Pete Wells was caught in a bind. He couldn’t complain about the mission.
To start, they intend to build a network of small restaurants that people in some of the country’s poorest, most neglected urban neighborhoods can afford. Beyond that, though, the chefs hope that their example of progressive labor practices, interior design attuned to the pulse of the city and cooking that shows responsibility for the health of both customers and the environment will spark a reformation of the fast-food industry.
The only problem was the food sucked.
“I’ll have the chicken noodle soup,” I said.
“It’s actually chicken no-noodle soup,” the woman at the counter answered, as nicely as possible. “It’s got rice, not noodles.”
It turned out there wasn’t any chicken in it, either.
At least it was better than the chile.
This was less like chili than like a slightly spicier version of the meat sauce my corner pizzeria pours over penne. Supermarkets sell canned chilis that are seasoned more persuasively.
Wells gave LocaL zero stars. Apparently, when it comes to restaurants, mission doesn’t count as much as food to Wells. LocaL’s chef/owner Roy Choi gave what Tasting Table called the “perfect response.”
I welcome Pete’s review. It tells me a lot more about the path. I don’t know Pete but he is now inextricably linked to LocoL forever. So I’ll share with you what I wrote to a friend and our team. We got that PMA: “The truth is that LocoL has hit a nerve. Doesn’t mean all people love it, some hate it. But no one is indifferent by it. That’s the spirit of LocoL. It has nothing to do with my ego. It’s something bigger than all of us. Pete Wells is a component to its DNA. His criticisms are a reflection of us and the nerve that LocoL touches. And our imperfections. Also the nerve of challenging the binary structure of privileged thought patterns and how life is not just about what’s a success or failure, but some things are real struggles and growth journeys.
Not that it’s entirely clear to me, but to the extent I understand what this perfect response is saying, you’ve got to suck up sucky food if you want to challenge the “binary structure of privileged thought patterns.” The menu is divided into “$5 ‘burgs’ and $7 ‘bowls.'” You would think they could make a decent “burg” for $5, but then, the Lincoln gets spread a little thin when it has to pay for the mission as well as the gluten-free ground beef substitute.
Restaurants in San Diego, on the other hand, will only pay for the mission begrudgingly.
In a stunning and rapid response, San Diego officials are going to crack down on restaurants that add surcharges to customers’ bill in response to recent minimum wage hikes.
As we just reported, some San Diego restaurants have added a new surcharge of 3-5 percent on meals because of the city’s increased minimum wage that went in effect on New Year’s Day.
Now, the city’s attorney Mara Elliott says restaurants are violating the law by stating on the bill that the surcharge is the result of government mandates and by not divulging the charge to customers before they order. Apparently, this violates California’s false advertising provisions. These restaurants are being threatened with legal action by the city if they don’t cease and desist.
The city makes a valid point. If you advertise one price, say a $5 “burg,” then you need to deliver a $5 “burg.” San Diego restaurants, however, are taking their menu prices and then taking on a surcharge. Who do they think they are, phone companies?
This is a means of protest, as well as a means of covering the cost, of the San Diego minimum wage hike. If San Diego wants to increase minimum wage, and its citizens are good with it, so be it. But people expect the increase in cost to magically disappear, subsumed by the businesses profit margin and not get passed along to the consumer. Business owners, on the other hand, aren’t thrilled at the idea of them eating the mandate. If citizens want to increase the minimum wage, then citizens have to eat the increase in price. They’re not running charities, but businesses.
The surcharge may be intended as a protest, a means of shoving it down the consumer’s throat that their support for higher minimum wage going in means higher prices coming out. Except you can’t sandbag people to make your protest hurt. If you advertise a $5 “burg,” then deliver a $5 “burg,” not a $5 “burg” plus a surcharge. Unless you’re a telephone company.
To be clear, the new surcharge is not illegal, but the city doesn’t like the bad PR that’s it’s generated is probably afraid of scaring away customers and visitors to city. It’s really coming down to word choice, because the city attorney says that the restaurants can legally describe the surcharge as a response to a government mandate, but not as a government mandate.
There is no law prohibiting restaurants from increasing prices to cover increased expenses. But San Diego takes issue with calling it a government mandated surcharge, as if the law required them to impose it. The law may necessitate it, but certainly doesn’t require it.
The city is trying to do damage control, but instead of reassessing the aggressive minimum wage hike they are blaming the unintended – but not unexpected – effects on the business community. What better a way to galvanize citizens behind misguided policy then to make businesses and employers the villains?
That’s unfair. Restaurants may well want to protest, but misstating prices and claiming it’s a government mandated charge is untrue. There’s nothing wrong with the truth, or passing along the charge, but doing so honestly isn’t vilifying restaurants. It’s just not being honest. Unless you’re a telephone company.
There’s a mission. There’s food. There’s costs and profits. The old Iron Triangle taught, “fast, cheap or good, pick two.” The new trio is cheap, good or socially just. And remember, as much as you can make a choice for yourself, you can’t force other people to agree with your pick of two.