Monday, November 15, 2004

DuPar's gets updated...pro or con?

A recent Nation's Restaurant News article detailed Biff Naylor's plans for Du-par's. Biff's dad founded Tiny Naylor's, which is now extinct. He plans to bring in his daughter Jennifer Naylor, a chef and partner at Wolfgang Puck's Granita in Malibu, to make improvements in the menu, such as an upgraded dinner menu with higher-quality ingredients. He's also mulling an expansion into a Las Vegas casino. He's also planning to keep the Farmer's Market location open 24 hours and will close for about two months for renovations once the deal is finalized. While many were worried about Du-par's changing beyond all recognition, it sounds like Naylor wants to preserve the vintage food and feeling the diner is known for.

Coming soon to a food court near you...
My new fun read is Nation's Restaurant News, which looks boring at first, but turns out to be full of interesting tidbits about what the rest of the country eats and will be eating in the years to come. While a lot of it is taken up with interminable discussions over whether offering chicken wings at pizza parlors is likely to add to big profit boosts, there are also recipes, profiles of the restaurant scenes in different cities and the occasional useful special issue like a recent one devoted to L.A. One of the developments that I find interesting and even hopeful is the number of new Asian-style casual fast food places opening up -- even though they're chains, they're likely to offer something a tad tastier than McDonald's if you're stranded in the suburbs.


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Not only did the Naylor family create and own Tiny Naylor's--a superb chain of ultimate 40's/50's coffee shops, but also Biff had "Biff's" spin-off version. They'll do Du-Par's proud indeed.

As for NRN, it is truly the "Variety" of the restaurant biz and you'll only enjoy it more the more you read it.

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First, there are the inevitable lies one finds upon the arrival of new management, the outright denials that ownership had changed.

Next, a disappointing stack of pancakes arrives -- especially disappointing given the near-mythic quality of their predecessors. (A survey of L.A.-based Fiction will find references to these Gold Standard flapjacks, going back to the 50's.) But no, insists management -- nothing's changed in their ingredients or preparation.

Um... OK.

The "Country Gravy" that accompanies the Chicken Fried Steak now comes laden with bits of -- what? Ham? Bacon? Hard to tell, since it's not mentioned on the menu. As a one-time resident of the South, this retreat from traditional preparation was a disappoiontment. But to vegetarians (and, I assume, people who avoid pork products on religious grounds) it makes this an unfit topping for country biscuits, as well.

The space remains similar in appearance, except for the addition of carpet underfoot in a pattern that started ugly, and has not been inproved by the combination of foot traffic and grease.

Most disappointing of all is management's defensiveness in the face of any criticism, no matter how well intentioned.

The signs on the host/hostess podium, reading either "Seat Yourself" or "Please Wait" are now gone. And the managers response to an inquiry about them? "We don't like signs."

Um, if you say so.

In the past, one paid at the register. Regulars like me, knew this well. But now the check arrives in a padded American Express folder, complete with "Place Card Here" slot -- a symbol recognized around the world as meaning, "Pay Here, at the table." The Naylor Family must have missed that day in Restaurant 101, because - surprise! - you STILL pay at the register! Upon suggesting to the manager that this was counter-intuitive, and that a "Please Pay Cashier" notation should appear somewhere on the sleave, he smulgy replied, "Well, our Regular Customers know to pay up front."

Uh...
Nope. Sorry. That's just stupid!

After several such disappointing visits, I must reluctantly report that the ranks of Regular Customers has just been reduced by one. (Two, counting my wife, the vegetarian.)

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