It Takes a Village

On our wedding anniversary, we decided to do something out of ordinary: eat out. We had been planning to go to a particular diner on the east-side of the city since it opened a bit more than two years ago. At last, on this warm late April day, after we had spent the whole morning outside working up an appetite, we went. Before we drove out, we said to ourselves, should we make a reservation? We didn't bother, thinking it should not be that busy at lunch hour.

After driving across the whole city, we pulled into the quiet parking lot, so quiet it was immediately clear that it was not open. I got out of the car and glanced around. To my surprise, a very different name appeared on the front sign. Looking at it carefully, the original name was still vaguely visible underneath the paint.

The original name was big in this city. It pioneered a trend, elevated the local food movement, inserted a glamour and sophistication to the food-truck industry in the city. Its Facebook page had thousands of followers, high-star reviews with customers raving about their food. The owner was a regular in the local news. She announced that a cooking TV show was in the works. And she was opening a new restaurant. At its peak, it seemed nothing could stop her from succeeding. Then, came the “scandal”.

Her “scandal” was the late payment of a few thousand dollars' worth of wages owed to a few of her seasonal employees, who eventually went to the ministry of labor. The local newspaper picked up the story, the local TV came along, and then the whole city.

People love scandals. Her explanation was that her finances were tight due to the cost of opening the new restaurant. A few thousand? You should put your employee first, many people decried. Immediately, her reviews on Facebook took a dive, swamped with negative comments.

As a small farmer, I tend to put out my best sunny smile to the outside world even when things are tough. Similarly, the perception of her high-flying business might not have given the real picture.

The restaurant opened as planned and her food truck was still stationed in the city. However, her business suffered: it was darling no more. I checked them occasionally on social media, where I stayed aware mainly of her continued passion towards cooking.

It's hard to say which contributed the most to her business's meteor-like downfall: the media's pursuit of a sensational story, her hasty, self-preserving response, or a deeper underlying human side about both her and a community with a small-city-mentality.

I have never defended her or defamed her as I don't know her. Nonetheless I have sympathy for what she endured during and after the whole saga. She and I do have something in common. Small businesses rely on word of mouth; word of mouth can kill small business.

She appears tenacious on the other hand. Everyone love a comeback story.

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