Sunday, November 4, 2018

27 Minutes Later

I traded notes with Martha Hoover on a Sunday morning. After the fourth email volley, I told her, “MasterClass should offer you Wolfgang Puck’s first-born in exchange for doing a ‘Martha Hoover Teaches...’ video.”
Photo: IBJ
Yes, I know... Wolfgang is near 70 and he’s probably out of the kid-making business. Plus, his first-born is already grown and is probably shaving by now. Plus, Martha Hoover wouldn’t have time to mess around with any little Pucklettes. She’s busy.

Jill and I have been eating in her restaurants for going on 20 years. If you’re one of my central Indiana friends, you probably know about Café Patachou or Napolese or  CrispyBird or Petit Chou or Public Greens or Bar One Fourteen.
The service is consistently hip and professional at her restaurants. She runs 14 of them and the food is always fresh. The recipes are innovative: you’ll be hard-pressed to find pizza anywhere else with braised pork or sweet potatoes or a broken quail egg. 

I could tell you more, or you could go read what Indianapolis Monthly or Indianapolis Business Journal or Restaurant Hospitality or Fortune or Vogue have written about Martha Hoover and how she runs a restaurant.
I don’t think I’m a complainer. I don’t care for rants or diatribes or "Airing of Grievances" (but I'm all-in for "Feats of Strength"). I wouldn’t waste your time telling you about getting cut off in traffic or that jackwagon who had 14 items in the “12 items or less” check-out lane. 

And I wouldn’t bore you by recounting an annoyance in service at an eatery that’s usually top notch. But I will tell you about what happened next.
We’ve dined in Martha’s restaurants enough to know what to expect. After one experience that wasn’t up to her standards or ours, I went to the restaurant’s website to give some feedback.
When the web form didn’t cooperate, I shifted gears and went to the corporate site and clicked on “Contact.” I found a link for “Share Your Experience – Tell a Human.” 

Humans! I love those guys!
I was getting ready to click when I noticed a link for “Patachou Inc. Owner Martha Hoover.” What the heck, I thought. Might as well go to the boss. I sent her an email.
“Just so you know,” I wrote, “we’re not finicky or demanding first-timers writing to complain that our ice cubes were too melty or our hot coffee was too hot.” I demonstrated our bona fides by recalling the names of some of our favorite servers: Lauren, Donna, and Angel (which you say like "ahn-HEHL"). 

“Hope our feedback helps. You’ve got an amazing thing going and we want to keep coming in.”
Restauranting can be a tough business, I gather. I’ve never run one. I’ve never even worked in one. But I look at the news and can see them opening and CLOSING all the time. But food is food and people are people. It’s gotta be in how you lead them, I thought.
I used to visit a popular eastside Cajun place. The po’boys were excellent. After more than 10 years, they went out of business last month. The owner blamed code enforcement. Their supplier stopped carrying their favorite and magical brand of dried beans. The bread truck was late. Their card swipers were buggy. Employees quit or violated their probation (the police were called). The city was hostile to small business. A GoFundMe campaign to help them pay their back taxes went sideways. There’s more, but you get the picture.
I remember thinking then, “While this place is closing the doors on its cinderblock building and blaming everyone in sight, these Patachou places keep growing and expanding.”

Look, the city hogged her best parking spots by lining up electric clown cars smack dab in front of Napolese at 49th and Penn. I didn't see Martha Hoover rending her garments and wailing about persecution and oppression.

You know what she did? She launched a new concept right next door to Napolese: Bar One Fourteen, "a luxe microbar, dining, and listening room."

Take THAT, clown cars.

I sent my email to the "Martha Hoover -- BOSS” address at 0925 on Sunday morning. I expected I might hear something on Monday, or maybe Tuesday. A form-letter response, probably from an assistant who gets the delegated tasks of smoothing over PR rough spots. A rote apology and a pledge to do better. Maybe some focaccia on the house next time you come in, just for your troubles.
I received a response, but it wasn’t on Monday. A response hit my inbox 27 minutes later. Did I mention it was Sunday morning?
The note said: “Your feedback is invaluable. Changes are occurring immediately as a result of your feedback.”

         “Signed: Martha Hoover, President.”

In quick succession, I received three more emails as Martha asked questions to gather information and to clarify details. It was still before 1100 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
I admit to two feelings. One was the thrill of witnessing dynamism and ownership and engagement. Here was a leader in action. A Marine moving toward the sound of gunfire, or a firefighter tightening her bunker gear and kicking through the front door.
No blaming. No excuses. Just a problem-solver stepping right in, figuring it out and fixing it. I thought, the food is good. The kitchen staff is good. The wait staff is good. But HERE is why the business has been consistently great for 20 years. This woman right here.
I wanted to print her emails and run through the mall, waving paper and yelling: “See this? THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT!!”
The second feeling was a little bit of fear. Like, “Holy cats! I threw a stick, but I didn’t think there was actually a bear in that cave!”
My favorite omelette at Café Patachou includes bacon, white cheddar, and horseradish. It’s called “The Overachiever.”
When Martha has them make her an omelette, I wonder what she orders?

No comments: