The Corner Table by Brad Johnson

25
Jun
2016

As a regular practice the Post & Beam management team reads Yelp to stay abreast of what our guests are saying. We do so with the intention of catching anything we may have missed in the experience at the restaurant that would enable us to improve. Of course, we like reading the good stuff too. Yes, at times Yelp reviews can be infuriating, when you know the team did all they could to satisfy a guest, yet our efforts are just a click away from being completely misrepresented as was the case in a recent Yelp review.

We’re grownups and everyone knows “the restaurant business is tough”. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant can tell you most of us who make a career in the field of hospitality desire to see people happy. We bend over backwards to meet the needs of an ever demanding customer who has more than enough choices of where to spend their time and money. When we read a negative review, we take it to heart, try to address whatever may be fair about what was written and try to improve.

On the verge of opening Post & Beam five years ago, as is the common practice in our industry, we placed an ad online on Craig’s List that we were hiring for “all positions”. It should be said the decision to open Post & Beam in South Los Angeles was not made lightly. While the neighborhoods to the west contained one of the largest affluent African American cluster of communities in the country, Santa Rosalia the street we are on, could be considered the equivalent of the “other side of the tracks”. Our confidence in Ken Lombard and Quentin Primo and their vision to guide Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, at the time a C-Class mall, into a brighter future was what gave us the confidence to make a go of it. That Debbie Allen and Norm Nixon, old friends, occupied a space across the parking lot from the future Post & Beam was further enticement. The fact that one of the previous restaurants on the property had been robbed at gun point, later closing and all other restaurants on the property had closed (except IHop) did not discourage us, we signed on. Some thought we were crazy.  Karen Hudson, a third generation African American Angeleno and granddaughter of famed architect Paul Williams visiting our location pre-opening  said to me upon walking up to the building “ do you really think you will be able to get people to come here at night?”.

When we posted our job ad, aware of the way above average unemployment rate in the neighborhood, we expected a huge turn out from the community. Finding locals to fill the jobs we offered was not something we ever thought would be one of our biggest initial challenges. To our surprise of the fifty or so people that showed up to apply, only 3 were African American. I have a lot of thoughts on this subject but that is for another time. It was always our intention to open with a diverse staff, it’s been a trademark of restaurants, bars and clubs I’ve been involved with over my thirty plus years in the business. The turnout, or lack of, from the local community, was pretty shocking; nonetheless we had a restaurant to launch and needed to get the staff trained.

As Post & Beam became better known, our staff as well as our clientele, has become more diverse, in fact, I believe we are one of the most diverse rooms in the city and we’re proud of that.

Why is any of this important? When someone experiences food they don’t care for, or, has a subpar service experience and makes it an issue of race, calling out a member of our staff, in this case our General Manager, a little context is in order. To make the outrageous accusation this reviewer made is quite a leap from not liking our fried chicken. If a guest at Spago in Beverly Hills lambasted Wolfgang Puck’s decision to hire an “African American manager” because the clientele is white, how offended would you be? Why are some so quick to make a racial issue out of any perceived slight? In this case, we did everything we could, yet the experience proved justification for her proclamation “this is why we don’t support”. I should add that the server, an African American woman, was left a less than 10% tip. I guess a hardworking young woman making an honest living serving you is not worthy of your support either.

Sam, our General Manager, who yes, happens to be white, is our fifth General Manager in five years. To break it down racially we’ve had one Latino, two African Americans and now Sam, our second white GM. While by no means is he perfect, Sam did not deserve to be maligned. He chooses to work at Post & Beam in large part because he knows we represent something in this community and to our loyal patrons, we matter. He was genuinely and understandbly upset by the totally off based, unfair, uninformed and untrue accusation that any decision made at Post & Beam by Sam or anyone else is made on the basis of race. Sam is a very qualified restaurant professional having spent time in some top rated restaurants. He has worked all over the world teaching English to students. Is he perfect? Of course not but to make any judgment of his an issue of race and to admonish us for hiring anyone we deem capable because you think we should hire someone “race appropriate” is at best misguided.  Do we make service errors? Yes. Does a dish ever not meet expectations? Yes. Govind Armstrong, a highly regarded African American chef and my business partner, called a “food genius” in a recent spread in Essence magazine about Post & Beam strives to create a craveable dining experience.  We’re also proud to be in the top 50 of LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold’s Top 101 restaurants in the city, a distinction earned each year we have been open.

To those of us who went to sleep the night Barack Obama was elected with the optimistism that the ugly burden of racial discrimination may finally be losing its grip, eight years later, after Ferguson, Eric Garner, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Donald Trump, the OJ series, gentrification, we’ve woken up to find our country still grappling with its history. President Obama couldn’t bring the country together. In fact, we see the hate that his presidency has brought to the surface. It’s sad we can’t and just aren’t ready to move on. So we stay trapped in old ways of thinking, racking up unintended casualties along the way.

I recently attended the screening of  “Free State of Jones” a new movie starring Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mahershala Ali. If any of us need to be reminded of what our ancestors endured so that we could walk into a voting booth, I strongly recommend you take the family to see this movie. One does not need to look back further than a few generations to be reminded of this countries racist past and how that past is still very much a part of our present. I was disheartened to read recently my hometown NYC has the most segregated school system in the country, in no small part due to neighborhoods affected by discriminatory practices dating back to the fifties and sixties and home loans granted to whites, denied to Blacks.

What does any of this have to do with someone’s experience in our restaurant? Plenty, you see we are on the frontline, everything you read about, rising minimum wage, healthcare, the economy, gentrification, we are experiencing real time. To then have to defend yourself against the very thing you know you represent  the antithesis of, that being discrimination, is not something I relish but certainly am grateful for the opportunity to stand up for the world we at Post & Beam want to live in. We are very grateful to those that support the restaurant and though I’m not happy our General Manager was unfairly insulted, I am embracing this as an opportunity to address to try and heal the wounds, not throw salt on them. So Vickie T. or Stephanie R. if you would like to revisit Post & Beam, I’d like to have a meal with you. All said, I feel your pain but your read in this case was dead wrong. To future diners at Post & Beam, your server may be gay or not like The Beatles.