Thursday, January 3, 2008

The same, but different

If you find the perfect shade of lipstick, it will be discontinued. If you find a great TV show, it will be canceled. If you find a great cafe, it will switch up the menu, the ambiance and the staff.

The third scenario's hitting a little too close to home right now.

I have this great French cafe I love to go to (or should I say "had" and "loved"?). It's steps from my building downtown, has a beautiful vintage-glam decor with black and white marble floors, beautifully upholstered chairs, a vintage settee and gold mirrors and tables. The food was excellent, the chef (a real French chef!) was often around giving out freebies, and the place was always manned by the same three or four women.

One of the staffers, a girl with ever-changing colors in her hair, nearly always took my order and started learning that I loved the turkey ciabatta (with pesto, mushrooms and cheese), and she began making it just as I walked in the door. Now that's service. Also, the sandwiches always came to a simply dressed, delicious salad on the side. A perfect lunch for a good price.

A few weeks before Christmas, though, the place closed, with a vague announcement that it would be reopening in 2008. I checked today as my stomach was rumbling for lunch and sure enough, it was open again! Yay!

I walked in and...the place was different. None of the usual women were there; in their place were a whole horde of girls, all wearing hats. Some were wearing berets (ick), some other styles of hats. The menu, posted above the counter (which was also different), had been pared down. They still had the turkey ciabatta, so I ordered that. The girl took lots of time processing my order, and the charge was a bit more than in the past.

I sat down at my table and waited. And waited. One of the new employees stood up and addressed everyone in the cafe: "I'm sorry, it's my first day. Who ordered the ___?" Another of the employees came up to me and asked if I'd ordered Diet Coke. No, I hadn't. I continued reading my book, every so often looking up to see if the kitchen area behind the counter looked any less chaotic or disorganized. It didn't.

After about twenty minutes, a girl came by with a plate of French macaroons. You know, the delicious saucer-like ones. She offered me one because of the wait, and I gladly took it. Delicious! I waited some more, and the confused girl from earlier brought me a large mixed-green salad with goat cheese, dried fruit and walnuts. She explained it was on the house because I was still waiting for my actual order. I was confused, because the cafe used to serve salad on the plate with the sandwich. But I dug in, and it was excellent.

Finally, my sandwich appeared. Instead of being paired with more salad, there were chips. Not very French, but I was already full of salad anyway.

Everything was delicious, and I was hungry enough to eat it all. Still, I'm not sure if I want to go back. The competent, fun staff has clearly been replaced with a bunch of flunkies, and the owner, Thierry, was nowhere in sight.

(Postscript: I checked the cafe's website and it says the downtown cafe is "under new ownership." Darn!)

What should I do? Transfer this story to Yelp, where the cafe's reviews are already mixed? Tell my co-workers, who all enjoy the same cafe? Keep going back, as the service is sure to improve over time?

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