Tag Archives: Native Foods Café

My love-mildannoyance relationship with Native Foods

21 Oct


I have a fondness for Native Foods. When I first went vegan a little over two years ago, and I didn’t really know what to do or what to eat, it turned out that by chance (as opposed to intention) there was a Native Foods not far me. I must have walked past the Native Foods in Westwood Village eighty-three times without ever going in or realizing it was vegan. But back then I really kinda sorta didn’t know what vegan even was.

So when I entered for the first time as a NEW VEGAN and didn’t know what I was doing, I really appreciated how friendly and helpful everyone there was. And it didn’t hurt that the food was so good.

Over time, I became a regular there, and even when Native Foods opened a bigger, nicer space in Culver City, which wasn’t all that much further from my place, I continued to go to the one in Westwood. Now part of the reason, mind you, is that the Culver City location has always been very poorly run. It’s the highest-grossing Native Foods spot, and they have a constant stream of customers, especially at lunch when the line is often out the door and onto the street, and they simply can’t handle it.

Mistakes happen frequently when you eat there, but worse, much worse, is when you try to order something to go. Every time, and I’m not exaggerating, every single time I have called in a pickup order, and I have done this well over a dozen times, something was wrong. Every time! It could range from something as small as the dressing for the salad being left out of the bag to entire entrees that were paid for not being in the bag when I got home. And often, there was more than one screw up. To the point that I gave up and would only use the Westwood spot, where I can not recall them ever making a mistake.

And then.

Well, about six months ago Native Foods finally moved out of their odd, tight space into a brand new, much bigger location next door. Way more tables, way bigger kitchen, a much more pleasant space. And at first things were great. Bosses were around, lots of managers always working, things went smoothly for the most part.

But now, six months later, I’m sorry to say, the place has been Culverized. Almost every time I go there, something goes wrong. I should have realized there were problems when they left the “We Open to the Public May 1st” sign in the front window for more than two months. How did the managers walk past this sign every day and not realize what it said and not do anything about it? It was only after I tweeted about it on July 13th that it came down.

Bone Chilling Chili Cheeseburger

This weekend I went in for the Bone Chilling Chili Cheeseburger special. And things did not go well. For starters, there was a line to the door on a Saturday night and only one register open. They have two registers at the front of this location and a third around to the side. But not since they first opened months ago have I ever seen more than one register staffed at a time. Lunch rush, dinner rush, there always seems to be only one register open. And it’s not like the place isn’t staffed. Last night for example, with a line to the door, a bunch of staffers were hanging out behind the counter joking with Adam the manager while the woman at the register struggled with a giant line. It was like the manager didn’t even notice. Then the staffers he was joking with went off to do their jobs and he pulled out his smartphone and hung out checking his email or something. It was unbelievable.

Then I tried to order the chili cheese fries and was told it was no longer available. Now you might remember, a few weeks ago, when Native Foods introduced their new menu items, they took the chili cheese fries off the menu. I watched one evening as a woman tried to order them only to be told by both the cashier and the manager that it wasn’t possible to get them, even though they said that they still had all the ingredients in house. So I tweeted about this, which led to a nice email from Native Foods in which they told me that customers would still be allowed to order the chili cheese fries, and that a memo was being sent to all Native Foods locations letting them know this, so that such a problem would never happen again. Until last night when I was told they were no longer available.

Another thing that happened last night was that I ordered a soup, the Moroccan Lentil, which is very good. However, when I order a hot bowl of soup in a restaurant, I do not want to eat it with a plastic spoon. But I had to, because I was told there were no metal spoons available, even though they did have metal forks and knives.

And one other thing I will mention about last night’s meal is that, while I’m usually very lenient with what gets called a “burger” in the vegan world, this was not something I would ever even imagine could be seen as a burger substitute.  Have you ever had, or seen, an Arby’s regular roast beef sandwich? It’s made of thin shavings of roast beef. That’s what this was like, thin shavings of seitan on a bun. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t particularly good either, but it certainly wasn’t anything I’d ever call a burger. And the garlic fries weren’t as good as they have been in the past.

I really miss the days when this Native Foods ran smoothly. Now it’s vegan roulette. I think they are expanding faster than they can handle it, and yet their new locations are bringing in so many people interested in this kind of food that if the problems cause people to walk out or never return, it doesn’t matter to them because there’s new people streaming in the next day anyway. But at some point the slow and bad service will come back to haunt them. And just to be clear, by bad service I don’t mean unfriendly service, since almost everyone there is always friendly, it’s just long lines and mistakes that I’m talking about.

Someone from Chicago needs to show up here, preferably on the sly, and take a look at the lines to the door, only one register open, the manager busy playing with his phone, and potential customers getting frustrated and leaving. Before the loyal customers decide to take a break, too.

Native Foods Westwood you try a little harder?

18 Apr

Papered-over front window in Westwood.

I love Native Foods.

Wait, I should clarify. I love their food. And the people who work in their stores. And the fact that they’ve caught on with a non-vegan and non-vegetarian crowd and are showing people that vegan food can not only taste good but great.

Now the part I don’t love: this company has perhaps the worst customer service I have ever encountered from a business. Not at the stores. There the people are, for the most part, super friendly and helpful.

But have you ever tried to email them a question or concern? Quite possibly you just answered yes. Did you ever get a response to your email? Quite likely you just answered no.

What is with a company that puts an email address for customer service questions on their website and then doesn’t reply? Bizarre.

One manager told me that the company is only willing to pay one person to handle all the emails and that it’s too much for one person. Another manager at a different store told me the owner is very controlling and all emails are routed straight to him. Who knows? All I know is that the second I mentioned the word “email” to both of these managers their eyes rolled up in a way that let me know they’re well aware of the company’s huge customer service problem and have to listen to complaints about it from customers all day long. They both told me the same thing, which was basically: If you ever have a problem at a Native Foods please don’t try to email just come into the store and ask for a manager and we’ll try to make it right for you. Good advice.

And what does all this have to do with their Westwood location? Well, first of all, I’ve found that location to be the best run, have the friendliest staff, and be super-well managed.  Wish I could say the same for Culver City. *sigh*

So yesterday, wanting a Chicago Dip sandwich because I fear it might be gone come next week when I believe the new menu is set to debut, I drove over to Westwood Village. I then did the mandatory 15 minutes of circling before finding a spot. But hey, it’s worth it, because I love that sandwich!

I get out of my car, put my coins in the meter, and then start walking down the block. Step + anticipation, step + anticipation, step + anticipation. I’m almost there. Step + salivating anticipation. I’m there! I put my hand on the door handle and pull.

The door does not move.

It’s 6pm. I look around. My brain tells me to admit it to myself: they are closed.

Now a normal business would have a sign up on the door or window telling you why they’re closed during normal business hours, right? Especially a business that has a signholder attached to the wall right next to its front door. But that’s empty. Empty as in, someone took the time to remove the large menu that’s usually in said signholder but did not replace it with a sign of explanation. This is a bad sign.

Note the empty signholder to the right. The lack of a sign is not a good sign.

I try calling. You know, since a normal business would have an outgoing message telling you what’s going on. Ring Ring Ring. Hope fades to acceptance. Ring Ring Ring ring ring…

While I’m standing out front, for about two minutes, six — that’s right — six separate parties come by, try the door, look at each other surprised, look at me, exchange shrugs, and walk off.

Now if you patronize that location, you know they’ve been going through some changes. They’ve been renovating the space next door to become their new restaurant, and during this renovation they’ve stayed open, but have forced any diners wanting to eat there to consume their meal straight from a cardboard box. You can’t imagine how awkward and unpleasant it is to eat a hot meal from a cardboard box until you try it. It basically interferes with every biological pleasure receptor designed to make you enjoy a meal. With most companies I’d assume they’re forced to do it this way because of some arcane zoning rule or something. But with Native Foods you never know. Might just be a clueless owner or something.

The last time I ate there  – a couple of weeks ago — it looked like renovations for the new location were getting toward done. I was psyched. But mind you, still no signs up announcing an opening date, and of course nothing letting you know they’re going to shut down the existing restaurant for a period of time before the new one next door opens.  Yesterday I peeked through a hole in the plastic sheeting covering the inside of the window and it looks really close to done. Signs are up and everything. I even took a photo. It looks nice. With an upstairs dining area and all. Can’t wait. Really.

Through the looking glass.

So when I got home I checked their Twitter to see if there was any information on the Westwood location closing or opening. You know, because any normal company with a Twitter would use it for exactly that purpose. To let their customers know what’s going on. I searched back a month. Nothing.

Then I went to their website’s blog. Again, searched back a month. Nothing.

Finally, I looked at their “locations” page and lo and behold there it was: Currently Closed for Expansion/Remodel Re-opening May 1st

Perfect! Because that’s exactly where customers who have been to that store a hundred times would look for information for that store: at the place that tells them where the place they’ve been to a hundred times is located.

This is also a company that, keep in mind, asks for your email address in order to give you one of their Rewards Cards. And then you use your email to log into their website and check your points and rewards totals. But does this company ever then use your address to send  you updates and information about the company, you know, the way every other company in America does? Nope. And by the way, there’s even a box on the website that says: “Sign up for the newsletter” — I’ve entered my email address into that box a number of different times, even though they already had my email address. Did I ever once get a newsletter  – or ANY piece of email from them? Nope. *sigh*

Native Foods owner: you’ve got lightning in your hands. Your chain is expanding, thriving. Loosen the reins a little bit. Delegate more. Hire additional people to help you out. Do whatever you need to do in order to keep your customer service problems from cutting against the good will generated by your food and your staffers. Because most people only put up with bad customer service for so long before they go elsewhere. And these days, there are a lot more elsewheres opening up.

Eat peace.

Native Foods Cafe: Preview or trainee view?

29 Mar

When I was at Native Foods recently I picked up a take-out menu, and when I looked at it later I saw some odd scribbling on it. At first I just thought someone had written down what they were going to order, and then dumped it back into the menu bin after their purchase. But then I started to realize that it was a little too formal for that. Someone had gone through every item making notes. And I soon began to think that I’d either found something used to train their new employees, or more likely I had stumbled onto a preview of the upcoming menu.

Take a look. Tandoor Kabobs, which were a new item in January, are crossed out. In their place at the bottom, with what looks like a “new item” symbol, are Crab Cakes. Hmm. Then under pizzas, both current pizzas are crossed out, and next to what looks like another new item symbol, is a Remo Caesar Pizza. And it also looks like the Meatball Veggie pizza is making a comeback.

Then under Entree Salads, the new Greek Goddess is gone, and replaced by a Caesar Salad.

I’m onto something here, right?

Now comes the bad news, at least for me, if I’m right about what I found and how I’m reading it. It looks like the Gandhi Bowl is gonedi! Can it be? It’s crossed out and replaced by what looks to be a Red Curry Bowl with Tofu Steak. Say it ain’t so. And under Chef’s Favorites the Chicago Dip is gone! That wasn’t just one of the Chef’s Favorites, it was one of Insufferable Vegan’s Favorites! Please tell me this was simply a menu someone gave their child to draw on and not the radical earth-changing Rosetta Stone I fear it to be!

But not all the news is bad, at least for the purists. It looks like those people who were so distraught by the banishment of the Baja Fish Tacos and the Native Deli Reuben that they set up a Facebook page in protest are about to get their way because it looks like both are coming back, at the expense of the recently added Very Veggie Wrap and Caribbean Queen Burger, neither of which I will be particularly sad to say goodbye to.

And while I didn’t even bother to take a photo of the Desserts section on the back since it wasn’t marked up, the drink section seems to be adding a Mango Salsa Fresca.

So what do you think? Am I mistaken about what I found? Or is this the Native Foods Wormhole writ large, allowing us to bend space and step a few weeks ahead with eerie precision? Or did I drop a frozen Spring Wellington on my head and imagine the whole thing, which might be the only way to explain that previous sentence.  If only I had photos. Oh wait. I do. It’s real! Isn’t it?

Bring back the Gandhi Bowl!!!  Bring back the Chicago Dip!!!

Or better yet, don’t take them away in the first place!

Love ya, NFC!

10 best vegan things i 8 in ’11

29 Dec

I love being vegan and I hate 10 best lists so I’m combining the two. Actually, I like 10 best lists but they’re trite. Oh well, I’m trite, so here goes.

This was my first full year being vegan. Woo-hoo, special me! I should start a blog so I can tell the whole world how great I am!

In no particular order, except that I’m starting with the tenth best and working my way in order to my favorite, here goes:

Doomie's pulled pork sandwich. (photo: toliveandeatinla.com)

10. Doomie’s pulled pork sandwich.  I went into Doomie’s for the first time late one night and asked the woman at the counter what to get. She said, “Ask him,” and pointed to Doomie. Without hesitating he said, “The pulled pork sandwich” and smiled an evil smile. It was great.

9. Clementine’s cous cous with roasted squash, dried cranberries, pistachios, scallions and lemon vinaigrette AND their beluga lentils with flame raisins, mizuna and toasted pepitas. I’m a little reluctant to include Clementine on here given that it’s not only a meat-heavy place but also the Worldwide Grilled Cheese Headquarters. But they have a salad case with a bunch of really fresh salads that rotate on a seasonal basis. You can get a three-salad combo for $11.95 and usually there are at least three that are vegan. I recently had the two above-mentioned salads along with some roasted beets, and while the beets were good the two other salads were UNBELIEVABLY good. Eat a forkful and put your fork down and say to yourself was that just as good as I thought it was good. The current menu will be around until late January. Go.

The Bigger Mack. (photo credit: http://www.huggerfood.com)

8. The Bigger Mack at Madeleine Bistro. Sure I could go with their famous Red Beet Tartare, which is great. Or the chicken and waffles, which I enjoyed. But dammit if Chef Dave doesn’t 100 percent nail the Big Mac taste. Not that it’s the greatest taste in the world. But it’s a very specific taste. And he did it. And not that I ever needed to eat another Big Mac after consuming way too many of them for way too many years. But when you think you’ll never get to taste a specific taste again, and then you do, it’s weird and impressive and satisfying.

7. The Wasabi Bean Burger at Native Foods Café. Don’t drop your iPad on the floor and run out the door to get one because they’re gone. This is an item that was on their menu earlier in the year and then, much to my dismay, disappeared. How come the world doesn’t do exactly what I want at all times?

6. A Dillo. A DingDillo to be specific. A cold DingDillo to be specificer. What are these? They’re vegan Chocodiles from Salt Lake City, what else did you think they were? I got mine at the Viva La Vegan grocery store in Rancho Cucamonga. But you can get em other places, too. I’m all out right now. And Rancho Cucamonga’s an hour away with no traffic. But I want one! Runners up in the dessert competition would have to be the Apple-Cranberry Toastie at Babycakes and the Blueberry Pomegranate ice cream I had one day at Scoops (the flavors change daily, as if you didn’t know).

5. The stuff I ate at  Stuff I Eat. I’d been meaning to go here for so long and finally made it. And it was great. I got some kind of eggplant lasagna. I’m not a big eggplant person but they offered a sample that was so good I had to order it, and I loved it. The person suffering through lunch with me got the “Sumthin-Sumthin” plate and we also split a side of jerk grilled tofu and we both looked at each other in amazement at how good it all was. I will keep returning till I’ve tried everything.
 

Mandoline Grill's tofu banh mi. (Photo credit: veggie101.com)

4. Mandoline Grill‘s tofu banh mi. This has gotten a little confusing in the past month or so. There’s some extra charges associated with it now that I can’t quite figure out. Like an extra 50 cents for Vegenaise (the spelling of which always bugs me). There’s also some confusing new thing about a “vegan baguette.” Does that mean she now has NON-vegan baguettes on the truck, too? Were there always two kinds of baguettes on the truck? Or are vegans paying a surcharge for the same baguette that everyone else gets without paying the surcharge? Like I said, I’m confused. I tried to ask about it but the conversation went nowhere. That said, I like Mong. She’s super friendly and serves great vegan food and if she needs to charge a little extra for it I don’t mind.

3. The Gardein Steak Sandwich at Green Peas. As you might have heard, right here in fact, Green Peas is now closed for re-modeling. But the owner told me that all the menu items are returning when they re-open, plus more, hopefully within a couple of months. I eat here a lot. I’ve tried a bunch of stuff from their vegan menu. The vegan chicken picatta sandwich is pretty dang tasty and could have easily made the list. But the Gardein Steak Sandwich is my favorite. (Not the “Rolling Gardein Steak Sandwich” — the stationary one.)
 
 
2. The Tri-Colored Lentils at Fatty’s & Co in Eagle Rock.  Me and Mrs. Insufferable (actually she prefers Ms) hit up Fatty’s one Saturday evening for a date night and were floored. We ordered four items and they were all really good but the one I’m still remembering months later is the lentils. It looked beautiful and tasted even better. A perfect combination of flavors.

All must bow to the ACSB. (photo: candypenny.blogspot.com)

1. The Ancho Chili Seitan Burger from the Cinnamon Snail.  Hate to do this to you LA but the ACSB from the NYNJ food truck was incredibly, incredibly good. An even more perfecter combination of flavors than Fatty’s lentils, and believe me that’s saying something. I WANT THIS TRUCK TO LIVE NEAR ME.

And that’s my list. Did you have some vegan food this year that was so good you had to shake your head in amazement? I’d love to hear about it, especially if it’s within driving distance of my driveway.

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