Dave Andelman, The Kettle is Black
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
Phantom Gourmet, Inc., derives a large portion of its revenue from the restaurant industry. Their restaurant “review” television show runs weekly in Boston, Rhode Island and Maine. Under the guise of producing legitimate restaurant “reviews,” the program is largely an infomercial for Phantom Gourmet (PG) advertisers. According to the PG website, “The company is led by the beloved Andelman brothers, with Dave serving as CEO, Mike heading the business division, and Dan heading the content division.” “Beloved” is in the eye of the beholder.
If you ask admirers (“Phans”) of Phantom Gourmet, the Andelman brothers can do no wrong. Conversely, when you ask seasoned, savvy, New England restaurant professionals about the reputation and track record of the Andelman brothers, you immediately strike a nerve.
In a recent op-ed column in the Boston Herald, Dave Andelman penned a shallow piece titled, Seeking help with Yelp bully, in which he accuses Yelp, the amateur customer review site, of bullying. Dave’s piece was inspired by negative reviews he received about the food-related events that his company produces.
From the Herald: My company produces major events that draw huge crowds. Somehow, the commentary on Yelp is overwhelmingly negative, including gross exaggerations like we charged $10 for beer (at a time when it was $5). We’ve tried to get comments removed, but Yelp makes it nearly impossible. My friends in the restaurant business have similar horror stories — some of them “reviews” by former employees or competitors that they can’t get removed. Yelp refuses to explain its methodology for verifying or filtering the material.
Within the piece, Dave goes on to criticize Yelp for not requiring their users to register and verify their identity, and Yelpers for submitting “bogus” comments. He portrays Yelp as a billion-dollar corporate bully, concluding with:
Bullying in school is rightfully being treated seriously. Bullying in online business also deserves serious treatment.
Dave raises some very legitimate points, but his argument is specious for two reasons:
#1- He has no credibility with a large number of highly regarded members of the restaurant community that he purports to represent. Many restaurant professionals have no respect for Dave Andelman and have made a concerted effort to distance themselves from him, and Phantom Gourmet.
I was contacted by a 25-year Boston restaurant industry icon after he read Dave’s piece who said, “They [Phantom Gourmet] don’t represent me. They’re not one of us, and they don’t speak for me. They’re bad for our industry because of their sleazy tactics. Dave is an entitled, pompous ass who does what’s best for Dave, period.”
Another chef/owner (20+ yr. veteran) stopped me on the street and added; “I want nothing to do with them [PG]. They don’t represent good food. They represent a tacky, cheeseball culture.”
These growing sentiments have been echoed to me (and online) hundreds of times over the last few years by restaurant industry professionals and astute customers.
#2- Dave Andelman whining about bullying is the ultimate irony. He’s calling for Yelp to be shut down for bullying when he has a history of bullying and suspect business practices. Dave Andelman is a manipulative fraud: his TV show, token efforts as a “lobbyist,” and personal conduct all betray a contempt for his viewers and the restaurant industry from which he derives his livelihood.
Dave also has a very short memory.
In the Herald piece, Dave states that as victims of Yelp, Hard-working people including chefs, waiters, bartenders, and hostesses* are publicly humiliated for real or imagined mistakes. This is personally and professionally damaging for them.
That sounds like a noble cause, but coming from Dave, it’s a lame attempt at chicanery and redemption.
On a Phantom Gourmet paid radio program on 2/12/11, Mike Andelman disparaged a Boston restaurant hostess*, calling her dumb, moronic and a monkey after she denied his request to be seated early, before the dining room opened. Mike also denigrated hostesses as incompetents who can’t do anything else in life. On the same program, Dan also made some inappropriate, sexist comments. After I called Mike and Dan out on this blog, the story was widely circulated, on food blogs, Universal Hub, Chowhound, Yelp and the Boston Globe.
Dave Andelman was on vacation at the time of the incident. Upon his return, Dan and Mike filled him in on the imbroglio during their next live radio segment on 2/26/11. Here are some excerpts from the program:
Mike (Replaying the taped segment) : “…this moronic hostess who was just getting her, uh, jollies off by sticking to the rules of her little brochure in a little binder…This little monkey, her only job is to look at this binder and say don’t let people in ‘til 5:30.”
[Not a great way to endear yourself to an industry you solicit your livelihood from.]
Dan (to Dave, CEO): Do you think this was so controversial that it should have been in the Boston Globe? Are you offended by what Mike had to say?
Dave: [No acknowledgement of Mike’s ‘dumb’, ‘moron’ and ‘monkey’ comments about the hostess.] I don’t even think it’s interesting enough for us to be replaying it on our own show. [3 brothers laughing hysterically] I’m waiting for the bomb to drop. That was it? That’s what you had to bother me for in Aruba and all week?
Dave downplayed and defended his brother’s insulting remarks and despite multiple opportunities, never apologized on behalf of his company. Even to this day, he’s using the childish, “We were just kidding” excuse, when it’s crystal clear from the audio that they weren’t. On Dave’s facebook page on 10/11/13, he scoffs, “This is the worst degrading of women I have seen since the Andelmans did three minutes of satire about a Grill 23 hostess! How dare you try to make people laugh?”
Not everyone bought Dave’s lame attempt to cover their tracks. The “three minutes of satire” led to stern, public admonishment from the parent company of the host radio station shortly after the Andelman insults:
“Greater Media has a great deal of respect for service industry workers and does not endorse or support the recent statements made by the Andelmans during their paid programming show on WTKK. We do not speak for them, nor do they speak for us.”
The owners of the restaurant where the Andelmans tried to bully the hostess also publicly condemned the Andelmans in a Boston Globe article:
“Himmel Hospitality is shocked and saddened at the personal attack that has been made on an employee and in such a public manner. We always hope that any guest that is dissatisfied with food or service at Grill 23 contact the General Manager or any member of management immediately. We stand behind our employee and her decision not to seat guests in a closed dining room. Himmel Hospitality and Grill 23 & Bar are very proud of our excellent staff and the service they provide.’’
On the 2/26 radio program, Dave stated, They [The Globe] do sort of try to claim there’s a massive online controversy. That’s just not factually accurate. There’s like four guys talking to each other online. I mean that’s ridiculous.
“Factually accurate” is not Dave’s forte.
As I mentioned in my comments to Dave on 3/14/11, “Tens of thousands of people have read and talked about the inappropriate, derogatory and misogynist comments made by Mike and Dan, and now they’ll be talking about your defending them.”
For the record, Dan Andelman did have the decency to apologize for some of his sexist comments. On the 2/26/11 radio program, Dan stated, “I apologize for my rude, insensitive comment about her back.” Dan’s apology was in response to his original comment asking how the hostess looked from the back.
[Dan was also classy enough to tweet the following on 9/26 after TV Diner (PG competitor) was cancelled: Just heard about @tvdiner cancellation. Best of luck to @BillyCosta & @jennyj33, both class acts.]
[Dave’s reaction to the cancellation on facebook: Yeah, I heard, don’t care that much….busy planning the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival.]
It’s stunning that Dave, as CEO, had an opportunity to reprimand his brothers for their comments on the radio and apologize on behalf of his company, but he dropped the ball.
On his attention-seeking Facebook page, Dave has a penchant for bashing restaurant industry bloggers who are onto his schtick. Almost monthly, I receive Facebook messages about another blogger or restaurant industry worker being ’unfriended’ and/or blocked from Dave’s page (along with me), or forwarded copies of screenshots (I saved them all) including taunting insults from Dave. Banning restaurant bloggers and informed readers is usually the result of Dave being challenged for his abuse and inability to substantiate facts. Deleting dissenters, and encouraging enablers, is a lot easier than engaging in intelligent discourse.
From Dave’s Facebook page:
Dave Andelman (September 17, 2013) : I like [Food Blogger], he’s the best food blog guy out there because he tries to be fair, but here’s how this will go: He will mention my name. Some of his pals will say how much they hate me and be typical FB [Facebook] tough guys, even though I could knock them out in two minutes in real life. [Food Blogger] will let them defame me, pull a Yelp, claiming he has nothing to do with it. Do I have that right, [Food Blogger]? If so, just steal the idea and don’t use my name, I’m used to it. Food Festival Sept 29!
From the same thread:
Dave Andelman: I just get so tired of all these chicken, internet tough guys, they’re like a bad girlfriend, so desperate for attention, and won’t leave when you ask them to.
Unlike some naive Phans, many members of the restaurant community in Boston and beyond, have not been duped by Dave.
Dave’s narrow-minded Facebook bully pulpit is also rife with bigotry, misogyny, and political bullying. Here are a few examples:
Dave Andelman (May 8, 2012): Maybe it’s wrong to say this, and I would never do it, but when I see an able-bodied man, standing on the street, begging for money, I want to punch him in the face and say, “What makes YOU think you don’t have to WORK like the rest of us?”
Dave Andelman (September 30, 2013): [In an argument with a facebook poster/Obama supporter about the government shutdown] Look I just said this president refused to lead, that is obvious, no budget or plan or negotiation, jeez get off your knees.
[Separate comment from Dave] Azzzzzia you should go down on him [Obama] like a circus seal.
Not quite what you would expect from a CEO of a very public entity. And definitely not what you want to see from the president of your Restaurant Trade Association.
As Dave scrambles to remove the incriminating facebook posts, you have to wonder how he ever thought it was ok to go public with such derisive drivel. He doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know. As one restaurant server stated in an email to me, Why would you draft an article for the Herald to let its readership know that your events get ”overwhelmingly negative” reviews? My response would be to wonder if your street festivals just suck.
RDC: This from [Dave] the guy who, along with his brother, my girlfriend and I heard denigrating his own [TV] viewers and listeners at the Summer Shack in Alewife, saying they do whatever they (the Andelman brothers) tell them to do, as their listeners know nothing about food.
I mentioned questionable business pratices earlier in this post. Here is a brief summary of the items I was referring to:
#1- Pay for play on the Phantom Gourmet TV show.
It is widely known that several of the restaurants recommended, and featured prominently on the PG program are also advertisers on the show. The program is oftentimes more an endorsement for advertisers than a legitimate restaurant “review” program. (PG does occasionally promote some better than average restaurants, outside of their cheeseball, “ooey gooey” wheelhouse, presumably as a diversionary tactic.)
Several Boston Herald online commenters, responding to Dave’s Yelp piece, are also onto the PG ruse, and called him out:
kbird: Are you kidding me? This article is blatantly stupid on a number of levels. Hey Dave-let’s get the government to legislate that you can’t accept advertising money from the restaurants your show reviews, because the content isn’t “fair.”
newaitress: Dave Dave Dave. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has less right to whine about bullying than you and your family. Please explain how Yelp making money from its advertisers is any different from the PG shilling for its advertisers. It isn’t.
dyang1: The Phantom Gourmet is easily the worst restaurant review program I’ve ever seen. The reviews are more advertisement than anything resembling a review. And the writing of the show is just as bad as the writing in Dave Andelman’s letter. Yelp may contain some reviews which are questionable in objectivity and content, but everything in the Phantom Gourmet is questionable in bias and taste.
MCslimJB: Dave Andelman is absolutely correct: it is wrong (bordering on criminal) for a business to profit from the propagation of bogus opinions of restaurants by phony critics who have a financial interest in the places they are praising. But as this kind of pay-for-play whoring is the exact business model that Andelman has made a tidy living from with his Phantom Gourmet empire, he’s the most hilariously awful advocate for this argument imaginable. It’s like watching one streetwalker beating up on another sorry chickenhead working girl for trying to work her corner. The Phantom needs to take off his own kneepads first before he slags another business for profiting from opinion prostitution.
nhunixguy: It’s always tough when you’re the playground bully and suddenly a bigger and smarter bully moves in and takes over. Sorry Dave, you’ve said too many stupid, mean, arrogant things over the years for me to do anything other than enjoy your whining. MCslimJB nailed it.
Upper Crust is a disgraced MA pizza chain, infamous for exploiting its immigrant workers. In 2009, the US Department of Labor ordered Upper Crust to pay more than $341,000 in back pay and overtime to their employees. And that was just the beginning of their problems. Long after the disingenuous business practices of Upper Crust became public, Phantom Gourmet continued to shamelessly partner with them, promote them, and run their commercials on TV and radio. The Andelman brothers often personally endorsed Upper Crust at the end of their radio segments when they would discuss where they were going to dinner that evening.
#3- Food Truck Controversy
Food truck operators are another segment of the population that Dave has alienated himself from. In an op-ed piece in the Somerville Patch, Dave declared that, ”…We need sensible rules so that: 1) The food truck industry can be successful and 2) The food truck industry will not: discourage restaurants from opening and expanding, cause restaurants to end their leases, or force restaurants to fire employees…The trucks should not be allowed within a one thousand feet walking distance of a restaurant… Alternatively, the limit may be lowered to five hundred feet if the truck sends a certified letter to every restaurant in the designated area, and the majority of the restaurants then approve issuing the permit to operate.”
The piece goes on to discuss proposed regulation, and attempts to make the case that food trucks were gaining an unfair advantage over restaurants. The article was inspired by a debate between a food truck operator and a restaurant operator (Phantom Gourmet advertiser), both of whom appeared on a PG radio program. The restaurateur claimed that food trucks were hurting his business.
Several food truck operators, restaurateurs, and cognizant consumers weighed in on the feud at BostInno, EaterBoston, Chowhound, and Universal Hub. Many felt that competition between food trucks and restaurants was healthy, and that it was up to consumers to decide the best food, service, and value. Several noted that reasonable regulations were fair, but Dave’s proposed 1000′ rule was unreasonable and his motivation was suspect, at best.
#4- RABA: Restaurant and Business Alliance
” Trade association providing restaurant and business owners with a strong voice in government and media.” (PG website.) Dave Andelman has stated, “We are the ultimate advocates for the restaurant community.”
Is Dave Andelman (RABA president) the strong, trustworthy voice that you want speaking for you? Not according a lot of restaurant professionals I’ve spoken with. I know several restaurateurs who will never consider joining because they believe that such an affiliation is toxic. I’ve also heard from current members who will not renew their memberships. It comes down to legitimacy, integrity and transparency.
Are restaurants that are paying dues (up to $1,000/year) to RABA getting preferential treatment on the Phanton Gourmet TV show? There is no hard data yet, but several RABA members are also Phantom Gourmet sponsors, and their relationship is not disclosed when Phantom Gourmet promotes them on their TV show. I concur with MC Slim JB‘s take on this relationship in his comments on an EaterBoston post:
I don’t have a problem with RABA’s lobbying efforts per se. By definition, a lobby is nakedly quid pro quo: I pay my dues, you fight for my interests. Sometimes RABA lifts all industry boats (as in its admirable, successful efforts to extend brunch liquor service hours…), and sometimes it only lifts its dues-paying friends’ boats (as when it champions the interests of specific brick-and-mortar restaurants over food trucks). I see the latter as classic crony capitalism, pushing selective government regulation to quash new competitors for the benefit of established entrants. But at least the interdependencies are fairly blatant, out in the open.
Where I find it less ethically sound is wherever the relationship is less explicitly disclosed, as in how the Phantom Gourmet TV show plays fluffer to its sponsors while pretending to be real reviewers, consumer advocates, critical guides to what is genuinely good. From an ethical food critic’s perspective, that’s indefensible, and it almost entirely accounts for the general enmity that the food-nerd community and the many restaurants that have chosen not to pay the graft feel toward the Andelmans. It’s not their taste we despise: it’s the insult to our intelligence inherent in knowing that someone paid for the servicing, yet the whore is trying to convince us she did it for love.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim to be a champion of hard-working people including chefs, waiters, bartenders, and hostesses*, and then condone their abuse by your colleagues/brothers. That’s hypocrisy.
You can’t claim that Yelp is a money-grubbing bully, and then bully and exploit the same group of professionals you profess to advocate for. That’s disingenuous.
Dave Andelman has shown his true colors. His vapid, self-serving piece in the Boston Herald, is a veiled attempt to evoke sympathy from his Phans, and a cunning attempt to endear himself to an industry that pays his bills. He has repeatedly, and justifiably, aroused the ire of many restaurant industry professionals, and I call bullshit.