Editor’s Letter: Welcome As You Are
If you’ve ever stepped foot inside a traditional sushi restaurant, izakaya, ramen shop, or other Japanese food or retail establishment, you’ll recognize the greeting, often shouted in unison by the entire staff the moment you’ve crossed the threshold.
On this particular spring day, it was a welcome greeting and a warm contrast to the cold shoulder we’d just received a few minutes earlier at another restaurant in the sprawling, strip-malled heart of Las Vegas’ Chinatown.
My wife and I had just dropped our two boisterous little boys off at their grandparents’ condo near the Strip, and I had our entire eating regimen for these precious next 12 hours planned: Start with some bangin’ Thai food on Spring Mountain for lunch, dinner at one of José Andrés’ casino restaurants, and dessert at the adjacent Milk Bar takeaway — hopefully with room left for some spontaneous snacking in between…
But those plans were dashed shortly after walking into the swanky Thai restaurant at what should’ve been the peak lunch rush.
Instead of an energetic crowd, we walked in on a lone couple stiffly sipping wine at the one occupied table in the back corner, no food or plates in sight, while a single employee — who we assumed was actually the chef or owner or both — kept his back to us the entirety of the longest four or five minutes of our lives.
“Do you maybe have to call for service?,” my wife asked, pointing to the vintage telephone atop the empty host stand.
Yeah, we could’ve shouted across the length of the restaurant to get the employee’s attention, but by this point the edibles had started to kick in and mostly we were just amazed that they kept this much expensive wine right by the unguarded front door, as if for the taking.
Staffing is hard, I get it. There are so many factors that might’ve explained the situation in there.
But we were hungry, and the vibes were way off. We needed to get out of there, both of us convinced that if it took this long to just be greeted, the meal itself would fare no better — and we still had snacking to do!
Luckily, there was a little ramen shop right across the parking lot.
“Irasshaimase!,” yelled the staff in harmony before the door could close behind us.
The contrast between here and the last place couldn’t have been more stark.
The snug noodle shop buzzed with activity, every table full of diners happily conversing and slurping as servers carrying steaming bowls of noodles dashed between them.
An employee promptly came over and explained that we would need to put our name in at the kiosk and that there would be a wait of at least 20 minutes, maybe more. It was, after all, the peak of the lunch rush.
We were invited to sit in the waiting area and offered water and menus to look over until a table opened up.
By that point, it almost didn’t matter what was on that menu; the feeling of being taken care of had set in the moment we’d stepped inside.
We were welcomed, and it felt really good.
That simple greeting — an acknowledment, a way of saying ”I see you, welcome in” — changed the course of our day for the better, and opened the door to what turned out to be a pretty incredible, totally unplanned lunch.
True hospitality lives in those types of details.
The striking dichotomy of those back-to-back restaurant experiences in Vegas left such an impression on me that it inspired the theme for this month’s issue of Frame Stories, which is all about the importance of greetings.
“Greetings are the gateway to a relationship,” says Detroit Academy of Etiquette founder Danielle Kovachevich. “And if an introduction doesn’t go well, you can almost say goodbye to that next step in the connection.”
In this month’s pro tips column, Kovachevich explains the importance of first impressions and offers pointers for reading a room, making introductions for others, and some interesting do’s and don’ts that can make or break a relationship before it’s even really begun.
We couldn’t think of doing an issue on greetings without chatting with Mickey Bakst, a legendary maitre d’ whose innate gift of making people feel welcome helped create two of Michigan’s finest restaurants to ever exist.
We also check in with Annabel Cohen, a former caterer and doyenne of Detroit-area hosting, who provides a summer bruschetta recipe that will make a tasty first impression on any dinner party guest.
Elsewhere, Frame co-founder and Creative Director Joe Vaughn’s images of Detroit-area restaurants’ welcome dishes highlight how hospitality traditions reflect their cultures.
For this month’s beverage column, Frame’s own “mixtress” Jaz’min Weaver offers an industry insider’s take on the bartender’s handshake. (Hint: There will likely be Fernet.)
And Outlier Media provides this month’s community piece, a profile of Detroit Public Theatre, which welcomes its own brick-and-mortar space in Midtown this fall.
Highlighting a theater company might seem a little off topic for a self-described food publication, but in addition to being fans and supporters of DPT’s work, the creative stretch is paralleled in our physical spaces in Hazel Park.
Earlier this month, we launched the Frame BIG TOP, a flexible entertainment venue behind Frame with its own dedicated bar and kitchen with flexible entertainment space. While we won’t exactly be hosting live theater, our dynamic summer programming includes stand-up comedy (now free thanks to New Standard Cannabis), a Cinema Lamont summer movie residency, a Second Sunday craft/makers market, DJs, private parties, and all kinds of other special events in the pipeline.
We’ve also welcomed Vasanna and Haluthai Inhmathong, the mother-daughter duo behind the sizzling Ann Arbor-based Thai popup Basil Babe, for a hand-made dumpling and Thai noodle residency running through June 30 at FRAMEbar.
Please stop by and say hello!
— Mark Kurlyandchik