 2.5 percent over 2008 figures, the numbers translate to an inflation-adjusted decline of 1.0 percent.