January 6, 2010
What happens after a restaurant gets a good review?

What's it like when a relatively obscure restaurant gets a positive review in The Bee? That's what I wondered when I returned to Shaz Restaurant two days after telling readers about the odd, hard-to-find location and the very good Indian food.

What I found was a completely different restaurant, crowded with people having a late lunch. A week before, I was the only one there during most of a lunch hour.

Four of us had the $8.99 lunch buffet, but Shaz was out of forks. Prior to that, we stood for a few moments inside the door, waiting to be seated. Then we just made a beeline for the buffet. The owners were swamped, as was the lone server on duty. Later, I called Mohammad Anwar, who owns and operates Shaz with his wife Nasrin.

"It is going very good. It has turned the whole business around," he told me. "We have been very, very busy and everybody seems to be enjoying the food. We have had a thousand times more business."

Part of the fun of writing about Shaz was telling people about a place they probably had never heard of. Part of the problem, for me, at least, is how Shaz would handle the deluge. If they get overwhelmed, if diners are happy, they will wonder what I was talking about.

No matter what I write, even if it's a review of an indisputably excellent restaurant, I will invariably receive an email from someone who went there, tried it and didn't like it. That's just the nature of the business.

When we returned to Shaz, we were once again happy with the food (we eventually got forks). But I was concerned about how the restaurant would weather this storm. Shaz is closed on Monday, but Mohammad was there working and getting ready for a busy Tuesday. He could feel all the business he was losing.

"The phone never stopped ringing. There were a lot of cars outside. We're thinking of opening on Mondays now," he says.

For one thing, it's nice to be reminded that, despite what some folks hear, people still read the newspaper and they still respond to what they read.

I called the owner of Boon Boon Cafe, Linda Chindalucklate, and she recalled how her restaurant met the tsunami of customers with mixed results after a review in May.

"It was crazy, crazy busy," she says. "My restaurant opened at 4:30 on Sunday. My mom went there at 9 a.m. and people started knocking on the door non-stop. She said she had to hide under the table because she was confused about what to do and didn't want customers to see her."

Chindalucklate adds: "We ran out of food. I learned a lot of things. You have to be prepared for the food, for the people, for the number of tables. My sister came into the kitchen and said, 'I'm going crazy.' I cried because it was so overwhelming."

That night after closing, an exhausted Chindalucklate ate at neighboring Subway for the first time.

But how does a seasoned pro handle a positive review? I called Moxie co-owner Adam Chaccour, who has been in the business 30 years and is pretty much prepared for anything.

"Even the people who have been here before, everybody mentioned the article and said congratulations. We have been extremely busy," he says.

Asked to give his advice to unsuspecting restaurants that get reviewed, Chaccour says, "The most important thing is the human resources. Everybody can do well with 10 tables, but what do you do when have 50 tables?"

He says staff should be cross-trained so they can do any job in a restaurant.

Chindalucklate says a small restaurant that gets a good review will need at least two extra people on duty on the floor, two more in the kitchen and one who does nothing else but answer the phone.

And the food? Anything mentioned positively in the review is going to be ordered.

Her last bit of advice: "Read your review through, see what dishes has been mentioned in the paper, remember it with all your heart because you will have to make at least 50 of those dishes -- at least."

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