(SNN) Some food combinations reside in the collective unconscious – and then there are those that shouldn’t exist at all.
That special is a lottery. Visible from my apartment is a restaurant that has been struggling since it opened. Night after night there are very few cars in the parking lot. My boyfriend, Rob, can’t help noticing and commenting on this. As much as we’d like to see the restaurant do well, after checking out the menu quite some time passes before we decide to go there. What was the grab? Appearing on the sign that week is: “6-49 Burger – 6 meats/4 cheeses/$9.” Rob and I were excited to try something new. What we got was a miniscule burger with the addition of cold cuts. Barely evident was the cheese. Just like our 6-49 tickets, the 6-49 burger was not a winner.
Too much sauerkraut goes over like a pregnant high-jumper. A year goes by and the restaurant is now closing Mondays, with the chef taking a second job in a trendy downtown café. The initial concept is failing. A Rueben sandwich featuring “LOTS of sauerkraut” is trumpeted. I’m not tempted by it, just as I wouldn’t be tempted by a BLT featuring LOTS of lettuce. It’s all about balance.
It’s not all about the chef. I’m enchanted by the close-up shots of a glorious Cuban sandwich in the movie, “Chef”. The uniqueness of this sandwich, combined with a social media marketing coup, transforms the main character from frustrated and then fired restaurant chef, to highly successful food truck owner, and ultimately to partner in a trendy new restaurant. The plotline demonstrates that it’s not all about the chef and the food, it’s also about the personality of the restaurant’s owner, wait staff, the mercurial food critic – and oh, let’s not forget the customer.
Lowered expectations equal success. While I adore outdoor music events, I’m not one whose mouth waters at the mere sight of a food truck. Late one night, though, I decide to get in line for deep-fried mac and cheese. My friend and I are so impressed she and I decide to go for the deep-fried brownies. Not as unique as the triangles of lightly breaded mac and cheese, but… chocolate, whipped cream, and more chocolate?… both of these were sooo good in that moment and place.
I’m glad you asked. I repeat the deep-fried mac and cheese experience with Rob at the same event the next year. Taking a break, the owner joins me at the picnic table. Having discovered that a sincere and direct question can open people up about their passion, I blurt out: “Why does your truck do more business than the others?” She tells me they use a special oil – expensive but worth it because it can be heated to a high temperature, which greatly reduces absorption. Also, the oil stays clean longer, she says. It’s true that absent from her truck is the dirty oil smell coming from the purveyor of that classic at outdoor events – mini-donuts.
The oil is not the secret. So what is the secret? It’s giving people something they will want again and again, that they didn’t know they would love, because they’ve never had anything like it before. It’s making your son his first grilled cheese sandwich and having him say, completely awed by it, “Mom, you are a good cooker.”
PHOTO: Some Rights Reserved. Image from Gloria Cabada-Leman flckr photostream. Original image can be found here.
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