I hosted a panel recently with some leaders of our local food scene. The topics that I was so excited to call attention to and hear everyone’s thoughts on centered around “menu integrity” and “responsible branding”. Instead of an honest, transparent discussion, I found some of the panelists and attendees immediately going to their happy place: that being local cures all ills. This “local-washing” needs to seriously be examined. I don’t think that there was any intent to deceive and I really believe that all of the panelist are wonderful representatives of the current food scene in Indy; however, lets be honest, it is easy to say that you are farm-to-table without much proof of walking the talk. Customers are intelligent and deserve more then that. When they see MARKET FRESH on a menu they should be assured that the restaurant actually sources from a farmer’s market. Did you know that Arby’s, the horrible fake roast beef sandwich chain, owns that phrase and uses it openly, without either shame or impunity? ARTISANAL is another word that has been usurped by many, including the publicly traded, fast causal restaurant, Olive Garden. Do you really think that Olive Garden, whose parent company operates over 2100 restaurants, makes pasta and sauces that fit the real intended meaning of that word?
Before we damn the entire chain-world for stealing “our” words, lets look at our comrades, friends and competitors alike. Do all these local restaurants truly walk the talk? Can you be farm to table if the vast majority of your ingredients come from a broad-line supplier? Is it fair to use this uber-popular term for goodwill and marketing efforts when the fact is that truly local ingredients make it on a menu only occasionally? Can you say you support farmers or artisans when you buy from them once in awhile? Is it fair to say you are sustainable because you use paper to go cups but do nothing else? Is it enough to simply claim to support your community? Is it really right to define your menu items as being of the highest quality when you ignore continuous opportunities to improve what you are serving? I am really proud of the way I can answer these questions. Patachou Inc. proudly walks the talk. With each passing day, we move the company forward by insisting on actually being radically different, radically better, honest and transparent. This is our “why”. As a company,we need to OWN not just what we do but why we do it. We need to embrace the new products on the menu- all of which have been sourced for their quality and none for their price. There is real truth behind the phrase on our menu: “Using the highest quality ingredients we can source, often local and organic”. We embrace our commitment to sustainability by practicing daily the changes that have been put in place. Change takes time-sometimes a ridiculous amount of time. Ingredients that I was proud to use 25 years ago would not make the cut today.The same can be said for our definition of sustainability and how we supported the community. Don’t get me wrong-those ingredients, those practices and the level of community involvement were wonderful for their time. But what was wonderful then, is irrelevant now. Transparency and honesty are huge issues in the food world. All customers deserve to know that what we tell them we are, what we tell them we serve, is exactly who we are and what we serve. There is more to being farm to table THAN SAYING IT. There is more to being local THAN SAYING IT. There is more to being radically better than just saying the words alone.
A favorite quote of mine starts with this simple statement: “Our lives are mere flashes of light in an infinitely empty universe.” Too often,we are stuck on the surface of an infinitely empty universe. A customer orders food, we engage in chit-chat (how are you today, how can we help you, is there anything else we can get you, yes the soup today is, I will get that for you, thank you for coming in). Perfectly polite and meeting expectations but nothing that is light-creating. But, occasionally, someone goes below the surface and creates the “mere flashes of light” that make life so breathtakingly simple and beautiful. A customer sent me a video last night of his little boy at the counter at Napolese 49th, helping Tyler with the dough for his pizza. On the surface, looking at the video through the eyes of the infinitely empty universe, Tyler was doing what he gets paid to do: he was doing his job: Tyler was making a pizza. Going below the surface for me is what life is all about. The father told me what Tyler did not know: the son has a pronounced hearing loss in one ear; extreme noises are very disorienting for him – “not knowing where sound comes from,” as his father texted me, is very scary. Purposefully arriving right at the start of service, when the noise level would be at its lowest point on a busy Friday night, was their best option for a stress free dinner for the boy. The child, sweet and kind and smart, is very shy. What happened next at the counter was sheer magic: Tyler’s engagement with the boy created a family memory moment. What is a memory moment if not the flashes of light we all want and need? Please share the moment as memorialized in the attached video and photo as examples of someone on staff understanding how we have the opportunity daily to be radically better and radically different in how we relate to, engage in and communicate with our customers. I often look for examples that best explain what I mean by the use of the words in our vision statement. In this instance where action replaces rhetoric, a picture and a video explain it. If you have other examples of light flash moments, please provide to me. Peace out.