When I woke up last Thursday morning, I knew it was going to be a bad day. I’ve developed a sixth sense in the past few years. A look at the morning emails began to validate my fears.
While having lunch with my trusty lunch companion Dana, I received a phone call from AJC dining critic John Kessler, who was inquiring about the new pizza oven at Fritti. Having eaten there twice since its installation, he was not happy with our product and was going to blog about it.
Yep, bad day…no doubt.
I was taken back by this. John reviewed Sotto Sotto 12 years ago when we opened. He has been eating at my restaurants ever since. He has interviewed me on several occasions. I have always respected his opinion, especially since he expanded my cooking knowledge by introducing me to the concept of Umami: a fundamental flavor component I had never heard of.
The new oven has been a great success. The wood consumption is 1/3 of what it used to be, saving money and greenhouse emissions. I’ve been happy with the vast majority of the 90 or so pizzas I have tried. I’ve not heard of any customer complaints, directly or from servers. Yelp, open table, and reward network ratings are very good. Sales are up 12% over last year, and that was already a great year.
John tells me he ate the pizza twice and found it exceedingly soft in structure, without a wisp of crispness, “like sandwich bread.” I began to ask questions about his experience. Both times he ate the pizza it was in the early part of the evening…mmmm….could be an issue with the dough, likely under or over-proofing.
During a discussion that to an outsider had to sound like a married couple arguing about sleeping with the neighbor, Massimo, the pizzaiolo, assures me that he has paid a lot of attention to the proofing of the dough, “I do not why he no liked the pizza, maybe he just not like the way I make pizza”…
Looks like we’re not going to figure this out today, so I call John back and explain to him that I have no idea why the pizza was too soft. Either a user error on our part and it did not come out how it should or, like Massimo said, “you just no like the way we make it.” The only way to truly find out would be for us to eat one together and figure it out. John understandably denies my request, but promises to come back and try it again.
I guess you can’t win them all…
I walk into Escorpion the next day and notice Christiane Lauterbach at the bar chatting amicably with mixologist Adam Fox. I say hello and Christiane muses in her classic French accent: ” ho ho ho, I see you are debating pizza with John…he, he, he, you are a one man debate team Riccardo…” Christiane has never been a fan of Fritti, and I remember having to keep my opening pizzaiolo Salvatore, from running out into the dining room and arguing with her ten years ago. “I want to know what she know about pizza. If she know about pizza, I say ok, u know about pizza, u can tell me about pizza… I make pizza since I was 12 years old, my grandfather make pizza, my father make pizza….” ” Yo, just go back to the oven and shut up would you…”
I click to the blog and stare in horror. Likely because of the noise in the restaurant at the time of our conversation, John somehow interpreted my ‘user error’ comment as me telling him he was in error, that he did not know what he was talking about. He feels dissed as any dissatisfied customer who, after lodging a complaint, got attitude instead of reassurance. To his side come the readers that sympathize. In their eyes I’m the restaurant owner that is insensitive to his customers. They will keep driving, they wish I would go out of business, “go back to where you came from!”
What happened? My theory is this:
In this computer age, a user error is usually committed by the end user, the computer user. When I mentioned user error, John assumed I was referring to him, the end “user”. Had I said ” we either made a mistake and did not make the pizza properly or “you just no like the pizza,” this could have been avoided.
Lesson learned: “Choose your words carefully, for words are sharper than knives.”