The last thing I ever want is for a local, small business in my town to fail. But just because a business opens, doesn’t mean it will be successful, or deserve to succeed. It is especially difficult for a restaurant. One in four restaurants fail (or change ownership) in the first year.
Maine is place where even international chain restaurants like “Chili’s” can’t even stay open, so a small, private restaurant has to have a lot of luck and something very special to offer the public if it’s ever going to make it.
I wrote a few reviews of Stugazzi’s Restaurant in Springvale, Maine. I was harsh, and it spurned some lively debate. That’s a nice word for “arguing”. My reviews had hit a nerve. I wasn’t being snarky. I was being honest. It it was awesome, I would have said so.
By all accounts, even by those who stood up for this restaurant, if anyone took an honest look at this restaurant, had to admit it was below average. The truth hurts, I know. Maybe one or two of their food items were good, but overall, a restaurant can’t call itself an “authentic” Italian restaurant and serve “chicken fingers”. I don’t care if some people think that restaurants need to cater to the kids; Italian mothers in “authentic” Italian kitchens in the Tuscan countryside don’t feed their kids chicken finger. If you want to serve kids a crunchy, chicken appetizer, cut up an “authentic” chicken cutlet, pounded thinly, pan-fried in a very light and delicious coating, quick-cooked to perfection. Top it with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a side of home-made marinara sauce, and you are good to go – without compromising your “authentic” principles. It’s not more expensive for the chef to cook the real version than the insipid American concoction known (which by the way started in American-Chinese restaurants) unless that restaurant is buying them frozen from a restaurant bulk frozen food supply house, in which case you’ve lost your way on the “authentic” road anyway so you should pack it in.
The food itself wasn’t the real problem with Stugazzi’s, it was the design of the customer experience. Nothing worked. From confusing self-seating, to “where the hell do I park”, to an uncomfortable entrance where the patrons landed right at the bar, to the rude staff, to the restaurant’s inability to properly pack take-out food — the gaping holes in service were endless. This isn’t rocket science. And if there is one thing that Sanford/Springvale needs is more quality restaurant choices. For god’s sake, the hot dog truck on Main Street is one of the better establishments.
It’s not my job to tell a restaurant owner how to run his restaurant. But if the owners and their friends had read the clues (which could hardly be called clues since they were not inconspicuous in my writing; they were direct and on point) instead of firing off nasty emails and comments about my comments, then maybe their authentic Italian restaurant would still be open – and successful. That would have been awesome!
I truly am sorry that a local business failed. I really am. It’s the last thing our little town needs. But I’m not sad to see a low-quality restaurant with poor service close up shop; in my neighborhood or anywhere else.
Now, if the owners would like to re-open, with a new attitude, and a new outlook on how to serve quality food to the public, in a unique, satisfying, affordable, and authentic way, I’d be happy to help wherever I can.
The biggest problem with Stugazzi’s is that it appeared as if the owners never walked into their own establishment as a customer (incognito, or send in a mole with a hidden camera), as if they never had seen the place before, and experienced it from the customer’s perspective. They needed to do that objectively. Call in an order for pickup. Sit and order food, on several occasions on several different days and times. Eat at the bar, and eat in the dining room. Then they would have seen what most of us saw. A successful restaurant is about its customers, not its owner’s ego.
I do wish the owners well, and I hope, maybe, they learned something that can take them on to their next endeavor, which will be successful.