WORCESTER, MA—Residents of Worcester’s Grafton Hill neighborhood acknowledged Monday they would not necessarily mind a Panera Bread franchise coming in and wiping out Callahan’s, a charming, family-run bakery that has been a fixture of their community since 1964.
According to locals, the national restaurant chain would be just the thing to run the mom-and-pop establishment out of business, replacing Callahan’s genuinely warm, welcoming atmosphere with the kind of impersonal, hassle-free cafe experience they have long desired.
“Callahan’s really is lovely and all, but every time I’m in there I get roped into a 10-minute conversation about what’s going on in the neighborhood, or the history of some recipe that’s been in their family for generations,” said patron Catherine New, 33, who told reporters the friendly older couple who owns the shop is always there, apparently working from open to close every single day. “It would be such a relief to walk in somewhere and have some disinterested college-age kid take my order without even making eye contact.”
“They’re nice at Callahan’s, but they don’t seem to get that this is only a business transaction,” New continued. “I just want a cup of coffee. We’re not friends.”
A recent survey found that more than half of all Grafton Hill residents admitted they routinely drive to a Panera location in a neighboring town instead of simply walking down the block to Callahan’s, 72 percent claimed they would prefer being alerted of their order’s completion by a vibrating pager than by that one kind-faced woman who calls everyone “sweetheart,” and four out of five said they “didn’t give a shit” whether the ingredients in their panini were locally sourced.
Additionally, respondents unanimously agreed that, deep down, they didn’t really care whether their food was prepared in a microwave or a 100-year-old brick oven so long as they could get their meal quickly, eat it in peace, and get on with their day.
“I don’t want them remembering what I had yesterday—I don’t want them to remember me at all,” 46-year-old Colin Cady said. “Just give me the goddamn half-sandwich-and-cup-of-soup special and don’t refer to it as ‘the usual.’ No good-natured joking around, no asking how my kids are doing, no offering me a complimentary jar of homemade fruit preserves—none of that shit.”
Many customers derided the artisanal bakery’s half dozen small wooden tables hand-built by the owner’s father, stating they’d give anything to sit in a real fucking booth for a change, preferably as far away from other patrons as possible. Most also agreed the shop’s mismatched glasses and mugs were “just plain awful,” stating they would much prefer generic cardboard beverage cups with regular plastic lids so they could just grab their drink and get the fuck out of there.
“I don’t want to think about how someone at Callahan’s woke up at 3 a.m. to make all the pastries from scratch,” said April Frye, 53, claiming the owners’ heartbreakingly sincere utterances of “thank you” and “please come again” never fail to make her feel guilty. “I’d like to be able to buy a cappuccino and not have to worry about whether I’m being grateful enough for all the hard work they obviously put into it. You have no idea how many unwanted loaves of bread I’ve bought simply because I felt compelled to support a local business.”
Added Frye, “God, I hope a Panera comes in and absolutely buries that quaint little place.”
While most residents echoed Frye’s sentiments, not everyone in the neighborhood agreed the existing establishment could be so easily unseated by a corporate rival.
“We’ve been a part of the community for decades, so we’re not too worried about competition,” said owner Alfred Callahan, Jr., 66, explaining he was proud to have built personal relationships with his patrons over the years. “We may not be too fancy, but everything we make here is traditionally prepared, and we like to think of our customers as part of the Callahan family.”
“We truly care about everyone who walks through that door,” Callahan added. “That’s what sets us apart.”