The Denver Post this week reviewed a restaurant which, while meriting two stars from its critic, was called out in print for undersalting, undercooking and overcharging. Roam will never have the chance to fix those problems, since it abruptly shut down the day before the review was published.
I firmly believe a poor review alone won't sully a restaurant's chances of success. If a critic notices serious problems, civilian diners have probably noticed them too. Roam can't blame its closure on the Post pointing out its flaws.
Strong restaurants almost always rebound from a damning review, which can sometimes result in at least a temporary surge in rubbernecking traffic. Great food and service will always trump one person's opinion. But for a very small restaurant, a glowing review can be fatally disruptive.
When I first visited Kenyan Safari Cuisine in Columbia City, I planned to review the restaurant, not write about the owner and her hot sauce. I'd heard from trusty sources that the food was good - it's the height of meanness to take swipes at a mom-and-pop that didn't ask for attention - and I was intrigued to learn more about Kenyan cooking. (As reflected in the story I wrote, I later learned Kenya is to Africa as England is to Europe: Tourists love to gripe about the food, and almost nobody beyond the country's borders tries to replicate it.)
Still, the food's quality ultimately didn't matter much. I met two couples at the restaurant, and it immediately became clear that the restaurant wasn't equipped to handle such a large group. Although there were only two tables taken, the kitchen struggled to serve us in anything approximating a timely manner.
To be fair, we asked for lots and lots of food, and I doubt any cook working alone is prepared for a large party to parachute in and demand an impromptu Thanksgiving. But as the hours passed and our entrees still hadn't arrived, I realized I couldn't possibly inflict a positive review on Kenyan Safari Cuisine. A restaurant that's overwhelmed by two tables is likely to make significant cooking and service mistakes when forced to deal with a full house, mistakes which could feasibly endanger the restaurant's future. Since my goal is to help strengthen the city's restaurant scene, not facilitate failures, I had to rethink my coverage strategy. On deadline.
Fortunately, the solution arrived in a red plastic squeeze bottle. Jane Kagira makes a phenomenal hot sauce, and I overheard her talking about plans to bottle it. As a food producer, she'll be able to handle myriad customers, and I'd urge you to take your place among them.
You'll find the full story here.