After last week's scathing Charleston Scene critique of James Island's Stereo 8, co-owner David LeBoutillier wanted to counter writer Hanna Raskin's analysis. He tells us, "I've never commented on one of our reviews ever. I think, if you're reviewed, and it's accurate, then that's it. But, this is different, because she wasn't even close." Here's what LeBoutillier has to say.
On Course Timing
Raskin: Stereo 8 is by no means the only modern restaurant that claims to have lost all control over timing, but pressing shuffle on a customer’s order is maddening when so many of the dishes have strong identities as starting points. [When Raskin visits Stereo 8, her courses hit the table out of order, with appetizers arriving after entrees.]
I called an all-staff meeting, and we addressed the comments she made on service.
LeBoutillier: Ok, criticize me for the things we are doing wrong. I called an all-staff meeting, and we addressed the comments she made on the service. We had already addressed that, but we needed to work harder on it. Our customers have told us about that, so we talked to the servers about parsing the courses properly.
Rating the Restaurant
Raskin: But Stereo 8’s menu features a few too many clunkers, and the vitalizing idea behind the enterprise feels more gimmicky than genuine.
LeBoutillier: The disparity between what our customers have to say about us and what Mrs. Raskin had to say is astonishing. Of the 52 Facebook reviews, there are only six reviews below five stars. We have an average of 4.9 stars out of five. On Yelp, we have 23 five-star reviews, four four-stars, and three three-stars. That's our customer's voice.
On James Island
LeBoutillier: Do you remember the Screen Door article she wrote about Blake [Joyal] leaving? She makes a stab here on the people of James Island, and I take real exception to that. [He reads] "But his cooking, described as 'creative, bold and push(ing) the boundaries,' apparently didn’t resonate with locals who missed the Applebee’s that once owned the restaurant’s Folly Road address. The restaurant this weekend issued a brand new menu, mostly shorn of Joyal’s distinctive touches." To take the attitude that these people are a bunch of jon-boat-toting hillbillies, and they want an Applebee's back is appalling.
To take the attitude that these people are a bunch of jon-boat-toting hillbillies, and they want Applebee's back is appalling.
We have a comment cards — we get hundreds a week — the number of James Islanders that eat here and understand our food is phenomenal. I personally don't think they are at home mourning for Applebee's. I think that Mrs. Raskin is off-base, and she's underestimated the residents of this island. They are incredibly supportive. The week before we opened, I wondered if we had overshot the mark and debated whether we needed to put a burger on the menu. I didn't sleep for several days thinking about that. I've got a lot of responsibility here, I've got a young man's family [he's speaking of the other co-owner Joe Walker], his well-being, and his sister's well-being in my hands. In the end, I didn't capitulate, I said, "We're just going to roll with it." And the jury's still out, so we're going to see if I did the right thing or not.
On the Food
Raskin: The lamb kefta consists of two cold pita triangles, each smeared with garlicky tahini and capped with a tender meatball sporting all of the iconic Moroccan spices and curlicues of pickled red onion, which perk up the ground lamb’s savory richness. The plate is dotted with pinpricks of harissa, hinting at how the small plate could have been even better.
LeBoutillier: She's not accurate. She missed the mark on the items she commented on here. Lamb kefta? The one she said was the best item on the menu and backhanded us and talked about the garlic tahini? There's no garlic tahini on there — we don't have it in the house. She talks about wood ear mushrooms too, and we've never had those in the restaurant. If you're going to review me, know what's in the dishes. Call and check the facts.
On Reviews in General
This is about a group of people that are working extraordinarily hard, with a staff of 40, and supporting families.
LeBoutillier: Where I take exception to the whole idea and that review and the process itself, is that, I would understand if we were doing harm, but I don't see any good in it. It's strictly a harmful process.
I thought there were other things in the article that had merit, but generally speaking, she didn't talk about the food. It was a very caustic, harmful thing from the get-go. The thing that's hard for me to wrap my head around, is that we aren't doing any harm here. This is about a group of people that are working extraordinarily hard, with a staff of 40, and supporting families. That's how Joe [Walker] pays his mortgage. If this doesn't work, if we don't pull this off, they're going to lose their home.
This review? Our customers have called. Colleagues have called. Maybe it won't hurt us because of social media, since that seems to be the voice now. But it could have helped. It could have been a much needed shot in the arm. Joe cashed in his 401K last week to keep us going. We're going to make it. I'm going to figure this out one way or another. This team is going to figure it out. This cavalier attitude is just unacceptable when there's this much at stake.