Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Rant

Trees, wreaths, lights and Merry Christmas this, Merry Christmas that. What about other religious celebrations? When I was young, I cared. Then I grew up (kinda') and lost interest. Next thing I know, it’s Happy Holidays PC BS.

In an effort to try to relate this to food, here's a restaurant tale that isn’t in my book. Bonus material! The Texas Café had decorated for the holidays. A tiny menorah sat on the bar virtually buried by Christmas lights, wreaths and a gigantic Christmas tree. 

A diner felt uncomfortable by the menorah and complained to Aaron, the bartender. The religious symbol bothered him and his son, who was like six years old and in the Hitler Youth.  

This diner wanted the menorah taken down because of its religious implications. Aaron pointed to the giant Christmas tree and said, “And what do you think that is?” “A tree,” the diner said. “What kind of tree?” “A Christmas tree.” “And,” Aaron asked, “What is the first part of that word? Christ, right? It’s a religious symbol, too. So sit the fuck down!” (I added that last line.) The customer grumbled, "No, it's a Holiday Tree." 

I don’t care that Chanukah receives some airtime. But it's lumped into Happy Holidays ads. I know it's cheaper for companies to run one ad throughout December rather than three separate ads for Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa.

Still, a couple things bother me about the Happy Holiday ads:

1.     The timing. The ads come out right after Chanukah ends and run through Christmas— ignoring the timing of Chanukah and Kwanzaa. Run them all month for everyone or just run Christmas ads.

2.     The ads showcase Christmas lights, wreaths, candy canes, and Christmas trees —all Christmas symbols.  Then Santa walks in, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Happy Holidays!” We know what you’re dyin’ to say, so just say it: “Merry Christmas.”
The point is you can’t say "Happy Holidays" when your ad imagery focuses entirely on Christmas. This kills off the inclusion message. You don't have to put a Jewish guy dancing around with a menorah in your ads or an African in a dashiki. Just … say what the hell you mean to say. 

A kid making a snow angel in a yard with reindeer and a wreath on the front door and a snowman with a Santa hat does not say "Happy Holidays” no matter how many times your narrator speaks those two words.  

Chanukah was early this year. To be honest with you, I didn’t even know it started until Ellen DeGeneres said so (Yeah, I watch her show. What about it?). If you don’t know when another person's holiday is, you cannot, a day before Christmas, say Happy Holidays. If Christmas is tomorrow, just say Merry Christmas. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Anything You Can Do ...

Hey, been to that cupcake place that opened down the street? You know, the one that landed a reality TV show? Georgetown Cupcake—the originators of the niche cupcakery. Well, there’s a new cupcakery in town. Baked & Wired.  B&W, are you ready for this? You have competition by the name of Something Sweet. Oh, and Something Sweet? You think your cupcakes are the shit? Well, you’re wrong. Frosting’s—A Cupcakery’s are better.
What we’re experiencing here is called Copycatism*. It’s a lot like Hulkamania in the sense that it is running wild. Is this rampant copycatism a new trend? Sure, there are—and always will be—copycats. Burger King copied McDonald’s. And then there was Wendy’s, Checkers and others. But the start dates of these respective companies are so far apart from their rivals that it doesn’t count.
But recently, niche restaurants are opening at such rapid speed that they can’t even be considered rivals. They’re more like … blatant copies. Oh, you got a TV show from selling cupcakes? I want a TV show, too! Quick, lets open a cupcakery!
These guys are trying to capitalize on some other dude's success. That’s cheap, unoriginal and, frankly, pathetic. If you've got the money to start a business, do something unique. Variety is the spice of … something, something.
These poor folks aren’t creating a variation on the cupcake or offering a different portable, handheld dessert (such as apple strudel, donuts, or some sort of bizarre donut cupcake hybrid. And P.S.—you steal my idea, I will end you).
Why poor, you ask? Because soon, the craze will end and so too, their dreams of cupcake reality TV.  Sure—initially, the public will go crazy at the prospect of another choice. Friends will have fun collecting cupcake data and researching the ultimate cupcake. Two friends canvassing the country in sight of the best cupcake might be another reality show.
When the craze does end, the originator will be the one that stands tall, having built a reputation through quality and longevity. The copycat will just board up shop and wonder, perhaps, if things could have been different if he opened a taco stand instead.
Of course, if he opened a taco stand, there would be have been a thousand copycats all running around claiming the better taco.
Let’s take a quick look at originators (less corporate, more small time, and local) and their copycats to see how truly rampant (and shamefully embarrassing) this trend is:
Burgers Originators: Five Guys (East Coast), In-n-Out (West Coast)
Burger Copycats: BRGR, BGR, BLT Burger, Burger Palace, Z-Burger
Frozen Yogurt Originators:  Tasti-d-Lite, Pinkberry
Frozen Yogurt Copycats: Red Mango, kiwiberry, BerryLine, BerriGood, Tangysweet, IceBerry, YogiBerry, Mr. Yogato
Smoothie Originators: Jamba Juice
Smoothie Copycats: Smoothie King, Roebeks, Planet Smoothie, Tropical Smoothie
And don’t get me started on Food Trucks (or blogs, for that matter: Start with the word angry, cranky, grumpy, annoyed, or pissed off, add a vocation of choice (waiter, bartender, brain surgeon) and you'll find a hundreds of blogs out there—one just like the other). This copycatism is a lot like the barbed wire armband tattoo. When the first barbed wire band was tattooed, the guy was proud of his badass and original tattoo. Then everyone got one; novelty gone.
Restaurants are supposed to be unique and different. There aren’t supposed to be ten thousand of the same. Makes you nervous about the possibility of opening a unique restaurant these days for fear that someone will take your idea, change the name and sell what you sell for the exact same price.
Just because you can bake a cupcake, grill a burger, or blend fruit doesn’t mean you can do it better than the other guy. And no, you won’t end up on TV.

*Yeah, I know. Copycatism isn't a real word.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

From 7th Graders to 70 Year Olds

I recently spoke to a seventh grade English class at my old high school. I was asked to speak last year, but declined. Nerves got the best of me.

A lot of people ask if I do book tours or speaking engagements. No. Partially due to, you guessed it, nerves, but mainly because I’m unknown. Many of my close friends haven’t even bought my book (and November 7th was the one year publication anniversary). Would there be huge turnouts at bookstores for an unknown author? Nope.
Still, I had to overcome my fear of public speaking, and so when the request to speak to the seventh graders was reissued, I gave it serious thought. Everyone said the same thing: What do you have to be nervous about? They’re 13 year olds!
To quote Sterling Archer: Duh and/or hello. Seventh graders are precisely what is so frightening. Kids are harsh. What if I bombed? They would laugh at me, tease me, and call me names.
This phobia of mine had to end. So I accepted the offer to speak to the students. Oddly, the more I expressed my nervousness to friends and colleagues, the less nervous I became. Until I walked into the classroom. Then I got nervous again … until one of the students walked up to me, rolled up his sleeve and flexed his biceps. Check ‘em out, he said.
The class was one hour and thirty minutes; I wasn’t sure what I'd have to discuss for that entire period. But an hour and a half later, the kids were shaking my hand and thanking me. They asked numerous questions about health inspections, the struggles of immigrants, how to spot a clean restaurant, and the writing and editing process. 
They asked mature and intelligent questions that I, as a former seventh grader, would probably never have asked. As I was leaving the school after visiting my former teachers, I ran into one of the students and thanked her for her great questions. She fessed up, explaining that even though she was genuinely curious, she really asked so many questions to get out of geometry class. I probably would have done the same thing. 
Feeling good and relieved, I congratulated myself for getting over my fear of public speaking … until I was asked to speak to a book club comprised of women in their seventh decade of life. I thought I would be more relaxed around mature adults and based on how mature the seventh graders had been, I was convinced my evening with the book club members would be a breeze.
I began by thanking them for buying my book and supporting me. I told them that Amazon book sales were important for an emerging author. Much to my surprise, they laughingly volunteered that only three of the eight members purchased my book! The three copies were circulated to the other members. I’m pretty sure that’s not how a book club works. You support the author by buying his book and he gives you an hour or two of his time to talk, answer questions and sign autographs.
But hey, what do I know?
These ladies spent most of the evening trying to learn the actual identities of the restaurants I wrote about. A few members were touched by my stories about the hard-working immigrants. One woman asked a good question: If the chef or management doesn’t change, why does the food go downhill after a period of time? 
After thirty minutes of book-related talk, the conversation amongst the ladies changed to the apartment complex where we live. I was in the laundry room the other day and Saul walked in! OHHH! NOT SAUL! I CAN’T STAND HIM. Me either.  Questions asked of me, which went mostly unanswered:  Who do you like/dislike? Who are the cutest kids in the building? Will you run for the board? Then, back to the book! Which restaurants are the cleanest in DC? Where should and should we not eat?
My phobia towards public speaking diminished somewhat after my two engagements.  I’m no George Clooney from Up in the Air, but I will say this: I preferred talking to the seventh graders. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What's in a Title?

I don’t remember the details about the night when I first uttered the words that would eventually become the title of my first book. I know I had been upset about the way the guys in the kitchen had been treated by management. We were down to a skeleton crew to save money and they were stretched thin and utterly exhausted.  

We all clocked out after the kitchen had been cleaned. I exited through the front door. The guys in the kitchen walked out the back, lit up their cigarettes and shuffled meekly into their cars. The line cooks and dishwashers and busboys would return to roach infested apartments in neighborhoods crawling with rats. They entered their home overcrowded with extended family and maybe a dog or two and would perhaps find sanctuary in one small area of the apartment.

I walked home through my beautiful neighborhood and into the home where I grew up. I entered my one thousand square foot apartment with no roommates, no crying babies, and no barking dog waiting for a walk. I sat on my sofa that I didn’t share with anyone else, ate my dinner and later, retired to my comfortable bed across from my desk with my Apple computer glowed peacefully.  

I walked home that night thinking how life was for them and how life was for me. They put up with so much daily abuse. And then, those seven words just fell out of my mouth: It’s a miracle they ain’t dead yet.

A lot of people ask me why I decided to write a book. Before my mom moved to Manhattan, our routine consisted of my nightly tales of restaurant horror stories as we sat on our shared sofa. What did she miss most after moving? Those stories.

So I began to email them. Each night, before I sat down on the sofa that I now shared with no one, I went into my room, opened my computer and wrote to mom. That night, I probably wrote about how upset I had been over the way my colleagues—immigrants (most of them legal)—had been treated. They were second-class citizens. Yet they worked as hard as our model ones.

My access to good role models has been limited, perhaps because I chose not to go to college and diminished my opportunity to meet good thinkers in good workplaces. I’ve worked for almost thirty managers in my seven years in the workforce. With the exception of a handful, all have been lousy and useless in every sense of the word: verbally abusive, alcoholic, petty, anti-Semitic, and robotic. What have I learned? How to not manage, how to not treat people. Yes, that’s valuable, but I’ve sadly concluded I’ll never learn useful information from a good manager because in the fields open to me, good managers seldom exist.

From whom have I learned the most? Who has taught me about compassion, respect and trust? Who has taught me to be persistent and hardworking? Who has taught me that there is a time and a place to speak up and defend one’s self? Immigrants. My colleagues who currently withstand nasty and disdainful attacks from American citizens and politicians.

I chose the title of my book with all this bubbling in my mind. As I wrote, I realized that my title offered different interpretations. I loved that Dead Yet symbolized the mistreatment of the men in the kitchen, but it also spoke to the health hazards found in many kitchens. The title seemed to reflect the one chapter discussing health hazards and so that became the title chapter.

People read the title, heard that it was about the restaurant industry and decided they’d rather not read it. Not if it’s going to scare me about eating out, they’d say.

Recently, a new friend asked how I chose the title. After hearing the explanation, she responded that the title is misleading. I suppose so.

Should I have chosen a different name? Maybe. But it’s too late now. I’m married to It’s a Miracle They Ain’t Dead Yet.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Disclaimer: Went to dinner with a woman. Now you can’t judge me. Nah nah nah.

There is a high penis-to-hand-to-handle quotient in the men’s bathroom. Most dudes don’t wash their hands. That means when you do … and then you grab the handle to exit, it’s like you’re touching another dude’s junk.

Hooters solves this problem by placing a hand sanitizer station outside the restrooms. Brilliant.

When you’re eating at Hooters, you’re not ordering a fucking salad—you’re eating wings. With your hands. So they’d better be damned clean, because I don’t want dude junk near my mouth.

If you know me, you know I’m vocal about not eating at chain restaurants. So you’re like, you ate at Hooters? Hypocrite! Is the food top quality? No. Obviously not. The chicken probably comes from a Corporate Farm (Big No No) and the seafood is far from fresh. But when you want wings, you gotta throw convention out the damn window. Hooters.

If you live in DC, especially near Georgetown, you might be quick to recommend Wingos. But try eating there in the middle of the afternoon when you’re not drunk. It’s not that good. Actually, it sucks.

Hooters does business right. Now I’ve never worked there (trust meyou don’t want to see me in orange booty shorts) but from what I saw, that place knows how to operate.  

They epitomize 'sex sells.'  You might think that’s wrong. That it objectifies women. The girls are bimbos and they’re being used. I realize that’s the perception most people have—even myself, perhaps—because when I came home with leftovers, I desperately tried to hide the Hooters labeled to-go box as I rode the elevator up with a woman. She probably judged me. But that’s only because she’s never eaten there and doesn’t know what I now know.

These women are far from dumb. Andrea, our server, was educated, well spoken and the exact opposite of the airhead you’ve pictured as a typical Hooters girl. The longer they chat with you, the more their image is boosted and the less you think of them as sexy girls in outfits. Unless, of course, you’re a creepy asshole, of which at Hooters, there are many. If you are a creepy asshole—like the guy who called a server a bitch when she ignored his catcall, I imagine they have a method of removing you from the premises in a frightening way.

If you’re not a creepy asshole, you’ll see an entirely different side of these servers. Hooters succeeds in rebranding these women. Let me be clearthey sit at your table to flirt and drum up sales and tips. But this actually gives you the chance to see that, unless you’re talking about how chicken breasts are delicious, but your servers breasts are even tastier, these girls aren’t just bimbos with nice bodies.

If you’re going there to ogle the hot women—you’re in luck. There are plenty of them.

If you’re going there to be a creep who tries to grab some ass—the server with an IQ higher than yours will sweet talk all that money out of your wallet and (rightfully) into her pocket.

And if you’re going there because you want some wings, then damn, you can’t go wrong.

PROS: Great service. Spotless bathroom. The paper towels ran out and were replaced with the quickness. Food was good for what it was. I wanted wings, not sea bass with a crème fresh gnocchi.

Place was jam packed, which leads me to …

CONS: I did a little digging (Undercover Boss does not count as a legit fact checker). It appears as if there might be some preferential treatment going on. The FOH is often treated well; the BOH might be overlooked. Hooters easily clears fifty grand a night on weekends. Toss a couple extra bucks towards the guys who cook and clean.

If management sucks, it wasn't apparent at the Rockville, MD Hooters.

Finally, an awful lot of families there. Not exactly the sort of place I’d bring a six-year-old for dinner. But that’s a commentary on society and the parents, not the restaurant.

ON OUR MENU: Fried pickles, nacho cheeseburger, crab legs and, of course, 3-mile island wings.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In the Beginning ...

I don't like Twitter. It's a stupid website. I have 30 followers on Twitter, including a bathroom renovation company. I've got almost five hundred friends on Facebookincluding a friend I haven't spoken with since 7th grade. Hi, Lorna. If I had something of importance to share, where do you think I'd go first?

People persisted. You need a twitter page. So, I got one. But it's so uninspiring. 
And plus, I'm a writer. I've got things I need to say tht cnt b sumd / chpped up 2 fit in2 140 chrctrs or less.

I didn't want a blog, either. But everyone said, You need a blog. So either I'm listening to the right people or I'm gullible. And since Twitter hasn't been very beneficial for me, I'm thinking the latter. 

What can you expect with my blog? Maybe some short stories. Maybe a rant about the food service industry or a rave for a restaurant that sparkles with cleanliness. 

If you haven't been over to itsamiracletheyaintdeadyet.com, check it out and throw down your name and email so I can bug you in the future with things of importance.