Will You Stand Up to a Bad Restaurant Review?

Did you catch Jeffrey Chodorow's full-page ad in the New York Times? Chodorow is the owner of New York City-based multiunit restaurants China Grill and Asia de Cuba, as well as the now-shuttered Rocco's on 22nd, which was the subject of an ill-fated reality television show featuring Rocco DiSpirito. He recently opened another restaurant, Kobe Club, which New York Times critic Frank Bruni roundly trashed in a Feb. 7th review. He gave the restaurant no stars. That more than irritated Chodorow.

Chodorow says in his February 21st ad that the negative review was personally directed at him, in part because of his involvement with NBC's television show—The Restaurant—which earned high ratings in TV land, but was savaged by the press.

He goes on to say in the ad that Bruni's negative review does not hurt him, but hurts instead his "hardworking" staff who helped create a "great" restaurant. They deserve an apology, Chodorow says.

His third point is that all too often the people who are hired to write restaurant reviews are not qualified to do so. He points to Bruni, who was earlier a political writer in Washington, D.C. and Rome, where he did not write about food or restaurants.

Then, Chodorow drew a line in the sand. He announced he is now writing a personal blog (www.chinagrillmgt.com/blog [4]) about his food-related experiences, with a special section entitled "Following Frank and After Adam (Adam Platt is the restaurant critic for New York Magazine). He pledges to make follow-up visits to restaurants that Bruni and Platt have reviewed to review their reviews.

You have to admire Chodorow's spunk. He points out in his blog—chod-o-blog—that he will be commenting on reviews that he feels are "not fair, not objective and not constructive."

In one of his first blog entries, entitled "Labor of Love," he describes the difficult and seemingly impossible process of creating a successful restaurant and the heartache of knowing that critics are sitting on the sidelines ready to pounce on any failure, no matter how small. Here's the last paragraph of his blog, which nicely sums up why people get into this business.

"The restaurant business is one of the most difficult businesses in the world. Thank God . . . otherwise many more people would try to do it. I love doing it and, believe it or not, I don't do it for the money. Not that I don't want to make money, but with over 20 restaurants it's no longer about that. There is no better feeling than walking into a restaurant that you created and seeing people really getting it . . . appreciating what you've done and enjoying it . . . participating in your vision."

For a more detailed account of the ongoing battle between Chodorow and Bruni, check out senior editor Bob Krummert's newsletter account at www.restaurant-hospitality.com [5].

Meanwhile, I'd like to hear from you. What do you think of Chodorow's response? Is he on a suicide mission, or is it about time someone takes a big stand like this? And what about you? Have you had any run-ins with unfair restaurant critics? How did you handle the situtation or, at the very least, how did that negative review affect your business?