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.
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.
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.