Yes, the economy is bad. Yes, people are watching their pennies. Yes, businesses are failing every day. Yet, in my town of Florence, Alabama, a newly opened Chinese restaurant is so popular that there’s a line to get in from 11 in the morning until 2 or later in the afternoon — pretty much unheard-of around here. And that’s not even including the takeout business. Even weeks after it opened, there’s still a half-hour or so wait at lunch. But so worth it. Everybody asks, “Have you eaten at the Rice Box yet?” and the lucky ones talk dreamily of the fresh-tasting vegetables, the light and flavorful stir-fries, the innovative sushi rolls and, of course, the fried dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar known as Chinese doughnuts. (I have to limit myself to one 10-piece order a week.) Why is this place successful when so many others aren’t? I’m not sure, but here are some observations: The Rice Box has 1) good food that’s actually cooked to order in the kitchen instead of warmed-up in the microwave after being off-loaded from the freezer truck; 2) affordable prices that mean you don’t have to feel guilty or sacrificial about eating out; 3) a knowledgeable, friendly and efficient staff that keeps the traffic flow moving without stress; and 4) unobtrusive cleaning that keeps things neat and sanitary despite the crowds. Plus, it’s in a nearly empty shopping center where rent, I’m sure, is not astronomical. The Rice Box decor is calm and serene without being cloying — the dark wood and contemporary lighting makes it seem modern and sleek — and the restaurant’s layout means diners can peek into the bustling kitchen and grill area but the noise and chaos doesn’t take over. I’m not sure exactly what the Rice Box is doing right, but it sure is doing something. Check it out at http://www.ricebox.us — and you’d better go ahead and get two orders of doughnuts.
Published by Coffee with Cathy
I'm a media coordinator, an editor & an adjunct journalism instructor who also writes about style, history, food and the arts in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. My husband is a newspaper sports editor, and he and I are from middle Tennessee. Older Daughter and her husband, an artist and high-school art teacher, live nearby with our three grandsons. Younger Daughter works in grants proposals & also lives nearby. View all posts by Coffee with Cathy