Los Angeles: What Happens When A Chef Puts His E-Mail Address On A Menu?
At Más Malo, the kitchen is checking the inbox
Whatever you do, don't call Más Malo (or its sister restaurant Malo) a Mexican restaurant. That's because they don't serve Mexican food. They serve “East LA-style Chicano comfort food.” Sure, it's all based in Mexican traditions, but the food is much more Los Angeles than Mexico City. Think ground beef and pickle tacos as a pseudo-cheeseburger, Coke-braised carnitas, and an off-menu shrimp diablo that's worth ordering every time. They also serve “chewy chips,” a half-fried tortilla chip that eschews crunch for a malleable consistency and borderlines on addictive.
Since opening in 2003, Malo and (later) Más Malo have built a loyal following. So when they changed their menu this summer, it came with some growing pains. Chef Robert Luna spent nine months drafting the new menu and he and owner Jeff Ellermeyer took a gamble: they put their e-mail addresses at the top of the menu. But not there in a blatant “hey, e-mail us!” kind of way. Instead, the menu reads like a long e-mail itself. The subject line is “Here is the end of summer menu” with the addresses on top like a regular message. They didn't set out to garner feedback, but that's exactly what they got.
From the very first night, the chef has been receiving e-mails from diners – even mid-meal. Some ask what to order. Others want to know where some of their favorite dishes have disappeared to. The worst, though, are the people that are pissed that the Malos aren't doing Taco Night anymore. For years, you could visit either Malo location and get dollar tacos on Monday nights. Taco Night disappeared with the introduction of the new menu and that's caused quite the uproar. Here's an excerpt from a recent e-mail to Chef Luna:
I apparently did not get the "memo" that Malo had changed its menu and done away with "dollar taco night" because when I went in last night, the entire "vibe" was different and I had no idea why. And THEN, I got the menu. I looked it over and had to ask the waiter for the "happy hour" taco menu. No such thing. I looked closer at the menu and it was like a whole new restaurant took up occupancy where Malo once was and the cruel joke is that all of us in the neighborhood got hoodwinked.
Ouch. The e-mails aren't all bad, though. They actually serve to give the chef immediate feedback without the messy public forum of Yelp or other review sites.
“It turned out that the funny joke has turned into another avenue where we can talk to customers,” says Luna. “Now we have a face. We have a direct line to our customers." That's a valuable asset for a restaurant. Instead of the typical “call the manager over and get a free dessert,” now customers can actually communicate directly with the chef and, since he checks his emails in the kitchen, he can respond in real time.
It's not a perfect solution to the fractured feedback loop of chef and customer, but it's certainly a workable solution. In this day and age where everyone likes to complain as publicly as possible, private communication with the chef is definitely a step in the right direction.
515 W 7th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90014
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