Tag Archives: UCLA vegan

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.

800 Degrees got 99 Problems (but the food ain’t one)

9 Jan

800 Degrees Pizza
10889 Lindbrook Drive
Los Angeles CA 90024
424.239.5010
Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.!

The L.A. vegan webiverse has been buzzing about a new pizzeria in Westwood Village called 800 Degrees and the fact that they offer Daiya. So how could I not try it?

Do you want the good news (the food) or the bad news (everything else) first?

I think I’ll give you the good news first in order to cut them some slack, since they’ve only been open a week: the pizza is very good. And well-priced. And it’s ready super-fast.

Pizza Marinara plus arugula, pine nuts and mushrooms.

I got two pies. One was the Pizza Marinara, a cheeseless pie with crushed tomato, garlic, oregano and olive oil. To it I added arugula, pine nuts and mushrooms. It was good. The toppings were super fresh. The only problem was… okay, I’ll save the problem for later. While the cheeseless pie was good, the Daiya pie was better. This was their Pizza Margherita, which comes with crushed tomato, olive oil and basil, and I subbed Daiya for the mozzarella and “parmigiano reggiano.”

The Daiya pie looked so much like a real cheese pie that when the guy at the counter where you pick it up slid it over to me, I thought he’d made a mistake. He double-checked and said it was definitely the Daiya one. And when I looked at the real cheese pizzas which other people were getting, which looked nothing like what I had, I realized he must be right.

Pizza Margherita with Daiya.

I’ve had plenty of Daiya pizza in my 16 vegan months but none looked like this. The cheese was so… melted. I know Daiya melts, but usually you can see its shreddiness, or at least the fact that it was once shredded, but not here. Maybe that’s a testament to how much Daiya they give you for what I think was a $2 substitution charge  (receipts are vague) or maybe it’s a testament to the heat of their oven (though my buddy with a pizza oven says his is 800 also) but this thing not only looked like a regular cheese pizza, and had the consistency of regular cheese, I swear it tasted more like regular cheese than any other vegan pizza I’ve had. That feeling of when your teeth cut into the cheese on the first bite is one that I never thought I’d experience again, which is a treat in and of itself, and then the fact that the taste is there too really makes you (or at least me) feel like I’m eating “real” pizza again.

The Daiya was also nice and warm all the way through, in contrast to an early complaint I’d seen online about the Daiya pie being warm on the edges but cold in the middle. But that does bring up one thing I should mention, which is that, perhaps due to the thinness of the crust (which I really liked) the pies do cool down faster than a typical pizza. Maybe I’d have been better off getting one pizza, having some, and then going back up for another, but there seems to be no way to get any kind of pass to cut the line for second-timers (but I’ll get to the issues with the line later).

Next Big Coke

I also want to tell you about beverages because, to my surprise and delight, they have one of the space-age Coca-Cola Freestyle machines! Okay, the Space Age was 50 years ago, we don’t even have Space Shuttles anymore, so I guess I should say they have one of the Pinterest-age Coca-Cola Freestyle machines! I’m not a big soda drinker, but I first read about these from one of my favorite food bloggers a couple of years ago and I’ve really wanted to try one since since I like me new things. New music, new restaurants, new news, I’m always hoping to find the next big thing. And there it was. And drinks comes with refills so you can try a bunch of the different flavors this thing can create. Turns out most of them were meh, and the Fanta Raspberry was so grossly medicinal I’d rate it a feh, but I did find one winning combo: Raspberry Coke.

If there’s a problem with the machine (besides Fanta Pukeberry) it’s that people haven’t seen one before and don’t know how to use it. And while by the second or third time I had the hang of it, at first it’s a big “What do I do?” which means that after waiting in a long line for pizza you now have to stand there behind a machine that turns even gadget-savvy hipsters into grandmas using checks at the supermarket. And yes, the guy in front of me did have a fedora.

But a slow soda line is the least of the bad news. And although the good news about the bad news is that it’s early and hopefully these are kinks that will be ironed out (I haven’t ironed any kinks since the Space Age, have you?) it still put a damper on this being a great experience.

Bad News Thing number one: There is nobody busing tables. The way this place works is you order, it’s ready as soon as you’re done paying, and you sit down. There’s no waiters on the floor. THERE’S NO NO ONE ON THE FLOOR. When I got there, the place had a line going already, and was pretty crowded, with three or four unoccupied tables. But all the tables still had the previous eaters’ dirty plates, cups and napkins all over them. After ten minutes of waiting in line, paying, and getting my food, still nobody had come out to clean these tables. Seriously. It was disgusting. Finally, after this was pointed out to the man in chef’s whites, he went and told someone who came out.

An unbussed table here, and there, and over there...

But did that person go to the customer the chef pointed to as having asked? Nope, he went and cleaned the table closest to him instead. *sigh* And not to pick on the guy who busses tables, the bigger problem is that to the extent there’s any of the supposedly professional owners of this place around — and you’d think they’d be around during their first weekend in business — they didn’t seem to notice or care that their dining room was a pig sty. In fact, it was so crazy I decided to take some photos of it, because by the time I finished eating there were six, seriously, six tables sitting uncleaned in the dining room. I don’t think anyone had come out to clean tables the entire time I was eating. And they use real plates, which is nice, but since they’re not set up for you to bus your own table, they need to have someone out there full time.

And while I’m on the subject of plates, that reminds me about the forks. The first two forks I took from the bin next to the cash register had food on them, as in the food of the previous person who used that fork. That is bad, bad, bad. (Or gross, gross, gross — you can decide.)

But I’m still not at the worst kink in need of an iron. You see, the way this place works is via the assembly line system. In fact, this place is more defined by lines than the Diary of a Wimpy Kid empire. In fact, I had tried to have dinner here the previous day, but the line was so far out the door and down the street that I gave up. This time I was luckier and although there was a line, it wasn’t yet out the door.

“So that’s the worst part, I.V.? The line?” Nope. The worst part is the employees working the line. Now look, I don’t want to be too harsh. And so far I’ve been generous given the number of bugs that need to be kinked out. Or ironed out. Or worked out. Whatever. And I can be very forgiving of the first guy in the line that you talk to, the one who takes your order, the one who, when I asked, “Can you get a topping on just half your pie?” said, “Uh, I don’t know, I’m usually working in the back.” After all, he was being honest, which I appreciated, and he was friendly, which goes a long way with me. He said I should ask the guy further down the line.

So I moved down the line — which is basically cafeteria-style except you don’t have a tray and they’re the ones moving your food along on the other side of the counter — and when I got to the next stop on the local, which was Toppings, the guy looked at me and was like, “Where’s your pizza? What did you order?” And not friendly either. Hostile. Very hostile. Bizarrely hostile. So I said, “I couldn’t order one because the first guy couldn’t answer my question and he told me to ask you,” and Mr. Hostile Black T-shirt gave me a look like, “Are you expletive kidding me you lying sack of expletive?” And then he looked over at the first guy behind the counter who said, “Yeah, I told him to ask you because I didn’t know.” This should have been as much of an explanation as Mr. Black Shirt needed, and I thought we’d start from scratch at this point, but nope. The hostility did not abate. And keep in mind, I hadn’t even mentioned the words “vegan” “Daiya” “fake” or “I don’t eat X” yet.

I think the problem was that their system allows for zero margin of error. Zero. So by inexplicably having the first guy who starts their process not know what he was doing, it turned the 800 Degree pizza line into the Lucy candy factory line. And whatever Mr. Black Shirt’s MBTI profile was, it was clearly the least-suited one for standing behind a counter and interacting with a long line of people. So after answering my question (yes, you can get a topping on half the pie but you still pay the full topping price) I began to order my toppings. Now I’m not a dawdling type. I knew what I wanted and I ordered it quickly. But apparently not quickly enough to satisfy this guy who maybe is like this at home too or maybe was overtaxed by the sight of the line which was almost to the door at this point.

The good part of this was that the Daiya substitution request was met with no additional disdain and no look of puzzlement (as opposed to other experiences in the restaurant’s first few days that I’d read about online). He quickly reached down and pulled out a tub of shredded Daiya and put a good amount on my pie and then sent me on my way. The bright side? The cashier I dealt with at the end of the line couldn’t have been friendlier. And just so you don’t think this guy was only like that to me, which is exactly what I thought, I actually watched him while I was eating, and he was hostile and curt with everyone!

So there. That’s my 800 degree barn burner. (Wow, that’s an even worse sentence than my hacky Lucy candy reference.) I would say go there for the food, which is already good, and hope that everything else will work itself out shortly and rise above its current level of sucks.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the prices are very good for what this is. Five bucks for the cheeseless marinara pie (or fi dolla if you’re from Bayonne) and six bucks for the margherita pizza plus whatever toppings you want, which are all a buck apiece except for some of the carcass selections. And it’s open till 2 a.m.!

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