Nobody's perfect, chefs and restaurateurs included.
When you consider the high financial stakes of opening a restaurant under the pressure of perfection, it's not impossible to imagine missteps. Some are conceptual; some a matter of jumping on – or missing – a trend. And, of course, some problems are helpfully pointed out by critics or the public.
"Intuition is essential. We can never afford to lose touch with the feeling we create when a guest visits our restaurants," says Jose Garces, the Iron Chef behind notable Philly spots such as Volver at the Kimmel Center. Celebrating its first year, Volver just rejiggered its menu, after already making a bold move this winter: Garces changed the controversial ticketing policy that had diners pre-booking seats, as if for a concert or play.
"Volver's feedback was, 'The place is amazing, but the ticketing is confusing and takes too long,'" says Garces. "There's no reason to do something that doesn't advance our goal of delivering an exceptional experience, so we opted for traditional reservations."
While word has Kevin Sbraga's 80s-themed Juniper Commons changing its 5-month-old menu due to criticism, fellow “Top Chef” alum Jason Cichonski openly admits a lousy review from the Inquirer's Craig LaBan made him change direction at The Gaslight in Old City.
Cichonski specializes in fine dining at Ela in Queen Village, but opened Gaslight as a casual eatery — with a menu the influential food critic felt fell flat. So Cichonski closed The Gaslight in February and reopened a month later with a refined gastropub menu and a new chef, Jordan "Red" Sauter.
Then there's Fishtown's Girard Brasserie & Bruncherie, which opened in January as Philly's first no-tip restaurant. Co-owner Cristian Mora says he's gotten positive feedback about the menu. But that’s not enough. "Our problems are that in Fishtown, no one dines out between 2 and 5 p.m., so we closed those hours," says Mora.
And the no-tip policy, designed to set the restaurant apart, might have set it a little too far apart. Potential diners didn't fully grasp the concept and assumed the food would be expensive, Mora explains: "So many people assumed additional costs would be levied onto each check."
Now Girard Brasserie & Bruncherie is touting a $10 lunch, tip included, to show good food can be affordable. "Sometimes,” Mora says, “you just have to show people how accessible you are."