Culture Making: Choo Choo

Ben Sheppard takes a look at the places, practices, institutions, events, and cultural patterns that contribute to our cultural context in the American South, the city of Athens, the UGA campus, and the surrounding communities. Check out this post for an explanation of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.


Today’s question: What does Choo Choo Japanese Korean Grill assume about the way the world should be?


Choo Choo is an Athens-based fast-food restaurant with franchises on the East Side and on Epps Bridge Road. Choo Choo advertises itself as a “hibachi-style” grill. Hibachi is a Japanese variety of restaurant where food is cooked and prepared on a hot plate or grill at the customer’s table.


While the most distinctive elements of hibachi in America are knife juggling and the onion volcano, in Japan people order ingredients and grill dinner themselves. If you’re willing to wait, you can get the satisfaction of cooking your own meal without the prep, the dishes, or putting up with someone else’s barbeque recipe. But there are no open grills at Choo Choo – just “individually-prepared hibachi style cuisine.” 


So what does Choo Choo assume about the way the world (or at least America) should be? The easy answer is one about American laziness – why cook something on your own when you can pay to have it done for you? In general, the point of fast food is that it’s there when we don’t have the time or the inclination to cook for ourselves (and also because there’s no way I’m ever going to replicate a Chick-fil-A milkshake in my own kitchen).  A slightly more charitable answer might be that letting people cook their own food in your establishment could be a legal nightmare. 


It also helps to look at Choo Choo’s more specific context: ten minutes away from the UGA campus. Choo Choo thrives on the college demographic, and two keys to success with students are late hours and take-out – two things which also don’t gel well with “real” hibachi.  


The truth is, plenty of restaurants serving American-style food do something similar: people usually associate hot dogs and ribs with grilling out, but you can get them at the Varsity or Sonny’s “individually prepared” and ready to eat. So maybe all Choo Choo assumes is that sometimes it’s okay to sacrifice an experience in order to get some food in your belly, because sometimes that’s all you need.

What do you think? 

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