That’s the major topic of the first episode of our BRAND-NEW podcast, “The Katchup.“ The discussion launches a weekly podcast discussion on the top trends in food. Given the viral success of the Sushi Donut, which generated over 80 million video views between ourselves and other food news outlets in the past week, it had to be the key discussion for this week.
This week, Foodbeast’s Editor-In-Chief, Elie Ayrouth, brought in Andy Nguyen, the owner of viral restaurant successes like Project Poké’s Sushi Donut and Afters Ice Cream’s Milky Buns, and Jason Quinn, owner of the Playground Restaurant in downtown Santa Ana, to discuss how social media virality is affecting customer eating habits at restaurants.
Recently, a New York Times food critic made headlines by slapping Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s Locol restaurant with a zero-star review.
If you’re unfamiliar with Locol, the chefs opened the fast food restaurant with the intentions of bringing wholesome, affordable food to economically challenged areas, referred to as “food deserts,” such as Oakland and Watts, California.
The Times’ Peter Wells was not impressed by the restaurant, at all, and sparked a conversation about whether it was a fair assessment of the restaurant.
From the notion that he was unnecessarily harsh to a “fast food” restaurant, to the defense that the food should be better considering the famous faces behind the restaurant, opinions were flying out left and right.
We reached out to some highly-respected chefs, and also took to social media to get a sense of what the culinary brotherhood had to feel about the review.
Chefs have to deal with critics all the time, from newspapers to Yelp reviews, so they know what it’s like to take on harsh criticism. For the most part, the chefs felt the review was a bit of a stunt to bring attention to the newspaper, but there was also an overarching feeling that there is still a lot of value to what the chefs are trying to do with the restaurant.
Check out some chef reactions below and see if you agree:
“I think we are giving way too much attention to this review. Obviously Wells reviewed this place because he knows he needs to create controversy in order to continue to entice readers. He is one step away from creating click-bait at the expense of chefs like Roy Choi.
With that said, I think all fast-food/fast-casual joints are fair game for reviews — negative or positive, they will draw customers to see what all the commotion is all about and that’s the real chance to win your guests. People saying he shouldn’t have reviewed the restaurant because of Choi’s altruistic perspective is bullshit. It’s a restaurant and should be treated with all the same standards as any other restaurant.
In our digital world, Yelp is more powerful in the long run, so let Mr. Wells try and keep creating fake food news.”
“In my opinion the overall tone of the review was a bit harsh. Anyone who employs at-risk teens in a poverty stricken neighborhood deserves at least 4 stars.
As chefs, we are prepared to envision menus based on demographics, cost, availability and other variables. Reading some of the menu items LocoL provides I can see where the chefs were going based on flavor profiles, availability, and especially food cost. At the the end of the day, they humbled themselves with zero egos , bringing a seemingly impossible idea to fruition. They challenged corporate fast food on their own turf with healthier options at the same price point.
If that’s not ‘punk’ as fuck, I don’t know what is!
Also, The NY Times brought up good sentiments about the restaurant as well as even recommending items at the end of the article. It almost feels that Pete Wells wanted to give LocoL a couple stars. Maybe zero stars was intended to shock and get the article a little more shine.”
“When a reviewer comes in for a chef like Roy Choi or Daniel Patterson, the expectations are set at a certain bar. Any time they open a new restaurant, there’s pressure… the limelight is put on you, the pressure’s on, and you know you really have to nail it out of the gate. You expect, the minute they open that door, that it’s spot-on.
I feel bad when I see a really bad review for chefs. I know it hurts, ’cause I’ve been in those shoes, too.”
“That’s pretty brutal. I feel as if Pete Wells makes a fantastic point, but I think it would have been better not to write the review. These are two great chefs, opening alternatives to the evil of McDonald’s, and getting shit on.
Not only have some people “forgotten” about these demographics, no one seems to be concerned about their health.
I always thought it was very bold of Choi and Patterson to take on this venture. Always admired their dedication to feeding the masses, and didn’t know how it would end up. I certainly didn’t think the New York Times food critic would come out to write about them.”
If you’ve ever caught an episode of Food Network’s Chopped and wondered how come there wasn’t a show like that for the college-aged snack food-inspired generation, then Rob Dyrdek was wondering the same thing. Introducing Snack-Off, a half hour cooking competition show highlighted by a group of amateur chefs battling it out in a host of “snack” inspired challenges.
The show is hosted by Eddie Huang and supported by a panel of judges including supermodel and Foodbeast Chrissy Teigen, chef and entrepreneur Jason Quinn, and what appears to be a rotating/TBA third judge. For fans of the internet, it’s fair to note this show isn’t the first of its kind, with Epic Meal Time having imagined a season of a snack-based gluttonous cook-off in the form of Epic Chef. No word on whether Dyrdek’s show was inspired Epic Meal Time’s programming, but the similarities are interesting.
According to the MTV show page, the contestants will all be battling for a cash prize, a golden spork necklace, as well as getting their recipe published in the inevitable Snack-Off cookbook.
“There’s a million restaurants that will cater to you, and we don’t really like any of those places,” says Jason Quinn, ex-Food Network personality, ex-Lime Truck chef, and current Playground restaurateur.
So why are people — us included — still talking about him? Because his take on food reminds us of a cross between Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batali and…well…that crazy ass 25-year-old Jason Quinn. If you go to his restaurant, he won’t change a damn thing, he doesn’t serve ketchup, and when you sit down for dinner with him, he’ll give you his unfiltered opinion on anyone or anything in the industry, in life, or that diarrhea-inducing hot dog stand across the street.
So today, when he sat down with our friends at Orisue for a quick video feature, he did just that — he spilled his soul, for better or worse, about the uncompromising way he runs his restaurant.
Quinn often jokes about how a select few customers will get upset when he refuses to make a particular dish without its initially designed ingredients. The joking doesn’t end there — when customers threaten to go across the street to somewhere else when a dish isn’t changed to their specifications, Jason has to hold steadfast to his restaurant’s game plan, stating “Well we just do it differently. Are you gonna make me go across the street? Yeah, if that’s what you wanna do, yes, you’re gonna have to go somewhere else to eat.”
The topic of chef driven restaurants remains a hot button issue for the foodie community. While many appreciate the idea of going to a restaurant and enjoying a dish the way the chef intended it, there remains a select few who expect the ‘have it your way’ experience and will subsequently be met with a brick wall when visiting restaurants like The Playground.
Quinn is still jovial in his pursuit, though. Their restaurant isn’t out to nickel and dime the customer, but rather, to win you over. Didn’t think lettuce would work with that dish? Try it, if you don’t like it, they usually will cover that part of the bill. There’s a certain level of respect that can be attributed to an outsider group of chefs who want to make sure that if you don’t like their food, it’s because the way they designed it had a fault, not because you added ketchup to that sashimi dish.
What’s your take on Jason Quinn, chef-driven food, and uncompromising menus?
One of the more recent features YELP has implemented involves the ability for business owners to respond to their reviews, whether positive or negative. Obviously, this is opening the floodgates for extremely boring and politically-correct communication between consumer and producer…am I right? Right…..wrong. Let’s jump into this particular case:
Let me setup the battlefield: Negative Nancy Yelp Reviewer vs. Passionate Chef/Restaurateur.
As a prologue, on a recent visit to aggregate-review site Yelp.com, I was drawn to a particular back and forth argument occurring between some displeased customer and the owner of that very restaurant. Why should you care?
Well, the review seemingly reamed the restaurant at length, in fact the 1-star rating was over five paragraphs long, touching on everything from the forced 3% gratuity, refusal to cook Kobe Beef well done, chef’s family walking around “trying to be restauranteurs,” and soggy french fries, to name a few.
The owner’s response? Five paragraphs of his own, rounding out the entire piece with a real bruiser:
“Burn in hell.” — Jason Quinn
Popular food truck-chef-turned-restaurateur, Jason Quinn, has accomplished quite a bit in his short 25-years on the planet. His once-chef duties with The Lime Truck helped him secure a $100,000 prize on Food Network’s food truck show, and shortly after, he rode the wave of success to open up his own brick-and-mortar restaurant in Southern California — The Playground.
If you’re not familiar with Quinn from his appearance on The Great Food Truck Race, you’ll likely hear more about him through the reverberating halls of the foodie community. He’s a passionate fellow, quick to defend and boast about his craft, his people and the ultimate food art he produces.
A few of his competitors on The Great Food Truck Race were quick to pigeon hole him, and his team, as cocky and young — which frankly, isn’t too far fetched. They are young, but they’re winning, and the food is speaking for itself. Anyone who’s tasted a dish from The Lime Truck, or experienced a night of dining at The Playground can quickly attest to the quality of food they’re putting in their mouth.
Quinn is a skilled chef, and explains every dish he makes with the same enthusiasm one would use while describing their newborn baby’s first uttering of “momma” or “papa.” He’s a giddy chef — it’s refreshing. Just look at him busting at the seams in the video we shot of him a couple months back at a local food truck gathering [see below]:
Now let’s switch gears. We’ve established Jason Quinn’s passion, his built up anxiety for success, and now…we’ll explain how he does his darndest to stay active on Yelp. And by active, I mean he responds to a majority of his Yelp reviews, good or bad. To his credit, the majority of feedback he gets about his Santa Ana location is positive. Easy to deal with, for the most part.
With a running total of 84 reviews written of The Playground, the heavy majority of them fall in 5-star range, with the average rating standing at 4.5/5 stars. So what happens when a bad review comes in? Here’s a look at the full conversation, starting with the lengthy, negative review:
Full disclosure, I loved my visit to The Playground. Quinn was super hospitable when our friends had dinner, all the food was delicious, and everyone around was having a good time. The review above? Some could view it as narrow, and I definitely wouldn’t disagree, but playing devil’s advocate, there are far more disgruntled, naive and obscure reviews to be had on Yelp.
Trolls are a plenty on the Internet, and this person just doesn’t seem to understand the type of restaurant he/she walked into. Many a gastropub and chef-driven restaurant involves dealing with a certain heir…if you don’t like it, you don’t dine there. There are plenty of other establishments that will cater to your changing of their menu, your cooking suggestions, and more wallet-friendly dishes.
With that in mind, does that negative Yelper’s review warrant this response from chef Quinn? You decide:
One of the most interesting lines in Quinn’s response is his self questioning of his restaurant’s core drive, to be “chef-driven” or “hospitality-driven.” The option of being chef driven, while un-Orthodox, would at least give a semblance of a reason behind his passionate response.
In a chef-driven environment, the policies set forth by The Playground aren’t too out-of-bounds.But does that mean Quinn’s move to be so passionate and transparent (he openly expresses the $300,000 investment he made to open the restaurant) in his Yelp responses are a good business move?
It’s up for debate. Quinn hasn’t shied away from his response, he’s not chalking it up to a lapse of judgement, he’s kept his response up on the review website and even gone a step further, he’s opened up a “Dialog” section on his restaurant’s website. He discusses the incident at length. It’s actually a very interesting read, I’ve lifted some of their notes in response to the beef:
The artistic license we allow the kitchen touches on a sensitive tension between the chefs in the kitchen and the customers in the seats. The chefs design their dishes in the way they believe will highlight the quality of the ingredients, the culinary art involved and the customer’s experience. Every component of every dish is carefully considered and tailored to complement the other elements of the dish. Regardless whether you and I agree that they have created a masterpiece, they do their best to design the perfect dish.
If a customer orders risotto, he would never dream of telling the chefs that they should use a different white wine in its preparation; if the customer could detect and disapprove of the white wine being used, he would either not order the dish or say that it did not suit his taste. In that case, we would take it off his check and offer to substitute something more to his liking. (Much as we did for the infamous one-star reviewer.)
So what’s the next move? An open discussion.
Even if a chef can win an argument, should it be had in the first place? In an age of transparency, social media and direct customer interaction, there are indeed new liabilities that should be accounted for.
For many restaurateurs, they fear that one “unhappy” customer may spread those negative sentiments to his immediate network, and subsequently, his network’s extended network.
That itching task of trying to please every customer, which undoubtedly led to the phrase “The customer is always right,” keeps many chefs/owners up at night wondering if they did all they could do. It’s fair to say Quinn has that itch, he’s attentive to customers, he’s responsive on social networks and Yelp and does all he can to correct inconsistencies in service and quality.
Being an accessible, open and outgoing entrepreneur can have potential drawbacks though.
Possible case #1, telling a customer, publicly, to Burn in Hell.
In a ridiculous story forming out of TMZ, a series of pictures shadily taken from inside the homes of either Daniel Shemtob or Jason Quinn ‘have surfaced’, insinuating that the two personalities from The Lime Truck blew their winnings on a top of the line ping pong table.
For those that don’t follow the premise of the Food Network show these two won (The Great Food Truck Race), their particular food truck edged out seven other trucks from across the country to claim a grand prize of $100,000.
The only thing we can conclude from this TMZ story is that it’s a fabulous joke/satire piece. Currently, Jason Quinn is no longer with The Lime Truck, focusing on his own project, a brick-and-mortar restaurant that just opened in Orange County (see: The Playground).
Daniel has also expanded The Lime Truck‘s presence with a second truck for their LA consumers shortly after the show’s conclusion. We’re positive they didn’t spend their entire loot on a single ping pong table, instead more on the expansion of The Lime Truck operations and for Quinn’s new restaurant.
Just a few months ago, Jason Quinn led the way as Lime Truck‘s lead chef, not only making a name for the truck in its hometown of Orange County, but branding the Southern California-based mobile food kitchen as one of the hottest trucks in the country.
After snatching $100,000 and the title of best food truck on the second season of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, it looks like part of those winnings went to fulfill his dream of opening up his own brick-and-mortar restaurant concept — The Playground.
The downtown Santa Ana location is flanked by a hodgepodge of art, music, fashion and eating/drinking destinations, an almost perfect compliment to the vibe Quinn hopes to achieve with his location —
I dreamed of taking what I started on the The Lime Truck and expanding it into a restaurant…I envisioned a big, beautiful building filled with character and style, an open kitchen and stunning bar, shiny new equipment and a team of passionate foodies to help me change how food and drink is prepared, served and appreciated. — Jason Quinn
No longer a part of The Lime Truck, Jason is hoping his charisma, passion and skill-set will port over to a brick-and-mortar concept. Early reports from our friends and colleagues spoke highly of the atmosphere and even higher about the food, some calling their staple ‘Playground Burger,’ one of the best burgers they’ve ever tasted. Those are huge claims, and you best believe we took a night out to test the waters.
While some chefs and talented foodies may take to starting a food truck to avoid the high startup costs associated with a brick-and-mortar restaurant, the fellows behind The Lime Truck have done it a bit differently. Lime was created to fill a void, as their mission statement reminds. They wanted to deliver fresh food to people on the go, people cramped in office cubicles every day, and food to insomniacs during those late nights.
After seeing their truck’s success, opening a second roaming truck to meet the demand, and even being featured on the second season of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” (airing August 14th), the truck’s co-owner and consulting chef, Jason Quinn, told the OC Register his plans for his own restaurant opening.
The information gleaned from the report is minimal; no word on the menu, no exact date, and no word of any The Lime Truck co-branding. All we know thus far is that the restaurant will be in Santa Ana at 4th and Spurgeon, will open in a “few months” and will have both upstairs and downstairs patios.
Notably, this isn’t the first piece of news regarding a food truck making the jump into a brick-and-mortar location. It wasn’t too long ago Chef Roy Choi of the Kogi BBQ Truck notoriety opened up his LA-based Chego restaurant, following the success of his mini Korean-Mexican food truck empire.
Could we see more trucks make the leap in the future? Are there any in specific you feel would work well as a standalone restaurant?