LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Southland celebrity chef who brought affordable gourmet burgers and coffee to Watts is responding to a zero-star review of his restaurant from the New York Times.
When Roy Choi, the chef behind the successful Korean taco truck Kogi, debuted Locol last January, city officials and Watts residents alike embraced the restaurant as “revolutionary fast food” in a part of town that has long been short on gourmet dining choices.
But after New York Times food critic Pete Wells dished out a zero-star review for the restaurant – one in which he lambasted Choi and co-owner Daniel Patterson for focusing more on Locol’s socioeconomic impact rather than its menu – Choi decided to respond.
Well’s review, long on praise for Locol’s street culture ambience and uplifting work environment, criticized the diversity of the menu, which mostly consists of burgers, noodle bowls, and chili ranging from $1 to $6 in price.
“I understand why they want to take on fast food, but in the neighborhoods they hope to reach it’s one of the few kinds of food available. Why offer less satisfying versions of what’s already there, when they could be selling great versions of something new?” Wells wrote.
He also appeared to question Locol’s mission of offering healthy food alternatives to traditionally under-served neighborhoods, writing, “Mr. Patterson and Mr. Choi seem to have thought about the social dimensions of fast food so much that they now see their target audience as problems to be solved, not customers to be pleased. The most nutritious burger on earth won’t help you if you don’t want to eat it.”
Choi wasted no time in his response.
Addressing the review on his Instagram page, Choi defended Locol’s food quality and instead suggested the review had more to do with Well’s perceived food prejudices rather than its actual taste.
Zero stars. I know many of you want me to respond or snap back at him but the situation to me is much more than that. I welcome Pete's review. It tells me a lot more about the path. I don't know Pete but he is now inextricably linked to LocoL forever. So I'll share with you what I wrote to a friend and our team. We got that PMA: "The truth is that LocoL has hit a nerve. Doesn't mean all people love it, some hate it. But no one is indifferent by it. That's the spirit of LocoL. It has nothing to do with my ego. It's something bigger than all of us. Pete Wells is a component to its DNA. His criticisms are a reflection of us and the nerve that LocoL touches. And our imperfections. Also the nerve of challenging the binary structure of privileged thought patterns and how life is not just about what's a success or failure, but some things are real struggles and growth journeys. We all know the food is not as bad as he states. Is it perfect? NO. But it's not as bad as he writes. And all minorities aren't criminals either. And all hoods aren't filled with dangerous people either. But the pen has created a lot of destruction over the course of history and continues to.. He didn't need to go there but he did. That's why he's a part of LocoL. The power of this change and this nerve that it hits. It compelled him to write something he knows would hurt a community that is already born from a lot of pain and struggle.. Crazy, right? But I see it as a piece to this whole puzzle." #LocoL #Watts #Oakland
Choi wrote: “We all know the food is not as bad as he states. Is it perfect? NO. But it’s not as bad as he writes. And all minorities aren’t criminals either. And all hoods aren’t filled with dangerous people either. But the pen has created a lot of destruction over the course of history and continues to..”
He went on to celebrate Locol for “challenging the binary structure of privileged thought patterns”, an apparent shot at Wells.
“Also the nerve of challenging the binary structure of privileged thought patterns and how life is not just about what’s a success or failure, but some things are real struggles and growth journeys”, wrote Choi, who added the review “would hurt a community that is already born from a lot of pain and struggle.”
When asked by Twitter followers why he would so aggressively criticize a restaurant whose stated mission is “wholesomeness, deliciousness and affordability”, Wells said he never intended on panning Locol.
“I was interested in Locol, a big story that my paper hadn’t covered much. Did not know at first my take would be negative”, he wrote on Twitter.
Despite going viral, the review is unlikely to slow Locol’s expansion into other markets: Choi is said to be eyeing potential future locations in New Jersey, South Chicago, Detroit, and Ferguson, Missouri.