Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sometimes Doing it Right Isn't Enough

This recent article written in the SF Chronicle about the closing of a beloved and well rated restaurant really hit a particular note with me. It was written by one of the restaurants sous-chefs who talks about all the expensive choices the restaurant made in pursuing a business that sought to honor its suppliers, employees and customers. The economy has a significant impact on independent restaurants and retailers. Those who have been unwilling to trade down in quality to improve their margins, or to let valued employees go have been hit the hardest.

Eventually, it became clear my careful attempts at cost-cutting weren't nearly enough. We either had to start serving many more people each day, or dramatically lower our costs. By this time, we'd already tried everything we could to attract diners - lower prices, happy hour, an extended bar menu, more comfort foods, you name it. None of it did much good. The only choices that remained were to buy lesser ingredients and replace our cooks with cheap labor.

We couldn't do those things. We couldn't forsake our principles and our employees just to keep the restaurant open. Such a restaurant wouldn't have been our Eccolo, anyway.

Before shutting the doors, we decided to have a week of special dinners. We'd cook the food we loved to eat, be surrounded by our friends, and pay tribute to the purveyors whose work we'd so greatly appreciated.

We spent each day in the kitchen preparing a different menu of Chris' favorite dishes. Eccolo overflowed with people; regulars fretted about where they would now eat.

Chris and I just looked at each other and wondered, "Where were all of these people before this? How could it be that only now, on the eve of closing, Eccolo had become the restaurant we'd always wanted?" We kept hearing from people, "I wish I had come more." We wished it, too.

Regardless of what the money people said, I think these customers knew that we were doing the right thing - supporting family farmers, putting money back into the local economy, hiring people from the neighborhood. I just don't think most people realize how hard or expensive those choices are.

Amen to that.

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