Once again, let’s open the file labeled “Piss-Poor Restaurateur Decisions.” A few months ago, I wailed about a local establishment called Mango Fusion Thai not being as inventive as its name would suggest. I predicted that the restaurant didn’t have much chance to survive. Well, it turns out that MFT is doing just fine, thank you very much, and its food is actually pretty tasty — try the ginger chicken.
Now, however, another restaurant in the area is in dire need of my tutelage. Until about six months ago, there was a pizza place on the corner of my block, which specialized in $2.00 slices with a little too much cheese and not quite enough sauce; it did a crisp business. In late summer, the establishment was bought out by some people who had a bright idea: Let’s turn this bitch into an upscale Italian eatery. To achieve a certain aesthetic, the new owners replaced the cheap-looking booths with faux marble tables, upon which they placed butcher paper, unopened bottles of San Pellegrino and fancy drinking glasses; they dimmed the lighting considerably; they hung a heavy black curtain just inside the door; and got rid of knick-knacks (e.g. a 7-Up clock) that hinted at the restaurant’s origin as a lowly pizza joint. Except they forgot one thing: They kept the pizza oven in the dining room, and still serve pizza by the slice. And it’s not one of those homey wood ovens, either; it’s your standard-issue metal monstrosity, capable of holding ten or so pizzas at a time, as well as assorted strombolis.
I think it’s safe to say that the new idea doesn’t work. The old crowd, who simply wanted a slice of hot, greasy pizza in the proverbial two shakes of a lamb’s tail have taken their business to a (tastier) pizza concern two blocks away, presumably because the heavy curtain at the renovated place is too daunting to navigate for a simple slice; there is also nowhere to sit apart from the tricked-up tables, and who wants that kind of pressure during a low-brow lunch? Okay, so none of the formerly loyal customers goes there anymore. How about new stomachs? Sadly, it’s just not going to happen, at least not with enough regularity to make the restaurant viable, for two reasons. First, anyone who craves a more formal sit-down Italian meal wouldn’t consider the renovated place because, with its industrial oven in plain view of the front windows, it still looks like a pizza place, only one with an identity crisis. If they had switched over to gourmet or brick-oven pizza, they could have justified the pre-set tables and billowy curtain — but for an ordinary slice? No. Secondly, and most importantly, there is a similar Italian restaurant only six doors down, and it does not have an identity crisis.
I think what makes me the most upset about this tragically confused eatery is that the new owners failed miserably at gauging the power of the incumbent competitor. A quick hike in five blocks in either direction probably told them that the neighborhood was actually in need a second affordable, family-style Italian restaurant; they were smart to consider such an endeavor in the area. And yet these people — who, it must be said, were quite pleasant to me the one time I went in there post-makeover to get a slice (and man, did I feel guilty about ordering such a low-profit item as a slice, when clearly something vealy was what they hoped I would order; I realize now that guilt is the reason why I will never return) — chose to open right next to a similar restaurant with a healthy clientele? Why couldn’t they see how stupid this is?
And so once again I am in the uncomfortable position that Jerry Seinfeld was in with poor Babu Bhatt. Do I go into the restaurant and tell them that they should consider replacing the oven or changing the menu or getting rid of the stupid curtain? Do I tell them that, quite frankly, they’re trying to hard? Or do I continue to avoid their misguided eatery like the plague, and get my slices at the tastier place down the street and my Italian food from their main competitor? I think we all know the answer to these questions. Sorry to have even brought this up.
WHY I’M ANGRY TODAY
I forgot to put my favorite t-shirt in the bag I dropped off at the laundry.