I am currently doing research for my next column in the Merrimack Valley Magazine–The subject being “Ethnic foods of Lowell”
The Set Up
So…A few years back, my cousin slash manager joined some people at a dowtown Lowell restaurant and received typically slow service. On this day, even slower than usual. He had ordered a Sake Martini and 10 minutes later it had still not arrived. As the female half of the un-friendly owner-couple passed the table he mentioned that he had been waiting for a drink for over 10 minutes. Did she apologize? Did she say “Let me check on that”, or even, “We are very busy but thank you for your patience”? No. What she DID do was berate him in front of others about how busy they are, how they are doing their best, and how he should, basically, back off. Embarrassed and horrified at such miserable management (and service) he, in fact, never returned for the entire two years that he lived locally.
I have been to the same place on numerous occasions, hesitantly, and I have seen a similar lack of hospitality and outright rudeness to guests and their own staff. The thing is, the food is great. I had continued to forego my inclination to stand with my cousin in boycott-soladarity, because having sushi available so close is super convenient.
Yet, fast forward to my most recent visit, and my last. I came in alone–to an empty bar at 9PM as the other unfriendly he-owner, sat at “his” corner table and slurped noodles. No ackknowledgement for me–his only customer–and he KNOWS I am a local, fellow restaurant owner. Trust me, I am not looking for a free drink or complimentary appetizer. A simple smile and a nod would suffice. Not happening. And surely no, “Hey, how’s it going? Good to see you”
It just so happened that on this night I was coordinating a meet-up with 3 or 4, maybe even 6 people, and as my cell phone died en route to downtown, with my group in limbo as to where to meet, I asked my bartender if I could use the house phone to make a local call. (To say “Have everyone meet here!” I was recruiting business for these guys, if you will.) Well, the bartender looked as if I had asked to borrow her left leg–almost frightened–as she walked over to ask the slurping owner permission. She returned, with a look of pain and indigestion, and she handed me the phone with obvious hesitance–and sort of tilted her head in his direction. I dialed. I asked the hostess of the other restaurant I had called if I could speak to a member in my party. And, as I sat on hold for two minutes (not 3, not 5, but 2…) the bartender hurried me along, while gesturing to Mr. Slurpy McNasty Pants in the corner. I turned to look–and the he-owner-grump looked up from his bowm, glared at me, and said something about them needing the phone for business. He actually was rushing me off after 2 minutes, on a dead Sunday night, while indicating (in 2012) that there is no call waiting on his phone (BS!) when I suggested I would switch over if a call came in.
I received my answer on the phone, and told my friends we would be going elsewhere, and hung up. No WAY I was staying here. The bartender took the phone and asked me what I wanetd to drink. “Nothing” I declined, and sat there for 10 minutes until my friends showed up outside–knowing the whole time,with great certainty, that the restaurant phone would not ring once. My friends arrived and minutes later we were greeted with warmth and attentive service at La Boniche–where 20 years-and still smiling Ana Jabar sets the local bar for hospitality!
I’m going to miss that sushi, but you know what? F that s.
Please look for my column next month. There is amazing food to be had in Lowell–full of flavor and genuine TLC. I can assure you this…the column won’t be talking about any cold fish.