Not literally, of course. But definitely figuratively. I'm not sure what brought on this sudden surge of love in the Middle Eastern food, but there seems to be a shawarma restaurant on every corner now. When I first got to Cuenca in September there was only one Middle Eastern restaurant with shawarma that I knew of. It was on Calle Larga, and the small shawarma cost $1.90. I thought that was a pretty good price.
But a couple of months later another restaurant opened up a block down the road. This restaurant had black lights, hookah pipes, and great deals. A single shawarma, which was bigger than the small at the other restaurant, was $1.75. You could also get deals like 3 or 6 shawarmas plus 3 or 6 beers plus a hookah pipe for a $9 or $15. And their first weekend open they had a belly dancer. It was a great time.
And since then I've been going to that restaurant to get my shawarma fix. It's a great meal that's quick and cheap. But since that restaurant has opened two or three more shawarma restaurants have opened up close by. They all look exactly the same, and the prices are all exactly the same. This is basically a typical move in the business world in Ecuador.
Once something has established itself and become successful, competitors will lazily stick their own version right next to the same place. Rather than trying something different or going to a different location, they flood the market with the same product, driving down prices and shooting up competition.
Another example of this is with one of my favorite restaurants in Cuenca. It's a Colombian restaurant that has been around for years and is known all throughout the city as a great place. But just in the last couple of weeks another family has set up a Colombian restaurant right next to the previous restaurant. Not really the smartest business move. The first restaurant is already established and a known favorite. Every time I walk by the street I can see the first restaurant is packed while the new one is empty. Why change when you know the first place is great?
And this extends beyond food. There will be streets where all the vendors sell are sun glasses, pants, or the cheesy artisan work that you find everywhere. It's amazing to see how the business works down here. But I guess as long as the competition keeps the prices down it's good for the consumers, and since I'm a consumer, I'll stay happy, if not amazed.