The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2018

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10  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2018 Picture this: It was my wife's birthday— a big birthday that seemed to demand a grand gesture. After doing lots of research, we chose an Italian restaurant with a beautiful garden shaded by a huge oak tree. It had a famous chef's name attached to it, so how bad could it be? We had actually been to this place before—several times, in fact. It had previously been a French restaurant with the same décor and owner, and before that, an Italian place. When the French concept first opened, I brought a well-known and very recognizable cookbook author. The owner, however, spent the evening drinking and eating with his cronies at a table in the corner, never bothering to stop by our table to introduce himself. The second time I visited, the place was half-empty and the owner was nowhere to be seen. The restaurant closed a few months later. This was not an isolated occurrence, apparently. The same owner opened a Korean restaurant in a neighboring city, which got off to a great start before stumbling, changing its format, and ultimately folding. Another place in a hotel also failed, but in this guy's defense, he does have a very successful restaurant in another part of town. I'm told he spends most of his time there entertaining his pals. Anyway, I digress: On the birthday night in question, seven of us sat down under the tree and settled in for a celebratory feast. The house specialties we ordered were OK, but not dazzling, and the celebrity chef was not on hand. Neither, unsurprisingly, was the owner. After I asked for the check, the manager rushed over a few minutes later, apologizing profusely. "The computerized system is down," he told us. "I'm going to have to handwrite the check." That was fine by me, until I realized he would have to handwrite every check in the restaurant. A half hour later, the poor, harried young manager brought the check and apologized again, telling us that the new line chef had only been working there for two nights. "And where is the owner?" I asked. "Oh, he's at his other restaurant," the man replied. This response left me bewildered: Why hadn't he rushed to the aid of his struggling place? If I had to make a prediction, it seems this place is doomed to befall the same fate of his other closed restaurants within a matter of months. The evidence amounts to a cautionary tale with a simple admonition: An absentee owner is a surefire formula for failure. Take it or leave it, my advice is this—if you're hearing the siren song of the restaurant business, it's best to be prepared to show up nearly every night. While your customers expect it, your employees depend on it. A Cautionary Tale for Absentee Owners LETTER FROM THE EDITOR PHOTO: JEREMY BALL

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