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Does Zoës Kitchen Think Birmingham Sucks?

  |   By: Dave Folk     |   Opinion

“You know it’s based in Birmingham” was what I blurted out as I spotted the Mediterranean food chain sandwiched between retail facades at a newly built Philadelphia strip mall. There was an inherent sense of safety in it; I lived in Birmingham, Ala., and this inanimate corporation was founded and based there. It was recognizing a kindred spirit, right before that spirit tells you to “shove off.”

Zoës Kitchen is the kindred spirit that has left us, abandoned its home for greener pastures. Founded in Birmingham by Zoë Cassimus, the food chain expanded to more than a dozen states beyond Alabama and was an example that corporations could succeed in the Magic City. The Mediterranean restaurant came to represent the resurgence of Birmingham, so it came as a surprise to many residents when Zoës picked up shop and moved to Plano, Texas.

Are we really worse than Plano? PLANO??

March roared in like a lion for Zoës when it filed papers for an $80.5 million initial public offering, but amongst those papers was also the announcement that the chain was now based in Plano according to the Birmingham Business Journal. Leadership at the company said the move was due to the travel ease of nearby Dallas, but that half-truth might shroud a far more dangerous thought.

In the article the company’s former HR Director insinuated that the reason the upstart company moved was really because “…the talent needed for rapid growth didn’t exist in Birmingham, and people just weren’t willing to move to Birmingham.” Jeez, tell us how you really feel.

You hear that Birminghamians? One of your own thinks you are a loser and no one wants to be near you. Zoës is now the frumpy girl from high school who got really hot in college and doesn’t want anything to do with you. She’s too good for us simple folk. The former HR director may as well had showed a clip from “The Hills Have Eyes,” and asked us to crawl back to our cave-homes.

Ain’t no stopping us now…

What their move could tell other companies is that your business can only be so successful in Birmingham, and you will never be able to attract talent to the city. Zoës Kitchen was a success story for this city until it became a black eye, but it doesn’t have to be.

Birmingham’s revitalization is here, and we are better than a company that doesn’t want to stick it out. We could sit here and bemoan why we can’t have nice things, or we could enjoy a beer from Good People at Regions Field. We could boycott Zoës Kitchen for saying that no one good wants to live here, or we could toast to one of the many sources that have ranked Birmingham among the best up-and-comers in the country. We could wonder why the politicians couldn’t keep the company in town, or we could work to incubate the next Zoës Kitchen.

I couldn’t care less what Zoës move motivation was. It’s not going to stop me from obtaining diabetes from their delicious chocolate cakes, but it will make me think about the steps it will take for Birmingham to become more than an afterthought.

It is unfortunate that Zoës chose not to stick to its roots, but companies rarely do when untold profits are just out of sight in a field so green.

Follow Dave on Twitter at @davefolk

Dave Folk is a yankee transplant living in Birmingham, Alabama.