We really appreciate ALL the feedback that we’ve gotten on the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate perspectives that everyone has shared with us. Even the not-so-positive ones. And even the outright angry ones that have said that our restaurant is too expensive and “How dare you that you don’t serve french fries and ketchup!”
Although I will admit that I’ve been challenged on exactly how to reply.
How do I tell folks that our food is so expensive because of the natural ingredients we use? (I’ve tried here with our Food Philosophy Statement) How do I explain, that once I’ve learned the little that I have about our Industrial Food Complex in the US that I do not feel that I can go that way in good conscience...no matter how much cheaper it would be, and no matter how much easier it would be for the typical diner to embrace. (One glimpse into what I am talking about was covered pretty well in this recent article in the San Diego City Beat Magazine.)
How do I tell folks that good quality natural food is better for them? (You don’t say “This is healthy for you” of course, as interestingly that’s one of the last things most people want to hear.) Cheesy as it may sound to some, I believe fully in the 60’s axiom “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” I fully admit that when I believe in something, zealotry is often not far behind...especially when I think we all benefit.
We should just tell folks that our goal is to not be fancy or pretentious. Far from it. We follow the simple, and humble, philosophy of the international Slow Food movement. The San Diego Chapter’s website is here. “Slow Food” was so-named as goal is the opposite of ”fast food.” We believe it’s time to get our vegetables locally, to have our meats raised outside of factory, and to prepare our food thoughtfully and with flavor on the stove, on the wood grill, in a wok or in the oven --- rather than with chemical enhancers and trans-fats in the microwave or a deep fryer. (Gotta admit that we do have a deep fryer...and that our organic Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings are damn tasty!)
I understand what it’s like to get criticism. I’ve certainly gotten my fair share over the years. Back in the earlier days, we would get loads of emails and such from people telling us that they couldn’t imagine how anyone would want horrible, bitter, nasty, full-of-ourselves trendy, micro-brew craze beer like ours. Heck, come to think of it, we STILL get plenty of people that think that way. However, many also love that we love brewing big character beers.
There are a lot of restaurants that have done, and are doing, things like we are. We’re certainly not alone. However most are in more urbanized areas, and most are one hell of a lot smaller in sheer size. With our place, there’s little that’s not a new concept. New part of town, no other restaurant even (comparably) close nearby, uncomfortably expensive for some with all of our more expensive and natural ingredients, “weird” tastes and menu items (our own house made kimchee? Yikes!), no TVs, 100% smoke-free in all of our outdoor areas, eclectic “World” music playing over our music system, and an almost singular lack of the average normal foodstuffs that all the other restaurants serve.
Granted, we’ve had some fits and starts with some of our consistency with the combination of the size of our restaurant and the complexity of our menu. If something wasn’t made right, I don’t blame anyone if they didn’t think it was great. If this was the case, please let us know.
Interestingly, I was expecting a LOT of resistance to us not having any “fizzy yellow beer” options. I was expecting to hear ten times each night from different people wanting to give me an earful for not carrying their brand of light beer. In the first six weeks of operation, I have hardly gotten any such comments. Amazing.
I have however gotten a lot of comments from people who fully understand the uniqueness of our beer, but were expecting our menu to be like just about any other brewpub, or pub. That I was not expecting. I thought that the people who knew Stone would be EXPECTING us to go off the beaten track. Not so for some. I thought folks knew of our unwavering standards. We’re known for our zealous persnicketyness when it comes to our brewing and the beer styles we produce, the high standard of our business ethics that we adhere to, and our efforts to have a positive effect on our community by participating in more than 100 charitable events every year.
But open a frozen bag of something, dump it in a deep fryer and serve it to our guests in our restaurant? No. We will not do that...no matter how many people ask.
That all being said, we love making changes to our menu. It was in the plan. The Kitchen Crew and I planned to have fun with the menu, changing it both by the season and as inspiration dictated. We just added a “Mike’s Beer Cheese” plate and kicked off our Mac & Beer Cheese entrée. Of course, it is made with Cabot White Cheddar and Stone Smoked Porter Sausage from San Marcos’ T&H Prime Meats and Sausage, so it still isn’t in the ’bargain price’ realm admittedly. But it is damn good!
We’re taking a look at adding some other items that are a little more on the ’informal’ and hopefully less expensive. However, we are NOT currently considering buying cheaper ingredients, which would be the other route to lower menu prices.
To be sure, we have gotten many, many glowing compliments and have already established a solid group of regular diners. Many folks tell us how happy they are that we offer a unique menu that’s not the ”same ol’ same ol’.”
We’ve all been to restaurants that feature a “signature” item. It’s a unique dish or two with a special preparation that has grown to become something that people go out of their way for. As we worked on creating the menu here, we wondered to ourselves “why can’t all of our plates be ‘signature’ dishes?” Certainly, in order to be of that level, all the aspects of the dish need to work. The ingredients, flavors, preparation and presentation need to come together in a way that the result is greater than all the parts that went into it. Sometimes you can plan for it that way and nail it right off the bat, sometimes it just happens, and sometimes no matter how you try you just can’t get there. We’ve experienced all three scenarios already.
H. L. Mencken’s famous quote was ”Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” It’s arguable that he was right. However, we have made the decision that the person who is fully willing to be underestimated is not our customer. If someone wants less, I don’t mind being clear: Stone is not the place to find it.
I would like to close by saying thank you very much for reading my feedback to your feedback. I’d be quite interested to hear any further thoughts you might have!
Greg Koch. CEO