Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Yelp Gate at Lunacy Black Market

I learned this week that a friend of a friend was embroiled in yelp-gate with longtime Atlanta restaurateur Paul Luna. The gist of the scandal is that Jeff D, a yelper, wrote a 2-star review of Luna's newly opened Lunacy Black Market. The review was certainly not good but didn't say anything too shocking. What was shocking was the reaction that ensued from Luna himself. His retort on Yelp was pretty darn defensive and seemed to criticize the reviewer himself rather than the review, writing that Jeff D was a "two star reviewer." He even suggested he was going to post the yelp review and Jeff's photo at the restaurant, and he indeed posted both on the restaurant's site.

This reminds me of when NY Restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow took out a full page ad to feud with NY Times reviewer Frank Bruni. Craaaazy, but at least he was arguing with a professional review. Yelp is a great resource for people, but it's not exactly the NY Times.

Listen, I'm all for restaurants responding to criticism. It is their right just as it is ours to publish our opinions, but there is a big difference between criticizing an enterprise and slamming an individual. More than anything though it has served to make Luna look crazy and to highlight a bad review people might have never noticed otherwise. Silly, right? For what it's worth, my own Mr. AT didn't have much nice to say about his experience at Lunacy Black Market, so I doubt I'll be trying it anytime soon...

The full exchange below:

2/8/2010 Ok...I'm going to be the 'odd-man-out' on Lunacy Black Market by saying this place is WAAAAY over hyped. Is it kitschy/quirky? Yes. Is it in the middle of nowhere downtown? Yes. Is the food mind-blowingly unbelievable? Hell no!

Look, I'm all about the random underground spot to chow, but to make this place out to be the second coming of restaurant fare is just regurgitating the already undeserved hype (Yelpers) surrounding this place. First of all, just cause they serve 'slider-like' sandwiches doesn't give them an automatic thumbs up from me; quite the contrary considering I think sliders are the biggest crock perpetrated on restaurant goers since tapas. But I digress.

The decor's like eating in an Anthropology store. A mish-mash of random pieces of furniture, silverware, plates, etc. and I get's intentional, but anyone can go to the thrift store and say "give me all your kitchen related stuff for $100" which it appears is what they did at Black Market. Dynamic Dish somewhat goes for the same thing, but has a bit more success I think in coming off as if the 'random' decor/cutlery is completely intentional and contrived.

So now to the food, which supposedly makes up for all of the above. I wasn't blown away. Probably the easiest way of putting it into a concise statement would be to say: salt is not a spice. Most chefs already know this; the day I went to Lunacy Black Market their chef did not. Everything from the collard greens to the sweet potato fries were way too salty. The sandwiches were good; not great. And for $11 and still feeling a little hungry, I didn't think it was such a great deal either.

Maybe I'm not taken enough with the whole 'secret spot' fever of this place to stick my taste buds in the sand, but for me they're plenty of other fresh and edgier places in town with better food and better prices. Sorry.

Hello Jeff –

Our review of our restaurant is our middle finger down. I am so glad that you had the opportunity to buy into the hype. As you seem unaware, the cuisine is “uninspired”. I suggest that you find a place that you enjoy where the food, the decor and the neighborhood fit your style–and rave about those restaurants (not that you commenting on our restaurant is unappreciated).

Two stars from a two-star opinion is a great review! When you open your restaurant, I would love to try some of your food. Since you’re so up-to-date with decor, ambiance, neighborhood, your place will surely be a success and I will give you a ten-star review for ten fingers.

I did not invite you. You invited yourself. And now you know that our establishment is not to your liking. I ask you to send us your picture, so we can post it by the entrance of our restaurant along with your review. (I only post great reviews and yours is our first!)

Jeff– I appreciate that you understand what uninspired food is.

Sincerely, Luna for Atlanta Mayor.

New review from Jeff D on yelp:

Apparently "Lunacy" is the operative word at Lunacy Black Market as you'll see from their response to my original review. Apparently the 'Bush Doctrine' is in effect here regarding your dining experience (i.e. you're either with us or against us). Apparently, they've also taken it upon themselves to post my review on their website while trying to personally slander me with comments that would make any junior-highschooler proud. Hope that works out for you...

Last time I checked, food and dining experiences are still subjective. Given that fact, sites like Yelp offer the opportunity for "Real people" to give "Real reviews" (look up and to the left). So for a proprietor to come onto to such a forum and write what they believe to be a clever and snide comment about a review of their place that wasn't as glowing as they'd hoped, yet not all together vicious or out of line by any stretch either, is not only a little pathetic and immature, but it shows a lack of professionalism to the craft they're supposedly there to showcase.

The fact the owners and/or chef at Lunacy Black Market are so obviously offended and put off by one 2 star (now 1) review of their establishment, on Yelp of all places, shows that the confidence level over there isn't where it needs to be. Confident people who believe in what they're doing don't feel a need to defend themselves when criticized; especially when the critique is not even that scathing and coming from an everyday person. Not to mention that chefs are used to taking criticism (or should be). No person or business ever grew, progressed and developed into something better from being pig-headed and arrogant...something to think about.

From Luna's blog:
My Last Words on Yelp-gate Lunacy

Given the heated response to my response to a two-star (now, a one-star) review on Yelp!, I would like to take a moment to express my views on my site about the review. As a chef of more than 25 years, I have enjoyed many an opportunity to respond to individuals who did not enjoy my food. Over the years, I have developed these two simple conclusions: we all have opinions, and we all enjoy the right to express our opinions (whether in a public or a private forum).

I don’t expect to be liked by everybody. We are all no different from each other; our differences lie in our thoughts. We love; we hate; we envy; we laugh; we cry; we eat. As much as folks enjoy reviewing/critiquing my food and my restaurants, I enjoy reviewing/critiquing their reviews. Some people thought I shouldn’t have highlighted this review with my own response. Some people think I was “personal” and that I “bashed” the individual for his review. I disagree. I don’t know the individual and I hold no animosity toward him, nor do I hold any anger toward any of the others who so honorably stepped up to his defence.

As of this moment, I will be removing the post from my website. With it will go the photo of the individual and the additional comments from site visitors. Let me be clear that I don’t expect this move to change anybody’s opinion about my restaurant or my food; however, I do hope that people will understand that my original intent with the rebuttal was not to wage a personal attack, but to respond to an opinion with my own.



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