Chris Cusack, the owner of Down House, just called me to have a bar owner to bar owner chat. If you haven’t been to Down House, you should really check it out. The new concept, named after Charles Darwin’s home is a coffee shop, restaurant, and bar in the Heights that somehow manages to execute all three ridiculously well despite being open for something like 37 hours a day.
It has been my experience that Chris’ demeanor as one of the nicest guys on the planet rubs off on his staff. Yesterday, however, Down House was caught in a firestorm after an argument ensued involving a customer, bartender, and manager allegedly revolving around a comment made about me. The incident eventually resulted in the guest being asked to leave – something that happens in restaurants all around the country daily. Katharine Shilcutt wrote about the incident in an attempt to discuss the interesting dynamics restaurants encounter when interacting with guests via social media. The meat of the article: Social media can be a fickle bitch or your best friend. It’s an interesting issue, and something that clearly warrants further discussion. Yet, for some reason, the meat of the article went unnoticed, and all that was chewed on was the fat. I guess that is where all the flavor’s at.
For the record, I don’t care what was said, misinterpreted, or whatever, and I intended to completely ignore this issue all together because, frankly, I have better things to do. Yet after 200ish comments and Chris’ worried and professional late night phone call, I reconsidered. I’d prefer to go to bed, but I feel like somebody needs to say this:
Houston Food Folks: Some of y’all need to chill.
So a relatively new restaurant had a conflict with a guest – ok? Based on yesterday’s reactions, you would think the Down House bussers pulled out AK-47’s killed everybody in the dining room and slapped a baby in the parking lot on the way out. Here’s what’s really is going to happen. The evicted guest will likely never return; Down House would probably prefer it that way. They both will move on and be better without each other. Since this occurred somewhat publically, it makes for an interesting example of social media dynamics. Shouldn’t that be it?
So why the blog post and blatant hypocrisy? I’m not trying to add to the conversation, but as someone who is opening a few concepts later this year, I’m extremely concerned about the disconnect between the action and the reaction. There’s two, maybe three, people involved here; there’s no way this type of negativity is warranted. What about all of the other staff members that work there who depend on steady service to pay their bills? What about how hard Chris had to work to get that place open? What about all the good things that Down House adds to the Heights and the rest of the Houston food scene?
When we wrote the business plan for Anvil, I was 24. I had no clue what I was doing. We practically built the bar by ourselves, slept on the floors, and bankrupted just about everything in our lives – we were really, really stupid. We had no parking because we didn’t think we would need it. We had four bartenders…four. I thought I would be able to work Sundays by myself because I couldn’t imagine Houstonians wanting pretentious cocktails in Montrose. Needless to say, things were rough at first. Yet, somehow, Houston continued to support us. Making mistakes all the way, I’d liked to think we figured things out and have a pretty decent bar today. Yes, it’s too crowded at times, parking still sucks, we sound uppity sometimes because we forget not everybody is a cocktail dork, and it takes too long to get a drink. Sorry. It’s the best we can do; believe me we try every shift. I know Chris does the same, and I feel for him. Regardless of whatever happened on one social-media charged evening, Chris doesn’t deserve to be put through all of this. I know what it is like to work that hard.
I’m not sure if Houston is changing, but I do feel a slight trend towards negativity especially directed at newer concepts. I can assure you that Down House is a hell’uva lot better than we were when we opened Anvil and every bit as good as we are now. Yet, we continue to get overwhelming support, while Down House endures today’s events. Give them a chance; don’t burn them at the stake just yet. I didn’t read any of those comments below Katherine’s article, but I am sure that just like everything else in this city’s online food world, they were all comprised of good intentions because our food community is comprised of good people. The problem is that some don’t understand the weight of their dialogue or the real impact of these good intentions. Positive or negative, supportive or critical, it’s sad that all that will be remembered about this incident is that Down House supposedly has service issues. That’s not fair based on one situation, and I don’t think it’s true at all for that matter. Ask any restaurant professional about how damaging this can be, and they will likely recite the old adage about negative comments being repeated ten times more frequently then positive commentary. It’s a brutal part of the industry. I know those engaging in these discussions are just trying to defend whoever they perceive to be right in this situation, but you’re really just hurting a good concept and those who work for it. That’s an issue that’s far bigger than just a few people and one argument.
Here’s my advice. Instead of spending so much time engaging negative debates or being critics, why not spend just as much energy talking about your favorites foods, places you actually like, or what you’re excited about opening in the future? After all, recreational eating, or devoting an extreme amount of time to pursuing the joys of food and drink, is a hobby. Man, I wouldn’t know what to do if I hated my hobby as much as some of the excessive and ongoing criticisms out their suggest some do. If you think this applies to you, maybe you should take up paragliding instead. I also hear that pottery can be soothing. Perhaps, you can give your wares to other people to eat food out of, and they can only tell you about the good stuff. What a nice symbiotic relationship that would be.
I’m trying to be lighthearted here so I don’t come across too critical. Certainly, I’m not saying this applies to all of you, and I am sure the comments sections of that post are full of Anvil regulars and good friends. Yes, I also know it’s pretty stupid to be critical of your consumer base when you could just leave well enough alone. Most of you are good people, but perhaps taking a step back and making a concentrated effort to focus on more positive dialogue is in order here.
Those of us who are younger and trying to pull off progressive concepts way above our means could really use your support. We are going to also need you to cut us some slack from time to time – even when we really mess up. It’s going to happen. I apologize in advance for potentially screwing up your evening, but I promise if you’ll stick with me, I’ll give you far more memorable ones. I can’t tell you how privileged we feel when you chose to spend your nights off or special occasions in our establishments. Statistically, we likely get less free time than you so we understand how disappointing a bad night out can be, and how rewarding a great night out with friends or loved ones is. Despite all of this, however, one of the biggest factors to helping Houston become everything it can be and more is being tolerant as a newer generation moves through these growing pains. We don’t have twenty years of experience under our belts, but isn’t that what you’re always saying you’re looking for anyway?
I’m not going to touch the details of this apparent hot-button issue. It really isn’t the point I’m trying to make anyway. I’ve been extremely impressed with Down House’s opening, and my personal experiences suggest that there is very little to forgive and countless things to enjoy. I’m simply asking you to treat our new and future restaurants and bars the same way you’ve treated Anvil. I promise they will reward you for your support.
SAY WHAT??? Did someone really just tell me that Channel 2 picked this story up??? Slow day in Somalia I guess…