Battle in Buffalo
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation
This post is a precursor to a forthcoming post titled, Amateur Hour, Online Restaurant Reviews, that will include suggestions for restaurateurs and reviewers, especially anonymous reviewers. Some of your comments following this post will be quoted in the future piece.
Roy Binbuffalony, a Server Not Servant facebook group member, recently sent me a link to a story by ‘queenseyes’ on BUFFALO RISING, a website covering everything happening in and around Buffalo, NY. The piece, titled, Surprising Buffalo: Mike A’s, highlights a relatively new restaurant by renowned Buffalo restaurateur, Mike Andrzejewski. The piece includes quotes from travel writer, Steve Jermanok:
“Dinner was exceptional, probably one of the best meals I had since dining at the acclaimed Next in Chicago last summer. Mike Andrzejewski is one of the city’s best loved chefs and he finally has a high-end restaurant that matches his talent. One taste of his wagyu beef tartare, spiced with pine nuts, capers, watercress, red onions, olive oil, truffled Dijon mustard, and egg yolk, and you realize this dude’s destined for a James Beard award.”
Posted by anonymousOOO on August 7, 2012 PM:
A disappointment from one of WNY’s [Western New York] seasoned restaurant owners, & we never even made it to review the food! Our issues started with the lack of a sign for the restaurant/dining room, and some confusion between where to check-in, in relation to the location of the bar. (Note: it is a restaurant bar, not an open late hotel lobby bar.) A cheap curtain between the kitchen and the dining room, was our first red flag, far from five-star. The drink menu was impressive, and the specialty drinks even came with an old fashion single large ice cube, like Vera Pizzeria also does (nice touch). The odor of old and new in the place mixed together, interestingly. We especially liked chandelier lights in the bar area, but they totally missed with carrying the noir lights also into the dining room. (Cheap Home Depot spotlights throughout the entire dining room.) We then made our way into the loud echoing dining room, with beautiful high ceilings, which unfortunately only exacerbated the high noise level. There were nice mosaics throughout, and the unshaded windows provide a nice view of the library. We then had issue with the overzealous waiter trying to give us each 4 pieces of bread (another amateur mistake). Then after an expected deep dive into the menu, there was a lack of any specials menu. Now this is something that isn’t necessarily mandatory, but expected by many (another miss). Then came a whipped cream radish teaser thingy (another fail). We placed our orders and promptly received some overcooked scallops, and romaine wedge salad (didn’t know that a WEDGE came from Romaine- not what we expected) with a nice bottle of mildly priced pinot noir was ordered. Our wine arrived and the waiter then spilled our bottle of red wine all over me!!!, which promptly and effectively ruined any chance of any further review, EPIC FAIL! Given the above we cannot recommend this restaurant. This place has only been open a few weeks, but we expected so much more. [sic]
Response from Chef/Owner Mike Andrzejewski on August 9, 2012 4:43 PM:
RESPONSE to ANONYMOUs000 Hello Christopher Hawkins of HSBC bank aka Anonymous000, Lets tell the readers the whole story here- and Why you are angry , you classless pig. Mr. Hawkins showed up at the Lafayette hotel last weekend claiming he had a reservation under another name. Our hostess who behaved as professionally as possible to accommodated him and tolerate his obviously intoxicated ,agitated and aggressive behavior moved their table twice to satisfy his demands. The server was as tolerant as possible while Mr. Hawkins bantered and stammered, and the table ordered a bottle of wine and the rest of the savory portion of the meal. After eating the appetizers AND finishing the wine Mr. Hawkins purposely knocked over the empty bottle in a childish display of bad acting, blaming it on the waiter startling him. (This was witnessed and verified by other guests around him in the dining room.) Again making a scene he instructed the other guests to retrieve the car from the valet and he would “take care of the check”. when the manager went to print the check Hawkins then sprinted out the door and left without paying his bill, and worse stiffing the server whom he abused through his service. BUT WAIT – Hawkins then went to Seabar , Our other restaurant and demanded tho the Host that she take care of him and that “Mike A” himself sent him there to make up for his experience. Sherri, my wife and owner of Seabar trying to make the best of a bad situation promptly moved things around seated Hawkins , who once again was a complete Obnoxious jackass to the server. and the staff proceeded to try and provide a good dining experience, all the while Hawkins and his pathetic girlfriend with tears in her eyes berated my restaurants to everyone within earshot. Finally after being called about the situation I arrived at Seabar from the Hotel , just in time to hear how the server should be ashamed and that we owed him money. Immediately I made sure to tell him to get himself and everything else associated with him out of my restaurant, and the spineless tool even admitted he spilled the empty wine which he already had finished and skipped out on a bill. Demanding that he leave immediately he and entourage finally exited. BUT it gets better! After leaving the scumbag gets pulled over by Police , who is aware of the situation and make him call the restaurant and turn over his credit card number to cover our cost. To end the saga , the other couple they were dining with ,so mortified and embarrassed went back to the Lafayette and payed for the wine Mr Hawkins stole, and explained to our management that they wanted no part of such behavior. To them THANK YOU! that was a classy and dignified thing to do and earned a great deal of respect from our staff. Chris Hawkins is really a spineless and crass individual,and stories abound about his horrendous actions and abusive behavior throughout the restaurant industry. Now he is such gutless clown he wont sign is name to false criticism he is slandering all over the internet … I will though- this is the rest of the story. Mike Andrzejewski [sic]
The exact same ’anonymous’ rant was also posted on UrbanSpoon on August 7, 2012 under the moniker of “anonymous1″(first and only post), and also on Yelp under the handle, “C A.”(first and only post). Yelpers refer to (usually anonymous) reviewers with no photo as “Orange Heads”. The UrbanSpoon and Yelp reviews have since been taken down by the site monitors.
I reached out to “C A.” via Yelp’s messaging option. Here is his response and my exchange with him:
I have considered not responding to your note, but feel if I did not, then an accurate accounting of that evening would not take place… I am the victim here…
I would prefer that you not use my full name.
Patrick Maguire: How long have you known Mike?
Chris: I have been eating at his establishments for over 10 years, and spent thousands over the years. This was the first negative experience I have EVER had. I have never met the man other than saying “hello” to him over the years.
PM: Do you have a grudge against him? If yes,why?
Chris: I certainly do not have any grudge against anyone. I was simply disappointed, and I felt that it was my right to say so. The backlash of saying so has been significant.
PM: Do you have a response to his comments ripping you and your actions in his restaurants?
Chris: I do, he is outright lying in his response.
PM: Have you contacted him and apologized?
Chris: My Atty has advised me to have no further contact with him in any way. I have no intention to apologized as I did nothing wrong, other than leaving to avoid conflict.
PM: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Chris: Sure,.. As a foodie, I have ate[sic] at many an establishment, and posted several reviews. In this case, I have learned a lot as a result of my negative experience that evening and the internet post. That review was sincere and accurate from me. His rebuttal however, was not.
One of the things that I have learned, is that businesses can have negative reviews removed from some websites for a cost per word! Where is the literary integrity there?
When posting a negative review about any business, their proprietors take it as a direct personal attack on their livelihood and will do anything to fight back, including LIE. (My review was not meant to be a personal attack.)
In this case, some examples include, 1.) there was no police involvement that evening. (A quick review of the police blotter from that night can prove that).2.) We were not intoxicated at any time, (we had our first drink when we got to the restaurant.) 3.) Almost every other statement he made was either an outright lie or an exaggeration. Mr. A, personally wasn’t involved in any of the interactions, so any accounting he received was after the fact, except when he asked us to leave, which we quietly did, offering to pay for whatever we ate so far, but was met with “Just go”. 4.) I certainly did not spill anywine on myself!
He made a scene in his own restaurant, not us. (Perhaps he could have approached us outside, or asked us to talk privately- instead he blew up in the middle of his own establishment.)
I have always believed that, If you leave someone alone, they will leave you alone. He obviously is interested in some free press and attention, I however am not.
Which is why I posted anonymously.
At this point, I just want to put this to rest and move on.
A Cease and Desist letter has been sent to Mike Andrejewski from my attorney, to stop using my name or any likeness thereof, directly or indirectly through any 3rd party, in any slanderous way, as my Review was not directed at him personally, rather at our negative experience we had at one of his many restaurants.
After the written response from Chris, I called him and left a message, and he called me back right away to confirm that the Yelp message was, in fact, written by him. During that conversation, I told him that everyone would have a fair opportunity to respond to the public comments following this post. After speaking with Chris, he sent me another Yelp message requesting that I state that he is not employed by HSBC, and to add that he is a consultant.
I also called Mike Andrzejewski and sent him a couple of emails seeking clarification from his perspective. Here is my email exchange with Mike:
Patrick Maguire: In retrospect, is there anything you wish you handled differently? (It seems like you should have thrown him out of your steakhouse for being a drunk, obnoxious boor.)
Mike Andrzejewski: I think as a restaurant we did everything possible to make the best of the situation. It’s easy in retrospect to second guess, but at the steakhouse we had no idea he would run out on the check, and then show up at Seabar to try and extort a free meal there. I should have answered my phone earlier when they tried to call , but I was in the kitchen and the staff and my wife at Seabar did their best with a bad situation.
PM: Have you heard from Chris since the incident?
Mike A.: [He] messaged me on facebook with an very untrue explanation of his actions.And several delusional accusations. He also called the restaurant , spoke to my wife Sherri, attempted to apologize and ask that I remove references to his employment. I did not post anything regarding him, his employment or anything else about the incident after my initial response. I also instructed our employees to cease posting anything or even discuss the incident any further.
PM: Have you confirmed that the guy in question was him?
Mike A.: Absolutely confirmed it was him.
PM: Has he apologized?
Mike A.: When he called back with his credit card number he initially told our employee to take the number and tell us to fuck ourselves. Afterwards, when he called the restaurant, he asked us to remove employment references ( Which we did not post) and vaguely attempted to apologize. He was told to apologize to the servers and host whom he mistreated.
PM: Does he have an ax to grind with you? Why?
Mike A.: I don’t think he had a problem with me personally. He does now. I think if you read some of the comment threads which there are a lot of , his behavior has been known around Buffalo and he has a reputation of really being an asshole.
PM: Feel free to add anything you’d like me to include.
Mike A.: I want to make it perfectly clear that any references to Hawkins’ employment or personal issues were made by people following the posts he began, and not posted or sanctioned by anyone at our restaurants, just more literary integrity from the masses. ”The pen is mightier than the sword. “
Also, I need to say that the only regret I have is not finding out more of the police involvement , I have been unable to verify first-hand exactly what happened with the officer, and was told of this by customers coming back into the restaurant as the events were unfolding. I tried very diligently to follow up and get a first-hand and verifiable witness report, but received no contacts or answers from the people (2 separate Groups) who first told us of this happening. Everything prior, we have undeniable and first-hand accounts.
I think the history of our respective reputations speaks for itself. As does the response to the postings put up, literally hundreds of people chimed in with stories of their own about Hawkins, and myself for that matter. If he was so concerned about only voicing an opinion, he certainly did – posting the identical critique on yelp, buffalo rising, urbanspoon and several other sites. As far as paying for removable reviews? Really? and literary integrity, start by signing your work.
I have never responded to an online review previously in a public fashion like this incident, and have, on a couple occasions, contacted reviewers who posted negatively to address and correct the problems they brought to my attention. This was not the case in Hawkins’ situation. His malicious intent warranted a public response in defense of my staff, restaurant and the way he treated them especially my wife , who runs Seabar. There was a time in my life when I would have handled this differently, much differently.
As far as the claim he spent thousands in my establishments is a stretch , to say the least. Maybe a hundred fifty over the last 4 years. And as far as claiming I’m looking for free publicity? Seriously, I get an almost embarrassing amount of attention from the local press, and certainly do not need to drag this kind of bullshit out in public.
My actions in telling him to leave the restaurant , and not asking him to speak privately were directly in response to him screaming at the waitress for giving him a bill , and stating that she owed him money for his troubles. He so embarrassed himself that a number of customers actually applauded and commented as he finally left the restaurant.
Finally, if Mr hawkins wishes to contact attorneys, he can have them approach the “anonymous” people on facebook , Buffalo rising, The buffalo News and other public forums to cease and desist. Since its ok for anyone to post things as they see them why is he complaining? After all, Isn’t that his point when he put his comments up publicly?
I really love the restaurant and service business, I think it’s a pretty noble profession. It angers and hurts me when people degrade it and degrade the people who work so hard at it.
Sincerely, Mike Andrzejewski
#2- What advice/suggestions do you have for amateur, anonymous posters who hide behind their keyboards when writing restaurant reviews?
#3- How about suggestions for amateur reviewers in general, even those who disclose their real names?
#3- What do you think of Mike A’s response on BUFFALO RISING to the comments by Chris?
#4- What advice/suggestions do you have for restaurateurs when it comes to responding publicly to online reviews?