The January issue of Food&Wine has an article on the Michael and Naomi Hebberoy which you can read here.
The book would celebrate America’s illegal supper clubs in a series of essays aimed at dismantling dining conventions—for instance, the idea that a restaurant needs to be in a pleasant, walkable neighborhood. Hebberoy likens Kill the Restaurant to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. He hopes it will inspire “18-year-old kids to cook for their punk rock friends and charge them for it. It could be a major catalyst for change in the world of food.” He also hopes to convince Oregon’s governor, Ted Kulongoski, to help legalize underground restaurants—say, by allowing diners to sign liability waivers.
I also stumbled across another article written by Michael Hebberoy himself. There’s no one quite as cool as Michael, if he must say so himself.
I don’t have much to say about these articles, but I’ve gotten so many emails I thought I should post something. Feel free to comment.
Dave J. says
The thing that consistently infuriates me about Hebberoy is that he prattles on and on about “killing the restaurant,” yet when I go to his restaurants, what do I see? The same upper-crust clientele I see at every other restaurant in town! The same type of dishes. Yes, they’re good–nobody disputes that. But this idea that they are somehow a radical departure from everyone else: please. Give me a break. They are obviously following the idea that if you repeat something long enough, it will become true.
Do they really want to “kill the restaurant”? Fine–why don’t they open a restaurant in North Portland (or, better yet, Gresham, or Troutdale, or Clackamas) and keep prices low enough to attract a wide-ranging assortment of people from that part of town, people who are typically unable to eat at places like clarklewis? Until they do something TRULY revolutionary, they’ll just be media-savvy creatures doing what every other restauranteur does: serve good food to people who can afford it.
And get better lighting at clarklewis, dammit!
Marshall Manning says
Exactly, Dave…the whole “kill the restaurant” is a bunch of marketing crap. If they were so interested in keeping things different, they would have stopped with Ripe and been happy with it. Instead, they opened two restaurants. If they wanted to do something different they could have started a foie gras only roach coach!
They did open one in N. Portland: Gotham Bldg Tavern. They also opened one on the waterfront long before it was moving towards true gentrification.
But I always assume that the “kill the restaurant” refers only to Ripe. I could be wrong, but that’s the only way I think it makes sense. And I primarily take it to mean the Ripe of old.
Personally, I prefer restaurants.
But I’d love to see a movement to loosen the regulations on cooking for money, whether you call it a restaurant or whatever.
I’d also like to get raw milk cheese. And I’d like to get mangosteens that didn’t have to be frozen. And I’d like to go into a meat shop and see pigs and salami hanging behind the counter.
Oh sure, I say that thing about raw milk and then this:
Joe Dixon says
I just posted a litle rant over on the comments section of the clarklewis review (and, again, full disclosure: I used to work for Michael and Naomi), but, again, I feel obliged to say: Get over it.
Yes, Gotham and clarklewis are “traditional” restaurants, but within the confines of what that means they’re doing interesting things. Who else hires a Writer In Residence? It may seem like over-stuffed marketing hype (which it is, a little) but the fact remains that Michael and Naomi *are* helping to redefine eating out.
They’re using their status as the “Portland hipster power couple du jour” to help out other creatives, be it Chris Bleiler (who designs and builds the majority of their furniture), Esque (glass and light fixtures), or the afore-mentioned Matthew Stadler. It’s this fierce devotion to other craftpeople, whether they be carpenters or bean farmers, that I think is at the core of the issue. “Killing The Restaurant” is, I believe, more of an ethos, a call to action, if you will. Remove the dissconnect from between farmer and guest, chef and architect, server and butcher.
In the article that FD linked to about Michael, Hebb is quoted as saying that the so-called ‘food revolution’ didn’t start with Alice Waters, that it was merely an “ingredients shift”, which is absolutely true. ripe is, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, doing something new and worthwhile and interesting.
Naomike and their subsequent restaurants do not exixst without Alice Waters and her “ingredient shift”. It is absurd to see the sea change in ingredients as anything less than a revolution, and to discount it is arrogance. Not to say that Alice Waters is solely responsible: however that restaraunt represents a drastic change in the food environment of, at least, the west coast. True Pioneers had paved the to way sustainable and local agriculture and animal husbandry. The Pommerebbs aren’t doing anything new they’re simply telling everyone that they are.
Plus, Chez Panisse “killed the restaurant” at its inception as well by getting away from a menu with choices and instead giving a daily fixed price meal of seasonally driven dishes. In that sense, like Ripe, Chez Panisse was integrating the traditions of a “family supper” into a restaurant format. But 30 years ago, or whatever.
Dave J. says
Who else hires a Writer In Residence? It may seem like over-stuffed marketing hype (which it is, a little) but the fact remains that Michael and Naomi *are* helping to redefine eating out.
Joe, I’ll concede the point that ripe was fairly revolutionary. Of course, if I was really cynical, I’d say that they came up with ripe as a way of boosting the indy-hipster-cred for future restaurants…which would help explain why they took ripe mainstream.
But I don’t get your point–you say that Alice Waters was not revolutionary because her food was just an “ingredients shift,” but then you say that Naomi and Michael are revolutionary because they are buying lights from someone else? Because they are using a different architect than everyone else? Because they give some guy free food in exchange for deeply trenchant insights on Rousseau and gin? As I see it, they’re using the same box as everyone else, but simply decorating it with slightly different objects.
And that’s my main point: as long as they continue to serve expensive food to the same group of gallery owners and corporate executives (I know it must ruin their street cred to have people think that Enron executives are dining at clarklewis) and cognocenti as every other fancy place in town, what’s the difference? How is that killing the restaurant? It’s not! Its simply packaging the same restauarant in different wrapping paper, and selling it with a different sales pitch. But the food, the people, the prices–I’m seeing nothing new. (And I say this as someone who genuinely likes the food at clarklewis, by the way.)
Hey, good for them for being devoted to independent craftspeople. But, c’mon, I’m devoted to independent craftspeople, too–most of the things in my home, right down to the architecture and construction, were done by independent and local craftspeople. But I’d deserved to be laughed right out of town if I thumped my chest and told people I was “killing the single-dwelling house.”
If one doesn’t think that Alice Waters and her crew (which is a large group of people) didn’t ‘remove the disconnect’, then one would be sucking on the wrong kind of glass pipe. If what the Berkeley folks did so many years ago was simply an ingredient shift (which it wasn’t), what shift are they providing? DIY? PUNK AESTHETICS? It’s an insult to so many people of actual historical importance to buy into it.
the ripe sort of family supper has been around since, well, since there were family suppers and people who could charge for food. these sort of spots have been in every major city (and for all I know, many minor ones) for at least 300 years; in speakeasies in Chicago and lofts in NY and ateliers in Paris and Cuban paladars. don’t get me wrong, I like ripe, but if it’s considered revolutionary, it is only so in the context of Portland; because the hebberoys pull it off nicely, and because the food media is hungry for that which both bends the norm and is well done.
Joe Dixon says
Ok ok ok.
I’m not trying to knock Alice Waters- what she, her crew, and Berkeley did were revolutionary- to a point. ripe is expanding on that, in what I think is a remarkably obvious, yet forward-thinking way. Why it 1) hasn’t been done in this city before and 2) causes so much fickle whining on the part of alleged food cheerleaders is what continues to baffle me.
I grew up in this town, the son of avid food nerds, and though I might be a little younger than some you (chalk it up to youthful naivete) I was (am) glad, excited and continually impressed that Michael and Naomi are doing what they are. When I read the small-minded chatter *complaining* that they’ve hired a writer in residence, I just sort of chuckle to myself. We should be so lucky to live in a city where creative people working in entirely different disciplines are willing and able to help each other out.
And, yeah, clarklewis and Gotham are a little on the high side, price-wise. Have you eaten at similar establishments in NY? Or Paris? For the food and talent they, uh.. ahem, bring to the table, I think they’re doing an incredible job keeping prices grounded. The burger at Gotham is only FIFTY CENTS more expensive than the one at cool hipster punk rock hang out Slow Bar, and absulutely worth the extra half a buck.
It’s very punk rock to make something for your friends and then charge them for it. Didn’t you know?
Food Dude says
Joe – glad you are commenting.
I agree, Gotham/Clark are a good deal compared to restaurants in bigger cities. I just wish they would put the effort into the food that they put into their PR. I’ve had some really disappointing dishes at both places.
I even like the idea of hiring a writer – my complaint is that he so overbearing/pretentious, some of his stuff is almost unreadable. I’ve only read the first three table cards though, so maybe this has changed.
The chef that put Slow Bar on the map has left, but I still go since they let me in with my Mohawk and piercings;)
Joe Dixon says
Alas, the chef *has* left… That burger still holds up, though (I would also point you burger-lovers to the newly-renovated Rialto, especially during happy hour- an amazing and cheap [$4] bit of culinary heaven).
And, yeah, I’m not really trying to defend Mr. Stadler… what I’ve read, too, has been less than inspiring.
BUT! I think what’s important to realize is that we, as critical-thinking food geeks, are perhaps a little more jaded and cynical than your average reataurant patron in Portland (or, perhaps, anywhere). While we all see the Alice Waters-removing-the-disconnect connection, most don’t, and the fact that ripe establishments force you (or, rather, the average restaurant patron) to consider more than what’s on your (their) plate is commendable. That whole “Naked Lunch” thing. Which is, I think, more than most restraunteurs in this town are willing to do. Yes, Greg Higgens pioneered our own little Berkeley movement, yes, Bruce Carey put fine(r) dining on the map… Michael and Naomi are taking these innovations to a new and, erm, innovative place.
And while the simple act of hiring local craftspeople does not a revolution make, the fact that it so front-and-center in the ripe kingdom kinda helps.
Ok, not to flog a dead horse, but with the exception of Tommy Habetz (Batali), all the ripe-type chefs have been through the Chez Panisse vortex. Troy McLarty (though now gone, I guess) was a Chez alum, as was the pastry chef at GBT. Morgan, who can do amazing things with Pork and Gnocchi and other things, was a Bertolli (Chez and Oliveto) alum. There is a reason that these people are always referred to when discussing their history.
It would be far more revolutionary if they were all truly self taught.
Even then, how are you self taught if you are reading cook books and have families with culinary histories?
BTW, I think all burger chefs mentioned: Slow Bar past and present as well as the new Rialto guy have gone through the Higgins turnstiles. I don’t know what that has to do with the price of tea in China. Sorry.
Joe Dixon says
I don’t think education has anything to do with how “revolutionary” one can be. And ripe’s initial, primary chef, Naomi Pommeroy *is* self-taught.
And I’m missing your point about burgers.
If you’d like to read something that might ring some bells, I’d recommend Jeremiah Tower’s autobiography that came out a few years ago. I think you’ll see a person with very similar statements about what it is he’s done and how he feels about other people that may have come before him.
Although Michael and Naomi’s path will surely go in a more sane direction.
How many restaurants, FD, are more consistent in Portland than Gotham/clarklewis, though? I’ve found them quite consistent. And considering that they’re still at a lower price point than Olea, Paley’s, Wildwood, Higgins, Carlyle, Genoa, Harrison, Hurley’s, etc, that’s even more impressive to me.
There are very few restaurants I’ve been to that served up only winners. And even four and five star restaurants I’ve been to have occasionally f’d up meals and dishes, even if it’s not the norm, and they’re charging $125 and up for a meal, not $30-$40. And Charlie Trotter’s is often named the best restaurant in the U.S., yet every time I’ve eaten there there’s been at least a few dishes that were absolute dogs (because, I think, he takes chances).
So are you saying the clientelle defines the restaurant’s revolution-hood? That seems odd. The Mission must be really revolutionary.
It seems ludicrous to define something by who uses it rather than the thing itself. You’re not one of those people who stops listening to a band just because they become popular are you? ;-)
Moto, Alinea, El Bulli, Fat Duck — they all have the same rich cognocenti visiting them, yet are making food like no others but themselves.
Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Apizza Scholls, Di Prima Dolci, Sahagun Chocolates — these local artisan/craft food shops are as well.
Wong’s King, Bun Bo Hue, Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon — these ethnic places that serve interesting authentic foods, well, they primarily serve the same people they’d be serving back in their homelands.
I don’t think self-teaching has ever been much of a pre-req for someone being revolutionary. If anything, many of those we consider revolutionary were so because they looked outside their immediate predecesors to ancient traditions that they renewed in their own ways or to other cultures which they fused with their own. But they certainly weren’t self-taught. I think the issue is whether the student progresses beyond their master.
Fyi, The new Rialto guy is not a Higgin’s alumnus.
He is a Ripe and Caprial’s alumnus.
Thanks for the correction. I knew he had the hook up somewhere, but it was fuzzy.
Kim Nyland says
I find it interesting how high the emotions run when the ripe empire is the topic….I, for one, am all for them & everything they do…it takes balls to take risks on so many different things & different people……..For those of you that support artisan shops (Sahugun…Ken’s Artisan, our place, etc) yet despise Michael & Naomi……..Do you really think we would have been highlighted in the NY Times Style? When I say we…I mean Portland, OR …. It’s this PR machine that is making the rest of the country take notice to all the risk takers here….not just in food…all of the arts
The emotions run high for me, personally, because I think that one is not taking that big of a risk when your backing is so deep.
Believe me, I have no issue with somebody doing well. At all.
But, to give you an idea why I am so bothered, the only time I served Michael Hebbe, the person he was dining with was a person that I had developed a great respect for. He had a wonderful family and they were very gracious. I thought that Michael might have felt slighted because I had no idea who the hell he was. In fact, I thought he was the younger wine guy from Pastaworks, because I had seen the guy’s picture in the Oregonian’s FoodDay.
And then I worked near clarklewis for a couple of years. I would see him on the street and just try and give the friendly nod and a little ‘Hey, man, howze it going?’ Deadly cold fish. I had no value, at least that he knew of.
And now, yes, I know who he is.
Many times, we are an extension of the creature that we were fashioned from. I’d like to thank my father for being the troubled yet conscientious partaker he was in the dirty world of commerce. Somehow, my Dad could never quite absorb the concept of ‘sell it to the people at a higher price than paid, make them want it, and you’ll be good’.
I am not hating on capitalism, I am just saying that you can do what you do well ,quietly, without making it explictly clear to the world (aka the press) that what you are doing is something special.
It’s what’s known, I think, as artisanship. You do something special. People come to you because you do it well. They buy your quality product, manipulate it slightly, and mark up it up because it costs a lot to pay all those people to manipulate it. The rest is for you to, in the end, reinvest in the place all over again.
That’s a cycle of luxury that not that many people can afford.
Thanks for listening, and one of these days I really look forward to enjoying Apizza Scholls.
Chambolle, you’re a dreamer. It’s a nice dream, but not a very realistic one. My family is in advertising and I’ve been hyper-aware of its impact, which is great. How many of the best known or most purchased things are the highest quality things? Compare that to the number that are the most advertised. I think you’ll find that the latter of these has a higher correlation than the former.
Marshall Manning says
But Nick, it depends on what you want to do. Do you want to be the best or the most popular? I’d argue that with very few exceptions, the two goals are usually divergent.
For some people, making the best food, wine, or website that they can is enough as long as they are making enough to survive with a reasonable lifestyle. Other people want the attention, the fame and all that goes along with it. But if what you crave is the attention, then just be honest about it. If the Hebbs came out and said “Yeah, we’re just trying to make good food and have hip restaurants,” that would be one thing. But saying they are trying to “kill the restaurant”, while opening up two restaurants within the past few years, is not only silly, it’s an outright lie.
I guess what’s bothering me most is that Clark Lewis and Gotham are not revolutionary. Nothing about them is. A writer in residence? Absurd and useless but hardly revolutionary. They’re restauranteurs plain and simple and they’re doing nothing to “kill the restaurant”.
It’s not that the restaurants are bad (though I have been blown away by neither), they’re good for what they are. But they’re not “Restaurant of the Year”, revolution inspiring good. Put that together with the tripe spouting from Hebberoy in the interviews and I leave with a sour taste in my mouth. Call it PR or marketing, it’s just not that exciting.
Kim Nyland says
Brian & I are the farthest thing from restaurateurs…we simply wanted to make the best pizza…or our roots…which was making the best bread…..In my humble opinion, I believe we accomplished both…well Brian has & I am simply the über supportive SO. The one & ONLY thing I hate about this world of restaurants is the game of PR you are supposed to play…if you don’t…well then… ‘You are dead to me’ is the vibe you get from the press……..not that I’m saying we do it for the press…because we don’t…we do it because we love it & that’s it. BUT opening a restaurant/retail front is a mighty big gamble…… & sad to say…for some..without the press you may not last The press simply doesn’t care about the gamble/passion they care about the package ……
There isn’t a restaurant out there that is ‘nationally known’ that doesn’t have a ‘writer in residence’. If the writer is part of a PR firm, it’s still a writer in residence that you pay to advertise you, your food, and your atmosphere. Now I agree the ‘Kill the restaurant’ thing is an absolute joke…As is the ‘California farmers driving porches’ comment…but out of all the restaurant owners I have met to date…Most of which are unbelievably arrogant (considering it’s just food), I personally wouldn’t put Michael nor Naomi in that category.
Whenever people start attacking the “kill the restaurant” concept they always focus on clarklewis and Gotham. I agree that both of these are quite traditional restaurants. I’m not sure whether the Hebberoys would disagree with that either, despite Joe’s highlighting of their hyper-locality.
However, I have always read that phrase in the context of Ripe, not the others. Whether even that concept is revolutionary or not (as Nancy tries to show that it isn’t) is unimportant, I think, for the importance of the phrase itself. The sentiments they express in relation to that phrase, too, are laudable.
I like the idea, eg, of encouraging people to start underground supper clubs. I don’t know how serious they are about it or if it’s just something like they like to talk about, but the sentiment is a good one. I have a dream of getting restauranteurs to mentor potential restauranteurs with the only requirement that they stick to traditional and unique menus and maintain a certain level of quality. You know, a Slow Food or Chefs Collaborative or Beard Foundation that actually has an effect broader than a rich person’s supper club.
They’re not mutually exclusive and in many cases popularity and success are necessary for quality. A place that doesn’t keep asses in seats can’t afford to keep fresh food in the frig or put adventurous or interesting specials on menus. Think about the places that put out the very best in this country and most of them are damn successful and popular. Which comes first, the success or the quality, I won’t say. But there’s a correlation. When I went to The French Laundry, I had to get on the internet at midnight three months in advance when I wanted the reservations and start clicking refresh until I got a spot. For Charlie Trotter’s Kitchen Table — on a weeknight — we had to get a reservation six months in advance. The line at Kreuz’s BBQ in Lockhart, Texas, 30 miles from anywhere, was probably 20 or 30 people long even at 11:00am. Etc, etc.
revolutionary??? — food and revolutions are about as common and as ‘possible’ as sex and revolutions. doing food well is no revolution. its merely remarkable. doing a restaurant well – now, that is only spectacular.
for me – its about values and integrity. Alice Waters has both as does Thomas Keller as does Grant Aschatz – Charlie Trotter.. he’s just a nut. Its with utmost certainty that as a patron I will be receiving goods and services based on what is known about her values and integrity. I am making an investment in a larger system but it’s always translated thru what I, the guest am receiving sometimes I am investing in what I know sometimes I am investing in the unkown, knowing it will take me somewhere. With the hebberoy’s there’s the hype but there’s not a lot to back it up besides some really good chefs who could probably kick some serious ass if all the planets could simply align.
My issue with the hebberoy empire is that these things (their values) are not known or more accurately, what IS known (and this is the bone of contention) is that their values are a little askew and incongruent in addition to being a little outwardly self serving (a portland specialty). So for me, my investment in their venture does not always translate into something tangible for me or my guests. Often the contrary. The outcome is not congruent with what has been ‘promoted’ or perhaps we as consumers have failed to see between the lines. Perhaps what is being said by such promotions/support of local craftspeople can simply be understood by the fact that Michael is taking care of his friends while trying to make himself look good and have some fun doing it. He is an aesthetic guy who knows A LOT of people. It’s certainly not about committing to making his guests feel comfortable, well fed (intellectualy or physically) and cared for. This is palpable.
All said – The kids are doing a pretty good job for still practically wearing diapers. I’d just like to see something a little more sophisticated – *and* – actually fun. I think the revolution making gene is there I’d like to see it exercised.
I’d say more important than what they have done with their own restaurants is what they have done for their peers – they (and John Taboda, and Courtney and Kimberly) have paved the way for the legacy of restaurants which have opened in the past couple/few years. They have given young chefs the confidence to go for what you want and on a shoestring. What other FINE city in America can you still do this in? I don’t think we’d have all of these places popping up if it weren’t for them. We are getting much more fun and interesting places to choose from from people who want to do things their own way. Kudo’s for that.
I personally LOVE Tommy’s food and would bathe in it if I could. I enjoy Morgon’s food too and sometimes it’s really really good even great – although not worth the price of admission – for me. I refuse be embarrased when I take guests to the highly acclaimed restaurant only to do the three monkeys for a few hours and then pay a fat chunk of change for it. Only to leave feeling hungry, headachy, ripped off and sad. Makes me think of those booths at gotham!!! what the f* were they thinking??? not to mention the mirrors. why oh why?
also – lets not make too many grand assumptions about people and their sanity. We are talking about the restaurant industry… A trade for schizophrenics.
anyway – until food comes from outer space buying produce and meat from local purveyors will only ALWAYS be the logical thing to do. and hiring local crafts people… come on kids. its not like we live on an island. artists/designers/makers are like ants here. You’d just think with all the *talent* things would be a little more aesthetically pleasing. If i sit at one more bar facing a wall in the back of a restaurant I’m going to shoot someone. Or walk by a restaurant completely blanketed in curtains or some strange frosty crap on the windows…. my god. don’t they have fung shui in portland?
i’m finished now. i’m hungry. going to try balvo. i’ve heard great things and imho – bluehour (while i don’t love going there it actually makes me feel like i live in a city. despite the fact there are no beautiful men hanging around) they have great burgers(10$?) and you dont have to sign a health waiver to eat them (slowbar).
Nick, generally you’re right. But Ripe and family supper have gotten lost in the mix. That’s simply not where the Hebberoy focus is anymore. I agree that in order to effect a paradigm, you have to have some success but in this case, the “revolution” and the “restaurants” are independent and exclusive.
Kim, my wife and I have had 2 experiences with Michael and he was literally the most arrogant person I’ve come across in this town. He literally used the words “Do you know who I am?”.
I finally have to give my two cents- The Food and Wine article is a complete joke. It makes me laugh. As Nancy pointed out, supper clubs have been going on forever with the modern version taking place in NYC and SF long before the Naomi and Mike ever thought it was cool to charge their friends for dinner at their house. To compare the joke of a “kill the restaurant” idea to Rilke…hahahahaha Revolutionaries-hardly.
I WOULD like to say that I have a lot of respect for Morgan and Tommy-they are both truly talented chefs. It’s sad to me they don’t get the kudos they deserve. Michael and Naomi are NOTHING without them and THEY(along with their cooks) are the reasons people go to their restaurants. Without good food no one would be willing to endure the lack of light, the noise, the pretentiousness, etc, etc.
I have eaten only once at clarklewis, and once at ripe, so am no expert, but will say the meal I had at the latter, when Tommy Habetz was in the kitchen, was extra, extra-good. I loved it, loved the whole scene (and wrote as much in Bon Appetit). (Prefered it to clarklewis, though this is not a reflection on the food so much as a personal disenchantment with anything that strives to be hip/lounge, a result of spending the 90s as a nightlife columnist.) I cannot comment on either of the Hebberoys as I have never met them, but I did interview Morgan briefly, and found him to be humble, thoughtful, very smart; the real thing. And I agree with girl_cook: it would be nice for these chefs to get more limelight, less blowback.
Joe Dixon says
One sorta nit-picky thing when it comes to all of this: “ripe” refers to the entire empire- clarklewis, Gotham Bldg. Tavern, and Family Supper, which is the supper club.
RE: the comment about them taking Family Supper public: a calculated move by Michael to GET AWAY from the percieved exclusivity of invite-only “underground” supper clubs, i.e. to involve and include the general “non-foodie” public.
Which is one of the points I tried to make earlier and that I think people are missing: Michael and Naomi are actively engaging the general public, people who may not typically think about the things we discuss on these boards, and helping them to think a little deeper about food, the history of food, where it comes from, who cooked it, why they do these things, etc, etc.
An example is the fact that Michael offers ALL employees the chance to take classes from the artists who blow their glass, from the wineries that make the wine they serve, from the farmers that raise and butcher the lamb the use, from chefs about how to properly use a knife or butcher a pig, etc. And I think it speaks volumes about what they’re trying to do. While the Carlyle may be brighter, more comfortable, or more consistant, all they are is a place to eat food. And while I don’t doubt the entire staff is educated and knowledgeable, what ripe is doing goes beyond the call of duty, and I think that benefits EVERYONE.
We were talking (writing) earlier about “removing the disconnect” and in these ways I think the Hebberoys are genuinely doing something NEW and DIFFERENT and IMPORTANT. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with working the press to draw attention to it. Again, I feel the backlash they recieve is a sign of how terribly provincial this town can be.
I can’t imagine anyone faulting the Hebberoys for wanting to paint a creative and inspiring environment for thier staff; pig butchery and glass blowing classes are perks that I doubt many other restaurants provide. Be that as it may, I feel that many folks (myself included) find it hard to seperate these highly promoted altruisms from the business of running a business. Can, or should one, forgive failure in providing basic (re: traditional) components of dining because the owners are advocating change?
I, for one, would much prefer that my seat was comfortable, over the satisfaction of knowing that my server was being tutored in wood turning by the same, local master craftsman that created the uncomfortable chair.
As a diner, I really don’t care what sort of magical and awe-inspiring journey (moveable feast?) my busboy may have experienced as part of his cult-of-change initiation; I just want my water glass to remain full thoughout my meal.
As mentioned by other posters, the “salon” approach to dining is not exactly revolutionary. When I read quotes from the hebberoys I can’t help but comparing them to all the earnest, fresh-faced, kids that stormed Prague in the early 90’s. Young turks with trust funds, challenging the system is as much a cliche as a restaurant with a writer in residence (cue: bongos and/or concertina).
(removing his beret and snuffing out his clove cigarette)
The classes are great.
But I have to say this: when I was a server working in a suburb of Detroit fifteen years ago and got to take wine appreciation classes, my employer *paid* me for the time I spent taking them (and yes, they were mandatory.)
If I recall correctly, Ripe empire employees are *required* to take the classes, yet are not compensated for their time.
(insert great bit of satirical writing if I were witzend – alas, I am not..)
Food Dude says
I like that Gotham spends so much time educating employees, though it isn’t like other restaurants don’t do the same thing. I sat in on a staff meeting at Paleys once that reminded me of final exams in college!
The last time I was at Gotham, a question came up about an ingredient. One of my companions flagged down the nearest employee to ask what herb was giving an unusual flavor. The employee immediately rattled off all the ingredients in the dish answering our question.
He was the busser. No many restaurants have that level of commitment.
If the rumors flying around are to be believed, a BOLI complaint for wage/hour would be the least of the problems Ripe faces right now.
Joe Dixon says
You seem to be doing that which you can’t imagine- faulting the Hebberoys for trying to foster an inspiring and creative environment.
ExtraMSG made the point that new ideas are often inspired not by our immediate predecessors, but by old or ancient traditions. Hence the writer in residence (which, by the way, I’m not sure IS a cliché), insufferable as he may be; or the book; or the appearences at the TBA Festival. Which is what, I think, Michael and Naomi are after. Inspiring their employees, and inspiring non-foodies to think- really think- about what it is that makes a “food experience” memorable.
But you’d rather have your water glass filled up every 15 minutes.
Marshall Manning says
Joe, I’m all for restaurants (any businesses, for that matter) encouraging their employees to learn more. That makes them better employees as well as generally improving the quality of service for the customer.
But, what bothers me is the hype and self-congratulatory backslapping for doing so. Just like donating to charity, doing the right thing should be enough…publicizing that you’re doing the right thing leads people to question the motives behind it.
Marshall, I think you’re a closet Marxist, maybe from spending too much time counting other people’s money. ;-)
Really, though, a business is not a charity. Marketing is not only wise, it’s 99% of the time necessary. And as I’ve said before, restauranteurs have an obligation to their investors and staff, as well as themselves, to market and do what they can to make themselves successful. If that means praising themselves to no end, then so be it. At the point where it becomes detrimental, then they also have an obligation to change course. But I’m not sure Ripe is at that point, except with that narrow group of food geeks that hang out here, PortlandFood, or Chowhound, etc.
I must say, FD had what I like to call a ‘happy accident’ when it comes to his situation with a Gotham busser. He will probably be an assistant manager any day now (and that is not a snide comment).
All these learning experiences that are being made such a big deal out of are available to all restaurant workers at all times. And, to be honest, if they’re mandatory, they’re not working.
It comes down to this: If somebody wants to further themself in the world of food, it’s going to happen anyway. Not that people can’t have ‘awakenings’, but there are some people that are just going through the motions. There are others that don’t have a problem with servitude.
There are a lot of people that I have worked for that would like to take credit for things that I have learned on my own. That’s insulting.
Joe Dixon says
They are not mandatory, nor are the employees compensated for them (this is coming from a friend who is an employee at Gotham).
And, Chambolle, you seem to be taking an unusually cynical point of view. Never in my life as a service-industry worker (which I no longer am) has an employer offered so much in the way learning opportunities. While it may be true that anyone anywhere can find their way onto a vineyard to observe, the fact remains that making that type of experience easily and readily available is MORE LIKELY to cause someone to learn something, and to pass that bit of knowledge on to an unsuspecting diner who’s notion of eating out has yet to include knowledgeable staff.
I don’t think anyone’s trying to take credit for anyone else’s learning, they are merely trying to foster a more inspiring environment, trying to enrich the lives of the people working in the generally thankless occupation of server/cook/dishwasher- the people who are never in the limelight.
And your notion that if “somebody wants to further themselves in the world of food, it’s going to happen” is naive at best. I, personally, wouldn’t have taken the time to learn about food and its surrounding culture had I not been inspired by my experiences working with passionate cooks/restraunteurs. Not everyone has an idea of what/who they want to be from birth, and most, in my experience, figure it during another of life’s creative incubators- I think they call it “college”.
“…to pass that bit of knowledge on to an unsuspecting diner who’s notion of eating out has yet to include knowledgeable staff.”
I’ve been biting my tongue during this exchange, but: Joe, are you under the impression that the ripe folks are among the first in the history of dining to include their staff in the understanding of the “food experience” (your words)? If so, how do you explain the millions of people throughout history who’ve baked and cooked and blown glass and set a table?
Joe Dixon says
No one is suggesting that Michael and Naomi are the first to do anything. What I’m arguing is that they’re doing MORE than most, and that that’s commendable. And that the flack they get in this town from self-identified foodies seems a little like highschool bickering. God forbid someone doing something well, and different (if not WHOLLY ORIGINAL) should get some press, shine a light on our little town, and be happy with themselves for doing so (I’ll wait patiently for the comments about this last little bit;) ). I mean, one would think the reaction would be a little less vitriolic, considering how well-regarded someone like Bruce Carey is (who, in my opinion, while good at making pleasent dining rooms and hiring capable chefs, isn’t really very exciting).
Nancy, are you saying that Ripe has to be the first for the effort to be important? Even if every other restaurant in the world had such programs, Ripe doing them would still be important and significant for the experience there. But the fact is that few places in Portland, their immediate competition, are doing such things. And I bet few restaurants have such programs throughout the United States. And how many restaurants below four stars have a staff that can talk about the ingredients in a dish, beyond just reciting them. I know I’ve stumped servers in plenty of both four and five star places and there are plenty more knowledgeable diners than me.
I think there are many false choices/dilemmas being suggested here. A restaurant can have a knowledgeable staff and keep water glasses full. A restaurant can be the umpteenth to implement a program or sell a dish and that program or dish still be good.
At this point, I think you’re just arguing for argument’s sake. I understand that you had a good experience with M & N. But you’re continually contradicting yourself; shaping your comments to always be in line with the empire. It’s a little disturbing.
At the age of 25(?), you’re out of the service business, correct? You had a good experience. Leave it at that. Every single word we as a whole write is more free press.
Mission accomplished. Congratulations.
If you can handle it, please listen to “the world according to michael hebberoy”
So, I listened to it and no, though I’m sorry, I cannot handle it. But thank you for the opportunity to hear the manhimself.
Since it was girl_cook that gave us this information, I hereby pronounce her a revolutionary individual, for allowing us the opportunity to realize what it was we were missing from this beautiful world.
Pork Cop says
This is all highly amusing..you’ve all bought in to this ………Small towm “charm” goes a long way ….apparently.
I applaud efforts by the ripe empire to engage its workers in the aesthetic of the restaurant, although I don’t know what orange shirts has to do with. I think they should take it a step further, particularly with servers and more particularly at Gotham, and encourage those good folks to take an order. Stop by a table sometime. Serve breakfast not in courses but as a single course. Send the potatoes with the eggs. Who knows what might happen? At a two top, why not let both eat at the same time, rather than in waves? You might not have a half-empty breakfast seating at 10 a.m. on a weekend, for starters.