When Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson debuted LocoL, a revolutionary fast-food chain with a social mission, it seemed they could do no wrong. With locations in Oakland and L.A., as well as a food truck, the beloved chefs were riding high. LocoL serves healthy alternatives at low prices to underserved neighborhoods. The mayor of Los Angeles even attended the opening of the first location last year.
Leave it to New York Times dining critic Pete Wells, who spares no one (as you might recall from last year's damning review of New York's Per Se), to bring the LocoL chefs back down to earth with a no-star review published yesterday.
The short story is that Wells doesn't like the food. Of a bowl of chili, Wells writes, "This was less like chili than like a slightly spicier version of the meat sauce my corner pizzeria pours over penne. Supermarkets sell canned chilis that are seasoned more persuasively." Though he applauds LocoL for its ambiance, the food—which at one point he likens to hospital fare— needs serious work, he says.
So was Wells feeling restless since his last feather-ruffling review? Or is LocoL too good to be true? Choi could have picked a fight if he wanted to but instead addressed the review via Instagram at face value, humbly responding:
Zero stars. I know many of you want me to respond or snap back at him but the situation to me is much more than that. I welcome Pete's review. It tells me a lot more about the path. I don't know Pete but he is now inextricably linked to LocoL forever. So I'll share with you what I wrote to a friend and our team. We got that PMA: "The truth is that LocoL has hit a nerve. Doesn't mean all people love it, some hate it. But no one is indifferent by it. That's the spirit of LocoL. It has nothing to do with my ego. It's something bigger than all of us. Pete Wells is a component to its DNA. His criticisms are a reflection of us and the nerve that LocoL touches. And our imperfections. Also the nerve of challenging the binary structure of privileged thought patterns and how life is not just about what's a success or failure, but some things are real struggles and growth journeys. We all know the food is not as bad as he states. Is it perfect? NO. But it's not as bad as he writes. And all minorities aren't criminals either. And all hoods aren't filled with dangerous people either. But the pen has created a lot of destruction over the course of history and continues to.. He didn't need to go there but he did. That's why he's a part of LocoL. The power of this change and this nerve that it hits. It compelled him to write something he knows would hurt a community that is already born from a lot of pain and struggle.. Crazy, right? But I see it as a piece to this whole puzzle." #LocoL #Watts #Oakland
"His criticisms are a reflection of us and the nerve that LocoL touches. And our imperfections," he says. Though Choi defends his food, as any chef would, he invites Wells's attention, saying that the critic is now a part of LocoL, and that's just the point. "The power of this change and this nerve that it hits. It compelled him to write something he knows would hurt a community that is already born from a lot of pain and struggle. Crazy, right? I see it as a piece to this whole puzzle."
This is the kind of criticism and response that makes restaurants better. And these days, instead of baseless claims and defensiveness, couldn't we all use a little constructive dialogue?
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