locol watts sign Lisa Jennings

Chef Roy Choi reflects on zero-star review of LocoL

New York Times review shows “no one is indifferent” to the socially-minded concept, Choi writes

Los Angeles-based chef Roy Choi took to Instagram Tuesday with a thoughtful response to a damning, zero-star review of his quick-service concept LocoL by New York Times critic Pete Wells.

In the review published Tuesday, Wells notes the ambitions Choi and partner Daniel Patterson have for LocoL, which aims to bring a more healthful fast-food model to neglected urban neighborhoods.

But Wells eviscerates the food at the LocoL outlet he visited in Oakland, Calif., suggesting that Choi and Patterson have thought about the social dimensions of fast food so much, “they now see their target audience as problems to be solved, not customers to be pleased. The most nutritious burger on earth won’t help you if you don’t want to eat it,” Wells wrote.

Photo: Ron Ruggless

On the chili served at Locol, Wells says “more persuasively seasoned” versions could be found in cans at the supermarket. The chicken no-noodle soup had no chicken, he wrote, along with no noodles. The fried chicken sandwich was “mysteriously bland and almost unimaginably dry.”

Wells praised the egg sandwich splashed with green goddess dressing, in particular highlighting the bun, developed by chef and restaurateur Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery & Café in San Francisco.

But, Wells wrote, “The neighborhoods Locol is targeting have serious nutrition problems, from hunger to obesity, but the solution isn’t to charge people for stuff that tastes like hospital food. If Locol were a nonprofit, then institutional-quality cooking might be unavoidable. It is a restaurant, though, and it is run by two chefs who are famous for cooking food that people really, really want to eat. I had a hard time remembering that as I worked my way through Locol’s menu, where appeals to your appetite are about as scarce as chicken in the no-noodle soup.”

In a response posted on Instagram, Choi said he resisted suggestions that he “snap back.” 

Photo: Instagram

Instead, Choi said he welcomes the review, embracing it as part of LocoL’s journey and arguing that it indicates the concept has “hit a nerve.”

“It doesn’t mean all people love it, some hate it. But no one is indifferent by it,” Choi wrote. “We all know the food is not as bad as he states. Is it perfect? NO. But it’s not as bad as he writes. And all minorities aren’t criminals either. And all hoods aren’t filled with dangerous people either.”

Choi also noted the destructive power of the pen, saying Wells felt compelled to “write something he knows would hurt a community that is already born from a lot of pain and struggle. Crazy, right? But I see it as a piece to this whole puzzle.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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