The other night we were feeling lazy and made our way to Dean & DeLuca to have one of its sourdough pizzas for dinner before heading home.
To our surprise the place was full; even the outdoor tables were taken, with a queue outside. In contrast, the other restaurants on the same strip were either closed or half-empty.
Earlier that week I had a quick business meeting at around teatime, and next week I’m meeting prospective clients there.
My daughter specifically asks to be taken there, after school, for a cold drink and chocolate croissant. My wife settles down there, with her computer, to get some work done.
For people in the neighborhood, the place has become a coveted ideal—a go-to place for meeting friends when you don’t feel like revving up the hospitality engine at home, a third space for doing work, or a neighborhood joint for having a quick dinner.
However, it took a while to get to that point.
My initial review of Dean & DeLuca was so condemnatory that I never turned it in. Can’t recall exactly what I wrote but I remember complaining about the service, the clueless but haughty waitstaff, the pastries, the sloppy presentation, the lack of imagination in the menu, the terrible food, and the sky-high prices.
Apart from the coffee, which was at best competent, there was nothing going for the place.
Unlike food reviewers in London or New York—whose primary duty is to their publisher, to wield authority and write entertaining columns that sell newspapers—in our nascent food scene this food writer, at least, feels a responsibility to the public, but then also, ironically, to restaurateurs.
I usually try to temper a negative review with how I feel the restaurant can improve and fix its shortcomings.
With Dean & DeLuca, however, I felt that its investors and management had gone beyond the limit of what could be rectified, and that the restaurant would simply wither and die a natural death.
No one I knew had anything good to say about it. There were even rumors that the restaurant could be laundering political money and was deliberately operating at a loss.
That Dean & DeLuca is still running today and packing a full house is testament to several things.
First, restaurants aren’t simple successes or failures; there are a few lucky ones who get it right the first time and go from strength to strength.
The more common story is they have a good six-month run, riding on the novelty and hype of being newly opened, then start going downhill.
The less common tale is that of a restaurant that is almost universally reviled at first, but which systematically addresses its problems until it gets things right.
Second, many investors rush into the restaurant business with enough capital, and sustain it for about six months. By that time, they believe, the restaurant will turn in a profit and the group can enjoy dividends or plough the money back into expansion.
In fact, however, six months is barely long enough to iron out the initial kinks. It takes that long for the kitchen staff to learn to work as a team, to get the POS system that generates orders and receipts to work properly, and to build a relationship with its clientele.
Dean & DeLuca is lucky in that it has a proprietor (a certain Caroline Tanchay, whose fortunes come from mining and energy interests) with deep pockets and who continues to infuse capital and to troubleshoot the ailing enterprise.
It also has the advantage of a good location and a franchise name with strong brand recall.
Today, the restaurant still isn’t great, but it’s good.
The service is vastly different from when the restaurant opened, in that it actually exists and can handle a crowd without going to pieces.
Ironically, the coffee, which was the only thing going for it, is now mediocre. They refuse to serve decaf, which would have been fine in a moustache-twirling hipster joint but unacceptable in a mainstream establishment.
The baked goods have improved immensely and are adequate for eating there, though not actually good enough to warrant a special trip.
The food ranges from okay to above average, the only caveat being that it is really quite expensive for what it is.
Our family favorite, like I said, are the sourdough pizzas, which is done quite well (and should, for P750 each).
Dean & DeLuca has a captive market, given its location and food. To put it bluntly, the place is convenient enough for us to put up with it. This is why I’ve decided, after all this time, to finally write a review.
Why should it be content with being good enough? It should be excellent.
The coffee should be the best in town. It has shown the capacity to improve—from a complete failure to being a bustling success. The same drive to outdo itself could propel it to being as outstanding and revolutionary as its namesake on Prince and Green in SoHo was in 1977.
Dean & DeLuca is at G/F, Edades Tower, Rockwell Center, Makati; tel. 9583644