Last Friday, I felt like American breakfast. It’s just one of those feelings when you want some great comfort food. Having tried a few breakfast places around the city, I skip over to Howard’s Café on the leafy streets of 9th Avenue. As a food writer writing weekly for AsianWeek, my food senses have been heightened. Like Sherlock Holmes, I snoop around and notice most details they are unseen by ordinary diner.
Here’s a list of things I notice
bathroom. Is it clean? FYI, how clean the washroom reflects how clean the kitchen is. When I worked for Sysco, the largest restaurant supplier in the country, I have seen countless dirty kitchens as a restaurant consultant. It’s true. So visit the washroom.
waiters. Do they have clean uniforms? do they appear to have camaraderie with other staff members?
competitive advantages. What makes this place booming with business and the breakfast place across the street empty?
menu. Does the menu cater or reflect the people in the neighborhood?
design. Does the owner pay attention to colors and interior design. After all, you’re not only paying for the food but also the experience.
service. Am I greeted? do they attend to my needs?
chefs. who are they? Do they appear trained? Ask the staff.
smell. when I walk in, what do I smell?
patrons. when customers finish their meal, do they seem satisfied
music. does the music they play, does it match the food and ambiance. for example, a Vietnamese Pho noodle restaurant on Noriega plays loud trance music. It is annoying and just kills the ambiance. I will not go there again.
All of this, adds or subtracts from the dining experience. When I ate at fine ding restaurants like Mina’s, attention to all these details are there. But don’t fret, there are a few mom ‘n pops that do things right. It does not cost much to build a great experience. Instead, it takes action + innovation + knowledge.
Craving a contrast of sweet and savory, I ordered the light special. Two eggs, sausage, and pancake. The sunny side eggs are nothing spectacular. The pancakes are fluffy but still not as good as Stacks. The experience comes when combing a chunk of savory sausage with sweet pancakes covered with syrup. The palate embraces this flavor combo. Dining with my lady, the spinach omelet is light and fluffy. Break down. So why does Howard’s Cafe have great business. First, it’s the ambiance. With classic pictures adorning the walls, it’s a great cozy place. More importantly, the treasured note is in the after taste. Our waiter revealed that the cooks use fresh oil cooking foods at the right temperature. While most breakfast places recycle their oil to save on cost. After our meal, I can feel light and the greasy feeling is absent.
Despite being just a mom ‘n pop, Howard’s has it right. They started a Myspace page so that they can gain feedback from customers and give them updates. Mom ‘n pop restaurateurs must take advantage of their speed. Lets take International House of Pancake (IHOP). They see the marketing value of starting a Myspace page. But they need the marketing department to run through the legal department, get a few signatures signed, and we’re into Christmas time. Take advantage of your speed and you can give the big boys (big chains) a run for their money.
1309 9th Avenue
(between Irving St & Judah St)
San Francisco, CA 94122