Saturday, March 20, 2010

Not a Whale Tale: Epilogue

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The restaurant that was caught serving illegal Sei whale meat will be closing its doors in apology. I’m not surprised that “The Hump” in Santa Monica will be closing. I’ve heard that they’ve been a ghost town since they were caught, even during Happy Hour. The Hump has also been plagued by protestors, which hasn’t been good for business either. So, it’s not surprising that they’re closing their doors.

In a statement posted on The Hump’s website, they hope that their closing “will help bring awareness to the detrimental effect that illegal whaling has on the preservation of our ocean ecosystems and species. Closing the restaurant is a self-imposed punishment on top of the fine that will be meted out by the court. The owner of The Hump also will be taking additional action to save endangered species.”

What’s sad is that they’re saying all of the right things now after they got caught.
What if they didn’t get caught? Would the owner of The Hump make a substantial contribution to a charity dedicated to the preservation of whales? Probably not…

Restaurants need to be conscious about what’s happening in the world around them. This is what restaurant owners and chefs need to understand, but most of them don’t see or know what’s going on. They’re worried about the food, labor costs, and generating revenue. What they should be concerned with is the “dining experience” which includes the food, service, and atmosphere and not spending their time on gimmicks like illegal whale meat.

We only have one ocean and we can’t screw it up…

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Not a Whale Tale

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Whales have been in the news lately, a Killer Whale trainer dies at Sea World in Orlando and a trendy sushi restaurant in LA is caught serving whale meat. The Hump in Santa Monica is being investigated for illegally serving Sei whale, which is endangered. A few people have asked me what I thought about serving whale meat? Besides being illegal in many places in the world, the taste in my opinion is HORRIBLE; I did try piece of whale meat while visiting Japan in 2001. The taste was very gamey, after all it’s a huge wild animal. I didn’t like it at all and even said I would donate money to save the whales when I got home, I did by the way make a donation. I remember it was on the expensive side too, 6 slices for about $15 (retail), I can imagine it would be doubled or tripled in a restaurant.

In my opinion, there’s so much legal exotic seafood out there, it depends on a chef’s skill and experience. The term “sushi chef” is used too often in my opinion. A chef is someone who can create imaginative dishes and who has experience with all kinds of ingredients

My guess is The Hump had pressure to increase revenue by impressing their “Omakase” clients with exotic dishes. At this level, customers would spend in excess of $500 per visit. “Omakase” means chefs choice, the chef serving the very best of the day to his diners. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been to The Hump, they should’ve improved their service to increase revenue. Now, they have a PR nightmare on their hands. Heard the other day that they had protesters in front of their restaurant.

I can understand the many cultures around the world that do things because of the tradition that goes back hundreds of years. I can’t understand why something so cherished and honored, such as whales on the endangered species list, would continued to be hunted. Once they’re gone, they’re gone… HELLO!

The same fate will happen with Bluefin tuna. Over the years, sushi chefs have taught customers that they need to have the very best tuna and now customers demand it. I haven’t ordered Bluefin tuna in about 3 years now. As someone who has sushi experience and knowledge, I could never understand purchasing expensive tuna, only to see customers use so much wasabi that they couldn’t taste the flavor anyway. I would watch customers in amazement spend $18 for toro sushi and then dunk it in a wasabi and soy sauce paste. How can you taste this fatty piece of tuna while you get a wasabi blast? Give me $20 and I’ll give you a huge bowl of rice, an entire can of tuna, soy sauce and wasabi, it’ll taste the same…

Sushi began with local fish. Edomae sushi (Tokyo style) which is the precursor to today’s nigiri sushi, used all local seafood from Tokyo Bay. Others have told me that traditional sushi is destroying the oceans and depleting the Bluefins. Originally, traditional sushi comes from using local fish. We have to go back to the sushi roots and it all begins with local seafood.

Please share your comments and thanks for stopping by…

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lessons from Toyota

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I’ve been enjoying the late night jokes about Toyota and adding in my own on social media. With my experience in branding and working for one of the best known brands worldwide, I know the importance of branding, marketing, and PR. Toyota did damage to their brand and created a PR nightmare. From what I know about their situation, rather than fixing the problem right away, they waited. Not sure what they were waiting for, but they waited. If the reports are true, they waited many years and saved millions of dollars at the time. My guess is that they thought it would go away. I am glad that they took the blame for the safety issues, but it seems that the “fix” they have may not be the answer.

I’ve seen this many times in the restaurant industry. For example, many people who like to cook think they can set-up or run a restaurant kitchen. They prepare food a certain way and since they haven’t gotten sick, then it’s OK. The health department gives the restaurant a list of items to fix to bring them up to code. Many do nothing with the health department’s list, either they don’t know what to do or not important to take care of right away. Many are small fixable things, but yes some are expensive fixes or changes.

I remember a juice place that was shut down by the health department. I walked up to read the sign on the door, they were closed due to lack of permits. My guess is since it was a small store and they weren’t cooking anything, they didn’t need any permits. I give them the credit to buy two blenders and open up a place, but following health department procedures is important for public safety. Also, didn’t see a food handler’s certificate on the wall.

Not many restaurant owners/managers understand the importance of marketing, branding, and PR. This is the factor that can make or break the restaurant. It’s food, service, value, atmosphere and it’s all a perception coming from the branding, marketing, or PR.

Thank you for stopping by, I’d love to hear your comments.