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Maybe Don’t Review Restaurants Run by Bad People

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From the Editor: The choice restaurant critics now face

Photo-illustration by Eater. Chef photo via Dave and Les Jacobs/Getty

This post originally appeared on February 10, 2018, in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

A couple of months ago, I wrote in this letter that I was contemplating how to cover the restaurants owned by sexual harassers and a variety of bad actors:

Covering the news of the restaurant of an alleged assaulter (be it Batali or Paul Qui or Michael Chiarello) is somewhat straightforward. We cover it, but we give the context…

Less straightforward is our coverage in service-y maps and guides, where the author has less of an opportunity to provide context, especially as our recommendations also live in other places, e.g., in an OpenTable filter or in Google search results. I’m not going to tell someone whether to boycott a restaurant group or not, but I want them to have all the information.

We’ve decided this week to err on the side of removing these places from our guides and maps. Same goes for video and social coverage.

The question of what to do about our critics and reviews didn’t even cross my mind back in December, but I’m thinking about it now as Craig LaBan in Philadelphia writes, “judging a restaurant or chef on anything other than the dining experience itself is a dodgy pursuit fraught with blurry borders”; when Alison Cook in Houston awards four stars to a man who was arrested for domestic assault against his girlfriend and her young son; when Jonathan Gold in LA gives a rave to a restaurant owned by a sexual predator in order to champion “an important woman’s voice” — a woman who was aware of the dangerous culture of her own restaurant group.

What constitutes “bad” behavior varies from person to person (we might all agree that harassing employees falls into the “bad actor” column and might disagree when it comes to misdemeanors like DUIs). And I don’t expect our critics to investigate every single person they cover; they shouldn’t have to be moral compasses and investigative reporters and restaurant reviewers all at once.

But honestly, I’d just rather not go there. Why, with so much talent out there, with so many compelling restaurants to cover, would you review the one veiled in controversy? If you find yourself writing soul-searching paragraphs or essays about why you’re reviewing a place before you even get into the amuse, maybe that’s a sign you shouldn’t be writing it.

I want to be neither puritanical nor pollyanna-ish about this, but there are a lot of fucking good restaurants out there run by decent people. Or okay people. Or people who just didn’t hit their girlfriend or pinch the nipples of their employees. So we’ll try to focus on those.

Opening of the week: Woolworth on 5th

Inside of Woolworth on 5th, the most historically important restaurant in Nashville
Photo by Sam Angel

Who’s behind it? Restaurateur Tom Morales.

What is it? It’s a Southern restaurant housed in the former F. W. Woolworth department store that was the site of some of the seminal lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Nashville, led by civil rights leader and now-Congressman John Lewis.

Designers restored many of the original details, including the terrazzo floors, cast-iron railings, and one of the tile walls. Architects recreated the staircases and a counter. The space comprises a large dining room, mezzanine with a lounge and bar, and basement ballroom featuring a variety of music and performances (and a house band!), with genres ranging from funk to swing, gospel, and jazz.

Where is it? Downtown Nashville.

When did it open? February 5.

Why should I care? Beyond the historical implications and the restoration effort, I just love that someone opened a giant restaurant with a basement club built for poetry readings and wild dancing.

On Eater

Last week on the Upsell

Dan and I interviewed Lucas Peterson, the host of Eater’s longest-running show Dining on a Dime and the Frugal Traveler columnist for the New York Times. He offered some travel tips and shared a very intimate story of shitting his pants while traveling in Chengdu. Give it a listen.

Off Eater

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