We attended Amy’s Baking Company’s grand reopening on Tuesday night, in light of their recent PR nightmare, to get a firsthand account of whether or not a local business can rebound from overwhelmingly bad press.
Walking up to Amy’s Baking Company last night, the first thing I noticed were the rent-a-cops, about three or four of them, standing guard outside the entrance.
Clearly, Samy and Amy Bouzaglo were expecting some sort of confrontation from all the “haters” they so publicly blamed for bullying them online.
But, they needn’t have worried because there were only a few curious onlookers calmly watching from a safe distance, undoubtedly hoping to see a meltdown, or at least hear one coming from within the restaurant’s walls.
My co-worker Kendra Hillman and I initially did have a legitimate 5:15 p.m. reservation for Amy’s Baking Company’s grand reopening, which had been confirmed twice by Jason Rose’s PR firm, Rose+Moser+Allyn.
Then, in a twist on Monday night that we were not too happy about, we were told “all media-related persons, including bloggers,” were not allowed at the grand reopening and our reservation had been canceled.
Banning all media from your “grand reopening”? We couldn’t believe it. Nothing says, “We stand behind our food” like trying to prevent reviews of it.
Since we’d promoted our attendance heavily on Twitter, even making up our very own hashtag for the event, (#livefromamys), we thought we’d at least live tweet from next door to the scene at Pita Jungle, (which meant we had to change our hashtag to #livefromnextdoortoamys). After a glass of wine (or two) at Pita Jungle, however, we decided that live tweeting from next door to Amy’s was just not good enough.
No Release Form, No Table
Instead, we thought, why not play dumb and act like we thought our 5:15 reservation was still good? That would never work, of course… but there’s no harm in trying, right?
The PR girl, Sara, who was handling the reservations at the door, seemed a little confused as to why we weren’t on the list. But when we showed her an email confirming our reservation, she didn’t question it at all and ushered us right in. (We ever-so-slyly didn’t show her the other email we had canceling that reservation.)
We did have to sign a release form before we were seated that granted Amy’s Baking Company the right to film us for “marketing material” that they plan to use on social media. They had a video crew there filming us as we ate, drank, and looked at desserts. Some of the crew members were also snapping pictures of people with Samy, who was more than happy to show the world his nicer, less-apt-to-shove-diners side.
For a grand reopening, I have to say, it was very controlled. Some might say contrived. We were the first customers in there and only one of seven tables for at least an hour and a half. At max, I think 12-13 tables were filled, and there were always at least one or two tables open.
They could have used this night as an opportunity to show their customers who they truly are as small business owners, chefs, and, ultimately, people. Instead, they unfortunately wanted to keep their reopening very small, private, unpublicized, and, potentially, full of “PR plants” as people on Twitter were surmising.
The Food: No Special Orders!
But enough about the ambiance, let’s talk about the food. Kendra and I ordered the white pizza with goat cheese and we tried (unsuccessfully) to order the infamous red pepper ravioli that Gordon Ramsay said was the most confusing ravioli dish he had ever tasted.
But, since Kendra and I were sharing the dish, I asked if the bacon that came on top of the ravioli could be placed on the side. (I’m a vegetarian and she is not.) Our server went to give Samy our order (yes, he still inputs all orders), and we quickly watched (in admittedly excited delight) as Amy came out of the kitchen looking just a little too upset about my bacon-on-the-side request.
Were we about to watch one of Amy’s epic explosions? Not exactly. But I did hear her say, looking pretty irritated, “No special orders!” to both Samy and the server. Is this because she didn’t want to accommodate a special request or because the sauce was pre-made with bacon, making any special requests impossible?
Samy and the server then both came over to me and said that they cannot do the red pepper ravioli without the bacon because it would affect the “sweet and spiciness” of the dish, but could they interest me in the spinach ravioli instead?
So that’s what we went with and the food came out in a normal amount of time – there was no insane wait like we all saw on Kitchen Nightmares. Kendra and I both thought that the pizza was pretty darn good. If we wanted to be hyper-critical, we could say that the crust was very thin (no, it wasn’t soggy) and the cheese was very thick – but we both happen to be big cheese fans, so we were happy with it.
The ravioli, on the other hand, was another story. It tasted like a store-bought item and reminded me of something you’d get from the frozen section at Trader Joe’s – and if that were the case, you’d probably be pretty happy with them. But it doesn’t quite work when they’re supposed to be homemade and don’t come with an affordable Trader Joe’s price tag. For $15, we were incredibly underwhelmed.
Of course, we had to get dessert, especially since it was the only thing Gordon Ramsay praised Amy for. All of her desserts on display looked nothing less than amazing and were beautifully presented. It was very hard to choose.
I went with the “candy bar” dessert and found it to be absolutely delicious. Kendra thought the same of her white chocolate coconut dessert. We asked Samy specifically if all of Amy’s desserts were homemade, and he replied simply with, “Of course!” If that’s the truth, desserts are an area in which Amy not only does well, but excels.
But, with so much evidence to the contrary, it’s hard to believe, despite Samy’s insistence, that Amy has had any hand in the creation of those culinary masterpieces whatsoever.
Will the real pastry chef please stand up? Because we’d like to thank you, and order seconds.
Samy: A Gracious Gangster
Samy, I must say, worked the room hard last night. He was a great host. Polite, nice, and always on top of what was going on. He even bought Kendra and I a glass of wine “on the house.” It was hard to believe, and almost sad, that this was the same Samy who pushed a customer for complaining about his pizza taking over an hour to be served.
The only possible hint of the Samy we saw on television came when the bell rang a few times (which means an order is up), and the server didn’t get to it fast enough. “You, you!!” he yelled, “The bell is ringing!” Which prompted the server to run over and take the order to the table.
Another interesting moment came when we (allegedly) saw a server or bus boy get fired mid-shift. We think we heard Samy complaining about a few things the guy had done wrong, then after a quick chat with him, the server walked out still wearing his apron.
We watched him walk to his car and he never returned during the nearly three hours we were there. We asked our server if he had gotten fired and she told us that he went home to take a shower and would be returning. That didn’t quite make sense to us… but, like I said, it was hard to hear in the restaurant, so we can’t say with 100% certainty that he got fired. Perhaps he truly did feel the sudden, undeniable urge to bathe mid-shift and returned to the restaurant fresh and clean some point after we’d gone home.
The Tips… What About the Tips!
You know we had to ask our server (before tipping her) if she would be the one keeping the money. She told us yes, that she absolutely does get to keep her tips, but that she would have to share a portion of it with the bus boys. She said she was head (and only) server working. The bus boys were there to refill water glasses and clear plates.
Overall, the new servers and bus boys were very nice, but very nervous. This could have been because it was their first night, or because the camera crew was constantly filming, or because of all the drama that has gone down at Amy’s in the last couple of weeks. Regardless, we have no complaints about them, as they were great and we hope they truly did receive the tip we left.
Overall, Amy’s Baking Company’s grand reopening went well, but did seem very controlled by not only Samy, but the PR firm that represented them up until last night. (Rose+Moser+Allyn represented Amy’s for about five days total.)
The pizza was good, the dessert amazing, and Amy and Samy were on their best behavior (aside from Amy’s mild bacon tantrum.)
It was interesting that they banned media to try to prevent people from reviewing the opening, yet had their own camera crew there to document the night. It’s clear they wanted to tell their story on their own terms, and didn’t want any personal accounts getting out.
One of the PR girls even thanked us for not live-tweeting from the restaurant as one of the other diners had been doing. (We’d planned on it but didn’t want to risk getting kicked out.)
She even pointed the “live-tweeter” out to us as if he had been doing something wrong. It was a strange moment because, not only were they clearly monitoring Twitter for comments, but they were actually irritated that someone would be trying to let the world know what they were experiencing at the reopening.
I think if you’re ready to have a “grand reopening,” you should be ready to face everything, the good and the bad, and that includes all the tweets, Facebook posts, news articles, and blog posts that come along with it.
As we all know, Amy and Samy were very vocal about the “online bullies” who “bashed” their restaurant and food for what they claim are unjustifiable reasons. They even went as far to donate 10% of the proceeds of last night’s reopening to an organization that helps prevent online bullying, giving the impression that they were the victims in all of this, not the customers or the waitstaff.
But, didn’t Amy and Samy, in some way, become online bullies themselves by trying to prevent real reviews of their restaurant from hitting the internet?
Attending the grand reopening was fun and interesting – and we got a pretty good meal out of it – but, overall, it was unsettling. If you didn’t know the story behind Amy’s Baking Company, Amy and Samy would appear to be extremely passionate small business owners who work very hard at what they do.
Yet, with such negative publicity coming at them from all angles from their past crazy behavior, I have no idea if their restaurant can be salvaged. Will the public be able to forgive them enough to continue coming to their restaurant long after the curiosity seekers have moved on? More importantly: Do they deserve to be forgiven?
These are questions I can’t answer. For myself, though, I know I wouldn’t go again simply because I don’t want to support people who could treat their customers and staff that way. I wanted to attend the opening so I could report on it for our blog, which probably makes me reprehensible in some way as well.
I will admit, though, that the thought of never having that candy bar dessert again makes me die a little inside. Thankfully, half of it is still waiting for me in my fridge at home, a deliciously bittersweet testament to what is apparently a mystery chef’s talent, sadly overshadowed by Amy’s temperament.