It is amazing how tastes can change, and perceptions too. My hometown, Ithaca, New York, for years never had any of these fast casual chains (and still lacks many of them). Fast food places like McDonald’s and Burger King, yes, but none of the others. Ithaca has long had a tradition of small independent, good quality restaurants (some have been reviewed here on Roadfood), and given the size of the population, many chains were reluctant to move in.
You would not believe, however, the constant complaining from large numbers of people who would bemoan the fact that they would have to drive to other cities to eat at Red Lobster, Chilli’s, etc. The excitement when Applebee’s finally came to town not long ago was palpable…and it is still packed. There is a Chilli’s there now, too, but still no Red Lobster, much to the chagrin of many!
So, even in an allegedly upscale, "gourmet" type of city, the pull of the chains is still incredible.