Chef Stu Stein – Is Terroir Circling the Drain?

UPDATED BELOW!
Politics2.gifWe haven’t heard much lately about the follies of accused plagiarist Chef Stu Stein, and his restaurant Terroir, although we’ve heard plenty of rumors that the restaurant is struggling. Regardless, recent posts on Stein’s blog Earth to Table, (no longer valid) sponsored by Restaurant & Institutions Magazine, are pretty damming evidence from Stein himself that there are indeed big problems at Terroir.

Chef Stein has a tendency to publicly criticize those who work with him when things don’t go the way he wants. Take this post (no longer valid) from last June, just one month after Terroir opened, where Stein expresses disappointment in his staff and states he had expected his staff to “get it by now.” Comments like this rubbed several readers (not to mention employees) the wrong way. Frankly, it shows a complete lack of respect for those who should be able to trust and look up to an employer. No wonder Terroir’s General Manager resigned only two months after the restaurant opened.

However, recent blog postings by Stein really show his true nastiness. How he plans to retain and find future business associates, staff and customers boggles my mind. In a recent post titled Customer Service? (no longer valid) Stein is highly critical of his food purveyors, going far enough to say, “what happened to my customer service?” In a quip regarding one specialty food business in particular, Stein says, “I don’t do a lot of business with them because they lack the depth and knowledge of Pacific Northwest ingredients we typically need, and I have had customer-service issues with them in the past.” While he doesn’t name names, the way he writes it and quotes from a Willamette Week article, makes it very easy to figure out who he is talking about. A questionable move on Stein’s part, and if I was one of his food purveyors, I’d be pretty insulted and none too pleased. Who wants to do business with a guy that publicly trashes you? Someone at his PR company should put a muzzle on him. The man just does not know when to shut up.

On the other hand, Stein indicates he is not too pleased with his PR company either. In this post, (no longer valid) he vaguely hints that he is considering firing them. Specifically, Stein indicates his displeasure over recent media reporting and customer feedback about the restaurant, stating “That tells me that we-that is, us internally and my PR people in general-are not getting our message across. That being said, my contract with my PR firm is up at the end of the year.” He also goes on to say “The message we’d hoped to get across was, Terroir is the quintessential Pacific-Northwest restaurant… Terroir is that rare restaurant that seems so right for its location, yet with an appeal far beyond its neighborhood. A place that will convince you that small plates, civilized dining and reasonably priced food can coexist. The problem is that the new customer base doesn’t get that message.” Once again, it’s those magic words from Stein – they just aren’t “getting it.” It’s always someone else’s fault.

We’ve seen tomfoolery like this before in other failing restaurants, and honestly it’s the biggest and dumbest PR move a restaurant can make. Alienating everyone around you by blaming your staff, then your customers, and finally your purveyors and your PR firm for problems inherent in your business plan, cuisine, concept and management, only serve to make matters worse. When a chef does this very loudly and publicly on a blog, it’s just downright stupid. In essence, Stein is creating his own bad press and publicity.

The main problem with Terroir? Stein just doesn’t “get it.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Quit blaming everyone else. Be a man, take control, and fix the problems. Start with supporting and training your staff… and fix the damn food! The economy is on a downhill slide and things are getting competitive out there. At the rate Stein’s going, I wouldn’t be surprised if Terroir is on the closing list for 2008.

Update: Commenter and occasional contributor Kevin Allman brings up the following points below:
Stu Stein’s blog, Dec. 13, 2007:

“A place that feels like a real restaurant. It’s a copacetic blend of good design and focused intent.”

“A place that will convince you that small plates, civilized dining and reasonably priced food can coexist.”

Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic, reviewing Terzo, June 11, 2006:

“Terzo is perfect for its Cow Hollow neighborhood, with a copacetic blend of good design and focused intent.”

“Terzo has renewed my enthusiasm, proving that small plates, civilized dining and reasonably priced food can coexist.”

I wouldn’t spend a cent at Terroir.

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. says

    If I were his PR firm, I’d consider tacking on combat pay and/or offering crisis management services.

    It’s pretty hard to get ‘butts in the seats’ (which isn’t exactly something ‘PR’ can accomplish) when your chief spokesperson undercuts your efforts left and right – and any decent PR person would have either muzzled him or resigned the account already.

    I don’t know if I’m considered elite enough for the type of clientele Stein’s in search of. See, I could care less if the place is a “copacetic blend of good design and focused intent.” And if I’m required to get and absorb that message before I’m considered worthy enough to dine there? Uh, no thanks…reading his posts left a bad taste in my mouth already, thankyouverymuch.

  2. says

    Speaking of making his own bad PR, I heard a rumor this morning that Hurley’s Portland has closed it’s doors.

    Wonder if the taxpayers will be shifting to paying for his salary running the Seattle restaruant.

  3. says

    I was recently sent a personal email from a PR person, wanting to make sure I knew about the ninth Chipotle opening in the greater Portland area. I emailed back that I had no idea why he thought this would be important to me, and not to contact me again.

    “Customer awareness” is achieved through people liking your restaurant and telling other people to go. Also, positive reviews in credible venues. Stein’s thinking that the “message” needs to be transmitted by PR people is putting the cart before the horse, or perhaps looking for a place to lay blame. Any journalist who carea about fairness at best glances at press kits; to take the word of someone who’s being paid to write nice things about a place might not be unethical (though I think it is) but it is lazy, and I can’t imagine any but the basest of publications thinking this is enough on which to base a review. Whatever it is Terroir is trying to transmit, it needs to be done on a person-to-person basis while sitting in the restaurant; it doesn’t need to have a name, but it needs to taste and feel good. That this has not happened is not a failure of semantics, but execution.

  4. says

    Good Points Dave J. Yes Portland is a small town, and the food business here is tightly knit. Someone very wise in the PR business here once said to me, “don’t burn your bridges in Portland,” and it’s really true.

    Stein complains about current customer service from his purveyors? Well, I don’t expect that customer service is going to improve for him much now or in the future that he posted his little diatribe – I mean would you really want to bust your butt and bend over backward for a guy like this?It would be one thing if he was a big established restaurant (like a Jakes) with a big and steady account, but I’m certain some companies can easily dump him and not really feel the impact at all (except in the positive since they won’t have to deal with him anymore).

    Nice article Food Dude. It’s astounding to me how little business savvy on the PR front Stein seems to have.

  5. says

    Still, there are dramatic possibilities. I’m thinking chef Stein could reprise the “you’re all out of order” scene from “And Justice for All”. You know, “You don’t get it, PR doesn’t get it, nobody gets it!”

    To help stabilize the business cash flow, I have an idea: drop the PR company and spend the time you would have spent complaining working on the food, then invite all the food reviewers back in and let them do your PR.

    els meus 2 centims,
    Mateu

  6. Dave J. says

    A questionable move on Stein’s part, and if I was one of his food purveyors, I’d be pretty insulted and none too pleased.

    I really can’t believe how poorly he disguised the identity of the company he was attacking (it took me all of 10 seconds to figure it out). Not only does this poison his relationship with current suppliers, but I’d imagine it hurts him with prospective suppliers as well. I don’t know anything about the business, but I imagine it’s a pretty small world, and those guys talk. Once word gets out that you are fond of trashing your suppliers (so blatantly that it might as well be by name) on your blog, forget about future business.

  7. says

    Stu Stein’s blog, Dec. 13, 2007:

    “A place that feels like a real restaurant. It’s a copacetic blend of good design and focused intent.”

    “A place that will convince you that small plates, civilized dining and reasonably priced food can coexist.”

    Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic, reviewing Terzo, June 11, 2006:

    “Terzo is perfect for its Cow Hollow neighborhood, with a copacetic blend of good design and focused intent.”

    “Terzo has renewed my enthusiasm, proving that small plates, civilized dining and reasonably priced food can coexist.”

    I wouldn’t spend a cent at Terroir.

  8. LadyConcierge says

    I think the PR company does suck. I was contacted by them twice with an invitation for a dinner ‘on them’ to experience it. Both times I gave them a day and time like they requested, and they said they would get back to me when it was confirmed. Neither time was it confirmed, and I guess I didn’t care enough to call them on it. The PR lady called me a day later and said they were sorry they didn’t see me for the reservation. Sorry, you didn’t get back to me and I’m not chasing a free meal. Follow through on what you say you will do.

    For what it’s worth I had the same experience with Ten 01′s PR firm in the same kind of situation. It was some Seattle-based company, as is Terroir’s, I think.

    What’s up with Hurley’s?

  9. Dave J. says

    This is almost beyond parody at this point.

    Terroir Website:

    “It is a respite from the elements when cloudy and cool, a celebration when sunny and warm. A place to enjoy the company of one or to share with many.”

    Website for the Liberty Belle bar/club, in Philadephia

    “Step inside and the Liberty Belle becomes a respite from the elements when cloudy and cool, a celebration when sunny and warm. The space is at once intimate and grand, a place to enjoy the company of friends or to share with others.”

  10. mczlaw says

    Some lazy ass plagiarists never learn. In the internet age, you cheat and you will get busted.

    As far as Stein’s ripoff of Tami Parr’s NW Cheese Project a couple years ago, I have a hard time qualifying “plagiarist” with a nice word like “accused” which suggests room for doubt.

    I believe it was on this site that the large blocks of text were laid out side by side, and anyone suggesting Stein was not guilty of plagiarism would stand as an accused idiot. Notably, I never heard any defense of the charge from Stein or anyone else on his behalf. The only question in my mind remains whether his departure from the Ashland Tidings was a direct response to this incident or whether he was given an easy out.

    My general inclination is to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. “Chef” Stein is one of the few who simply does not deserve the courtesy. His lapses in good judgment go on and on. To the point, I just can’t bring myself to return to his restaurant—and I’d say that even if the food was great–which it was not when I tried it.

    –mcz

  11. MostlyRunning says

    Stu is absolutely insane. If I were an optimist I would cut him some slack and think it could be the PR firm doing all the current poaching. Since I’m not I just have to believe he is one of the stupidest men on the face of the earth and the pyramid scheme necessary to put “chef” in front of his name is finally catching up with him.

    I am not prone to wish ill-will on anyone dumb and passionate enough to open a restaurant, but this guy needs to cut bait.

  12. themick says

    This from todays blog:

    “sometimes on quiet nights I like to write poetry…..here’s what I wrote last Saturday….I hope you like it:
    I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
    When all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host, of golden daffodils;
    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

    Continuous as the stars that shine
    And twinkle on the milky way,
    They stretched in never-ending line
    Along the margin of a bay: 10
    Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
    Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

    The waves beside them danced; but they
    Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
    A poet could not but be gay,
    In such a jocund company:
    I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
    What wealth the show to me had brought:

    For oft, when on my couch I lie
    In vacant or in pensive mood, 20
    They flash upon that inward eye
    Which is the bliss of solitude;
    And then my heart with pleasure fills,
    And dances with the daffodils.”

  13. JDG says

    I’ve recently become addicted to reruns of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America. Sounds like it might be fun to see Gordon spend a week at Terroir and give the guy a good bollocking.

  14. nathan says

    It’s amazing. I wonder how much else he has used in his descriptions. Kevin Allman highlights a few, I was curious so I did some googling of suspect passages…

    Behold from Stu at http://www.rimag.com/blog-stu-stein/terroir.asp
    There are places we go to feel at home. There are places we go to celebrate once-in-a-lifetime events. And there are places we go simply because it’s Friday

    And from Valentino restaurant in a hotel chain at http://www.radisson.com/hotels/chnhangz/dinings
    There are places we go to feel at home. There are places we go to celebrate once-in-a-lifetime events. And there are places we go simply because it’s Friday

    And from Terrior we have this nugget “Whether you come in pursuit of the pleasure of a well-paired food-and wine-combination; to support our region’s small farmers and artisan producers

    The same as a place in NY on this site http://www.vintagenewyork.com/winebar.htmlWhether you come in pursuit of the pleasure of a well-paired food and wine combination; to support our region’s small farmers and artisan producers

    What a joker.

  15. morris says

    Mick, I fear the subliminal brilliance of this poetry perhaps escaped you. Seems to me there’s some cleverly subtle references to a new dessert menu buried in there by a sneaky PR company, and you fell for it, or something.

    Pineapple & Mango Mousse On Jocund Yellow Cake, Passion Fruit Coulis & Colombian Golden Berries

    Deep Fried Milky Way Bar Sundae

    Bleeding Heart Gelatin Dessert

    Krispy Kreme Original Double Gazed Donut

    I’m sure there’s more but I’m laughing too hard for this early on a Saturday to think further.

  16. says

    Oh, dear…

    “Tuesdays at Terroir”:

    “Each menu is carefully designed so that each course lays the foundation for the next. It is a perfectly balanced meal that continues to satisfy afterwards.”

    Meanwhile, out in Chicago, some obscure chef by the name of Charlie Trotter is offering this:

    “Charlie prefers his cuisine to be experienced in a progression of petite courses with each course laying the foundation for the next….It is important to Trotter that diners enjoy a perfectly balanced meal that continues to satisfy afterwards.”

    At this point, it’s just silly, like a My Dinner With Ben Domenich.

  17. says

    Um….at least the guy borrows from the best, no?

    I also thought the slam on the vendor was priceless – especially the grousing about ‘will call’ service. Does this mean that someone who spends lots of money dining at Terroir could walk in at 3 pm, ask for a cup of coffee and a small plate of whatever’s on special – but without those ‘icky mushrooms, mind you’ – and expect to get it in the name of ‘customer service’?

  18. pdxyogi says

    Even more distasteful to me was the slam on his waitstaff for, of course like everyone else, not “getting it”. To criticize employees in front of others, be it online or in the FOH, is unacceptable to me. I had planned on treating some friends to dinner there, but I’ll take my business elsewhere after reading his public rants.

  19. WellSeasoned says

    Unearthing proof of “Chef” Stu’s plagiarism is just waaaaaay too much fun! Here’s what I found this morning with a little Googling:

    From Terroir’s home page:
    Terroir is a place where the dishes are myriad and small but the flavor is decidedly large. You can order items singularly, to be shared for the whole table, with a Pacific Northwest wine, micro brewed beer or cocktail, in a great tapas-like rush, or in the classic appetizer-entrée-dessert sequence.

    From Adam Platt’s NY Magazine review of Casa Mono:
    It’s a modest Spanish restaurant where the dishes are myriad and small, but the food is decidedly large. … These dishes can be ordered singly, with a glass of wine, in a great, tapas-like rush, or in the classic appetizer-entrée sequence.

    [BTW, I love Stu's decision to change "singly" to "singularly" -- the guy's not only a plagiarist, he's also illiterate.]

    From the “About Terroir” page:

    We let the products dictate whether we use the enrichment of European technique, the minimalism of Eastern presentation or the ingenuity of American know how. It is about using whatever the earth gives you and instilling in the diner a sense of place.

    From the website of Maharani, an Indian restaurant in Queens, NY:
    We let the products dictate whether we use the enrichment of Indian technique, the minimalism of Eastern presentation or the ingenuity of Western know how. It is about using whatever the earth gives you and instilling in the diner a sense of place.

    From the “About Terroir” page:

    Terroir offers heady aromas, a personable staff promoting a confident, convivial spirit and an understated, grown-up look. It feels like a real restaurant; the place doesn’t need overwrought lighting, kitschy themed decor or any other gimmick.

    From Michael Bauer’s SF Chronicle review of Terzo (clearly a fave source for Stu):
    It offers a toasty smell, personable staff and an understated, grown-up look. It feels like a real restaurant; the place doesn’t need overwrought lighting, kitschy themed decor or any other gimmick to succeed. … The staff, too, promotes a confident, convivial spirit.

    Plagiarism on this scale is simply breath-taking.

    Finally, thanks to The Mick for making me choke on my morning coffee. Brilliant!

  20. says

    The similarities to others’ works are now extensive enough that I wondered what penalties existed for plagiarism. From plagiarism.org, we learn:

    Legal Punishments

    Most cases of plagiarism are considered misdemeanors, punishable by fines of anywhere between $100 and $50,000 — and up to one year in jail.

    Plagiarism can also be considered a felony under certain state and federal laws. For example, if a plagiarist copies and earns more than $2,500 from copyrighted material, he or she may face up to $250,000 in fines and up to ten years in jail.

    Of course our legal system tends to be overloaded enough that they have to prosecute only the worst offenses, but it’s interesting to me that a plagiarist could face not just fines but jail time.

    adéu,Mateu

  21. kdaphoto says

    I haven’t researched for any gems of plagiarism. I’ve just noticed how empty the place is every time I drive past it on my way to dinner somewhere else.

  22. says

    Stein forgot to blame one other group for his woes – the online media.

    Oh, wait, could it be true? Of course he blames the bloggers
    http://www.rimag.com/blog-stu-stein/011108.asp

    Let me digress for a moment and say that I’ve been jaded and skeptical about the online restaurant-reviewing “media,” particular in my fair city of Portland. In general, they pull out their keyboards before connecting the synapses in their brains and generally have some pre-existing biases that tend to conflict with the true ethics of reviewing.

    This, on ethics, coming from a pretty well documented plagiarist criticizing those for not thinking about what they are writing before they write it…Hmmm…that’s an interesting criticism.

  23. says

    Funny you should mention the wine list. I got an email from an industry person saying, “If you read his descriptions of his featured wines on his list, they are lifted directly from the winemaker’s websites. Not an overly damning offense, but when you have a track record… I might blame this more directly on Cole Danehauer, but it is Stu’s place.”

  24. biabub says

    surprised no one else mentioned that Cole Danehower, who writes the oregon wine report and i think is at least a contributing editor to Northwest Palate, does the wine list for Terroir. isn’t he disgusted as a journalist to be associating with such a blatant plagiarizer? someone should take away Stein’s online privileges right now.

  25. QuoVadis says

    Funny watching this unfold.
    At first I was amused by the jackassery of his foolish choices.
    Then I was angry at the unmitigated dicketry of his arrogance.

    Now I’m wondering if we aren’t all just lacking in compassion. The man is obviously deeply mentally ill. I mean you can’t be all there and think that your lies, theft of intellectual property and public abuse of your staff and local support won’t hurt.

    He’s like the Britney Spears of the local dining scene. Makes you a little angry, makes you a little sad… makes you a little nauseous because you can’t take your eyes off the trainwreck.

  26. pdxyogi says

    Even if he is bipolar or has antisocial personality disorder or addiction, that hardly excuses acting out and victimizing people. Were I his staff I wouldn’t have any compassion for him until he asks for help and makes amends for those he has wronged.

  27. Warmed over says

    Food Dude-

    Haven’t seen this kind of drama since the Hebberoy mess. I’m really enjoying your “Circling the Drain” series. Who’s next?

  28. nepdxer says

    As much fun as this is to read this in your always excellent blog, I’m disappointed this hasn’t appeared anywhere in the MSM.
    I would think that a chef fired for plagiarism who comes town an resorts to even more plagiarism on the grandest scale imaginable would be newsworthy!

    Too scornful for the O?
    Well where are you WW or Merc? You’re the masters of snide. The commenters here should have fed all the ammo you need for your snark cannons.

    Hell, this is more than ethics. It’s theft.

  29. says

    More on Hurley’s:

    Tonight The Oregonian has a piece on the restaurant’s closing, along with a few choice quotes from Thomas Hurley, who has relocated to Seattle. He blames foie gras protestors for Hurley’s failure, and manages to get in a few slaps at the Portland dining crowd as well:

    “I’m moving on to bigger and better things,” says Hurley. “I need to be in a bigger city with more sophistication, more money.”

    “Portland wasn’t ready for me,” says Hurley. “People in Seattle love what we do. They don’t mind paying for quality.”

    Guess he’s not coming back.

  30. hermes says

    How he plans to retain and find future business associates, staff and customers boggles my mind.

    Well, the recession will help keep the place staffed with desperate underpaid workers. But as far as customers go, bad press does not bode well for a new(ish) restaurant period. I see the eddy forming.

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