Sinju Restaurant in the Pearl District responds to accusations they are serving endangered Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
I first reported this story back on August 27th. For those of you who missed it, here are the details
Slashfood (rip) recently published an article on Sinju Restaurant in Portland’s Pearl District. A restaurant regular Guido Rahr who happens to be president of the Wild Salmon Center in Portland noticed Sinju had recently begun offering the very rare and endangered Atlantic Bluefin tuna on the menu.
Rahr had been eating at Sinju for nearly a decade. The headquarters for his environmental group is located in the Ecotrust Natural Capital Center, across the street from the restaurant, and is home to several other conservation and sustainable development groups who share similar concerns about endangered species.
Rahr didn’t just mention that bluefin was overfished, he took the time to come back with printed materials detailing the seriousness of their plight in the hopes that at the very least, the team at Sinju would think twice before putting the fish on the menu again.
What did the restaurant do? They banned Mr. Rahr from their restaurant.
Jump forward to today, and a comment from the daughter of one of the owners:
Though the response is late, I thought it was better late than never to respond to the attention that Sinju has been getting regarding this issue. We are as you know, a family owned business without a dedicated marketing or PR arm so perhaps my parents, who are immigrants and busily working 7 days a week to run their business didn’t respond in sophisticated and/or timely manner the way they could have. So as the daughter of the owner, I wanted to take a quick minute to address the concerns of Sinju’s followers. I am not an employee of the restaurant (though I used to be) and was not there when the incident happened as I am in graduate school in Chicago. I’m just an insider giving Sinju’s perspective after speaking to my parents and the employees.
First, Blue Fin is no longer on the menu. We understand that we will continue to face sustainability issues and navigating that will be difficult for all restaurant owners. My parents, as with all business owners cannot deny the sentiments of the local community and the customers that they serve and want to conduct their business ethically. However, we believe that if people want to bring up the issue, that is a conversation/debate to be had out of a public space that is not intrusive to our employees and our customers. As business owners, my parents stand by their decision to protect our business and all of the people in it, including themselves.
Will you go to this restaurant?
They took the fish off the menu. Beyond that, it’s a he-said/she-said dispute. The response implies that Rahr was disruptive and/or rude when raising his “concerns” with the restaurant. No doubt he will deny it. Unless someone else who was there weighs in, who can know?
If you like the food, go. If you don’t, don’t. Who chooses restaurants based on politics?
“However, we believe that if people want to bring up the issue, that is a conversation/debate to be had out of a public space that is not intrusive to our employees and our customers. As business owners, my parents stand by their decision to protect our business and all of the people in it, including themselves.”
Sounds reasonable enough to me.
Jacob S says
Unless he was raising his voice and causing a commotion/spectacle, banning a decade-long customer for merely bringing up this issue “in public” seems most irregular. Also, anyone with the intelligence and drive to run a successful restaurant, immigrant or not, surely knows how to take five minutes and fire off an email responding to such a public and damning criticism. Sinju doesn’t come off looking too good after this one.
I quote my husband who has been to japan many many times over the years :: “hmmm how absolutely Japanese. The bluefin is off the menu, but Mr Rahr remains banned because he brought his complaint publicly and caused enormous loss of face.”. I’ll continue to go.
Food Dude says
I just never liked the restaurant, which is what keeps me away.
I’ve always thought Sinju was stellar for a local sushi place. I’ve been to Tokyo and tried da ‘kine there, it doesn’t match them but it’s the best around these parts. I think it’s a bumpy road to sustainablility, and that we all have to make some sacrifices. Good for Sinju to ‘mea culpa’ on this issue. In Japan I don’t think it’s an issue, they simply want the best at all costs; that idea is not sustainable; maybe these folks are learning that they’re not in Japan anymore and deserve a second chance.
I would in a heart beat….if they brought back the blue fin and they suddenly got a whole lot better.
I’d like to know exactly how Mr. Rahr attempted to put his case across. If he came across as a noisy and obnoxious eco-freak during the lunch rush, regardless of his documentation, then the restaurant was perfectly justified in giving him the boot.
And no, I’m not going to uncritically accept his unilateral explanation of the events – he may have written a nice letter that has never been answered, but it’s the “came back with printed materials” part that makes me wonder what that event looked like from the other side.
Dave Bertelo says
I was turned off as were many when first reading this to hear a guest was banned from the restaurant… but I understood why, I belive, more then most. I am a chef in Portland and know the mindset of the industry, and while I have never removed a guest for a comment I have thought about it!
I am willing to be by the nature of this blog that most people reading are passionate people who are probably good at their job as well. I think when you are of that passionate mindset one tends to take criticism hard. In many jobs it may be you are responsable for writing a few articals a week or maybe you have been designing a website for a month and I am sure it would be crushing to hear a months work is not up to standards. But in the case of restaurant owners and chefs (and to be frank all the staff in a restaurant) we get criticism over and over every single day and usually when we are at our busiest and most stressed. To be honest when I have had some of the most beautiful fresh line caught Ahi, and then told they dont want the seared ahi… seared… they want it medium well, I wanted to send my dishwasher across the street to the Plaid Pantry and grab a can of Bumblebee and open it table side for them!
I would never excuss removing Mr Rahr, but at times hearing that something that you put so much of your soul into to do the very best just doesnt messure up can be absolutly crushing, and our initial reactions wont always be right.
This industry is full of very passionate and very pridefull people, take into account the immigrants who come from a culture that is even more so, I know it was a humbling and embarasing situation and I respect the actions that they have taken. I hope aswell that they have made peace with Mr Rahr.
I understand their side and will be there Friday night!
Banning a customer who brings up a sustainability issue seems extreme, unless of course Mr. Ruhr pitched a tantrum or was threatening in some way, which is what I inferred from the daughter’s statement. It would be interesting to get the entire story, instead of omission on one side and oblique references on the other.
Her response made it seem like there was a fracas in the restaurant – was there an argument that occurred that wasn’t covered in the original story? The way it originally sounded was that a guy presented literature and thoughtful comments, but her response sounds like they felt attacked.
No, I won’t be going to Sinju. Any issue with a restaurant’s menu absolutely *is* a discussion that needs to be had with the restaurant’s management, not “a conversation/debate to be had out of a public space”, whatever that means.
The larger issue is that Sinju’s policy is to ban regular customers who bring up issues with the menu, rather than accepting their feedback and then responding to the issue directly. Showing complete disregard for customer feedback is not a good position for a restaurant to take. There are too many great restaurants in the Pearl to bother with the bad ones.
Jeff Shultz says
Why are comments no longer displayed on the webpage? I’m getting them via e-mail, but it means that nobody can see comments made before they made theirs.
For instance, “newgirloldtown”‘s comment doesn’t give any evidence that she’s seen the comments questioning if Mr. Rahr was confrontational or disruptive in his interactions with Sinju.
Jacob S says
Yep, I can’t see the comments either – only getting them (via email) because I clicked the box to receive emails after my first comment. Strange.
Yes, I’m sorry, I wasn’t able to view the previous comments. It is a curious question, exactly how Mr. Rahr brought the issue up–did any other customers witness it? If he behaved in an inappropriate/threatening manner, why didn’t the daughter of the owner mention that in the statement?
Food Dude says
Unfortunately, I’m in the hospital and can’t fix the comments problem from here. I must have turned comments off by mistake. Will fix them when I break out later today. Sorry!
Food Dude says
Ok, reboot seems to have fixed comments. Let me know if there are any issues – I’m not able to keep an eye on things today.
The owners of this place are Korean, not Japanese–which may go some way in explaining why they “aren’t in Japan anymore.”
She made some very valid points. I am a chef and lived long in Japan to understand the Japanese mindset. I will go to Sinju. Even if a customer is visiting a Restaurant for ages, if he/she is a neusence, there should not be any place for him/her in that Restaurant. That is why the Restaurants write about right of admission
I like Sinju. They occasionally have toro, they are fine with corkage (unlike Murata), it’s easy to get into, the service is good, they have a full bar, the atmosphere is interesting (uh, Hiroshi) and the I have always found the fish quality to be high.
Good Job Jaen if this was her.
I think it was a well thought out response.
I would still go there- the happy hour is pretty decent.
Thanks for taking the BF off the menu.
Tom Sherman says
Brett asks “who chooses restaurants based on politics?” (9/28/10)
But all food choices are political. Your choice to buy or not to buy farm-raised salmon or industrially-raised chickens or genetically modified corn has social and political consequences for health, the economy, land development and other aspects of our daily lives.
Eating, like other political choices, can never be pure — choosing between organic food that requires long-distance transportation and local food that is not organic, for example. But, as Michael Pollan says, eating is a political act.