Category Archives: FAIL

Off-Topic: On Service

Let’s go off-topic for a few hundred words.

Someone, and I honestly cannot remember who, recently said that Syracuse’s economy is rapidly becoming one where people make a living by serving cheeseburgers to one another. I don’t have any data to back me up, but let’s say that 20 to 25 percent of the jobs in this area are in the retail or food-service industries (just under 20 percent are education- or health-related while another fifth are government jobs; retail isn’t specifically listed as an industry by the New York State Department of Labor). This means that a quarter of the local population spends its time selling food, t-shirts, or sneakers to the other 75 percent.

That’s looking directly past real estate agents, car dealers and other professional salespeople, all of whom provide service to someone in order to remain gainfully employed. It does not count the professional firms who bid on jobs, selling their services to a willing buyer. Hell, even The Wife is in the service industry. Yes, she is a teacher, but the Common Core, standardized testing, prescriptive lessons and educational snake oil merchants have put the exclamation point on the argument that Americans that schools are glorified day care and teachers are nothing more than crowd control (Thanks Obama!).

So, where am I going with this? Like it or not, we’re a service economy. We all want what we want and we don’t want to pay a lot for it. It’s why we don’t manufacture things in America anymore. It’s why we throw things out rather than fix them. It’s why Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the nation. We all have our moral high ground about Wal-Mart, but at the end of the day, we will sacrifice it to save 15 cents on a bottle of Windex. We live in a world where we serve one another. And we do it badly. I’m not just talking about the high school dropout who works at Dunkin Donuts and messed up my order this morning, either.

Today, I made my weekly grocery shopping trip. I won’t say where, but regular readers of Al Dente should not have trouble guessing. I was looking for the ripest lemon in the bin, when I glanced up to the grocery store version of a 12-car pileup: a manager chewing out an employee on the sales floor.

I was close enough to pick up 80 percent or so of the conversation. The employee, a nice gentleman who usually spends his shift sauteing vegetables at a little cooking station, had apparently left his work area multiple times that day to help people find things.

Now, he wasn’t slinging dope behind the store. He wasn’t groping anyone. He didn’t do anything to compromise the health or wellbeing of any customers. He walked away from his space, after turning off the cooking appliances, to help people find produce. I know this because I heard him attempt to defend his actions. The manager in question didn’t care, and continued to dress him down. I doubt anyone else saw this but me. Most people tunnel vision while shopping, but I was child-free so I watched and listened. I listened as she said things like “I don’t want to see you leave this station again” and “Three times today I’ve walked by and you weren’t here.” She went as far as to threaten disciplinary action if he left the booth again.

The produce section is probably the most trafficked area in this store. It is positioned at the entrance and this person’s perch is 15-20 paces from the front door. The department changes its configuration regularly based on what’s in season, so tomatillos might be in one space one week, and another spot a few days later. Since there never seems to be anyone in this department to ask for help, he gets the questions. And, because this company drills servce into its employees’ heads, he helps the customer.

Never mind that there is no one else from the produce department to ask. Never mind that the produce department looks like Toys R Us after Black Friday and without anyone around to stock the shelves. This manager decided to shit on a subordinate in full view of customers and other staff because he was helping others.

There is plenty of research showing that if you treat your staff like garbage, your staff will produce garbage. Worse than all of that, stores like this are very concerned with their reputations. This chain (and others) considers itself the best in its field, but bouts of unprofessional behavior by a manager damage both the store and its perceived excellence. After all, this company identified this person as “management material,” gave her a portable phone and told her that she could wear “street clothes” and not the standard-issue uniform. The made her a manager and empowered her to act like the stereotypical asshole retail manager. She didn’t let them down.

As any marketing or communications professional will tell you, companies do not own their brand. The frontline staff member has more impact on a brand’s reach than any middle manager, CEO, charitable contribution or sports sponsorship combined. Especially in a retail or food service enterprise, an attentive waiter or staff person does more to enhance a brand than the vice president or director charged with “brand management.” Because we are an economy that spends its time serving cheeseburgers to one another, customer service is first and foremost. To see a manager ridicule and threaten a staff member in a public setting is unnerving and unprofessional. That the staff member was in trouble for providing service to customers undermines the brand.

It takes some shine off the apple.

It makes me question why I continue to be a customer.

After all, I can always get a cheeseburger somewhere else.


Meatless Monday: Broccoli and Lemon Soup

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It pays to read recipes.

Take tonight, for instance. I had skimmed this recipe by Merrill Stubbs at for a broccoli soup. It looked like a quick dinner that I could pull together within an hour with little prep work. Apparently, my haphazard Sunday read led to my missing the very important step where I was supposed to saute the broccoli for an hour. One step for an hour.

Of course, I didn’t notice this until well after I had chopped the broccoli and started boiling water. I really have to spend more time reading the damn instructions before settling on something for dinner. So, in an effort to speed things along and cut out the hourlong saute session, I slightly overcooked the broccoli during the boil to soften it.

Continue reading Meatless Monday: Broccoli and Lemon Soup

Off-Topic: Coffee at the Airport ** UPDATED (3/26)**


My coffee preferences, in no particular order:

  • Iced coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco: It’s perfect
  • Homemade cold brew: It’s like an acid-free coffee concentrate
  • Starbucks iced coffee: It’s reliable and the same all over the country
  • Cafe Kubal‘s iced pour-over

I would drink Kubal exclusively if it were closer to my office or if the Downtown location were a  little easier to get to. Admittedly, I’m late to Cafe Kubal. Others had sung its praises for years before I had my first pour-over and experienced mana over ice. But this isn’t necessarily about coffee. It’s about the Syracuse Hancock International Airport.

Syracuse’s sad little airport.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s wrong to think we should have some Eero Saarinen-designed masterpiece in Syracuse, but as the brilliant Patrick Smith writes at, American airports are terrible. Air travel, an American industry if there ever was one, has been mangled by its own greed. The explosion of airports in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s has led to outdated buildings that no one in 2000, 2010 or 2014 wants to spend money in renovating (not unlike the rest of our infrastructure). Syracuse’s current airport renovation has been LONG overdue.

In February, while headed to New Orleans, I got my first glimpse of the new security area. Bright and wide open, it looked like the security area in a larger city’s airport. And beyond the security gate was the best thing a traveler could find at 4 a.m.: an open and operational Cafe Kubal kiosk. Not only could I get a well-deserved iced red eye, I was certain that it would be good. It wasn’t. It was better than good. It tasted like the coffee beans had been roasted sometime that century; like the coffee had been brewed at some point that week; and it was presented by a person that did not need the instructions for constructing a “red eye” recited to them. To me, this was a first step in making Syracuse’s airport something more than a sterilized necessity for travel. It said — brighter than the big neon sign on the outside of the terminal — Syracuse.

And then I read this on Twitter last night:

It turns out that the airport, which is operated by the Syracuse Regional Airport Authority — a group of government and business leaders appointed by the Mayor of Syracuse and Onondaga County’s County Executive — recently selected a concessionaire for the airport that is not interested in keeping Cafe Kubal around. There were “discussions” of a “potential” landing spot for Kubal in one of the terminals, but that apparently will not happen. Creative Food Group, the hospitality company now running the food and beverage show at the airport, has opted for America’s largest purveyor of stale donuts and coffee strained through a sweaty sports bra. Yep, you guessed it:

Dunkin Effin Donuts.

So, let’s reset here: Local airport managed by local businessleaders that often complain about a stagnant local economy and a crumbling local tax base allow a New York City-based company to remove a local business from the local airport in lieu of a franchise that serves bitter coffee and second-rate baked goods.

Yeah, that sounds right.

Oh, but there will be a Middle Ages Brewing Company, you say. Correct, thus far Creative hasn’t abandoned this concept, however I would like to point out one thing. Ever notice when the vast majority of flights depart Syracuse? If you said before 9 a.m., you would be correct. Syracuse is not a hub like Charlotte where people have layovers. Think about every time you have had a drink at the airport…it was probably while waiting for a connection in Charlotte or O’Hare (truth be told, Philadelphia is a great airport to get boozy in). In Syracuse, you either have an early morning flight or you are landing, and how often do people stay at the airport after landing for drinks? Neveish?

So, I digress. Once again, Syracuse proves itself to be Syracuse. It had a chance to be special and do something good by turning travelers on to a local food choice. Instead, it took the sterile, antiseptic route and chose below-grade coffee and food.

This is how we end up with highway viaducts, shopping malls that don’t pay taxes and baseball stadiums ignored by everyone.

At least when it comes to bad decisions we are nothing if not consistent.


Updated 3/26 8 a.m.:

Cafe Kubal owner Matt Godard posted a note to his company’s blog about the situation. It’s a worthy read, if for no other reason than the inside baseball that is revealed. I would draw your attention to this paragraph:

During our last few months at the airport, the quality of our product suffered. We were not permitted to train the airport employees during the transition of the concessioner’s contract. As a result, the rigorous standards we hold ourselves to were not being met. For that, I would like to apologize. Our customers deserve the best we can give them, no matter what.

That last sentence really stands out: Our customers deserve the best we can give them, no matter what. It’s a lesson out of a Peter Shankman presentation. Here is a local business owner trying to ensure a quality product with particular attention to a licensed outlet that was using his brand, and human/corporate obstacles prevented him from doing so. If the entire situation is indicative of Syracuse, then this sentence is a symbol of the entire air travel industry. Screw the customer: we can make $3.50 on that 45-cent bag of Chex Mix while at 30,000 feet. Screw the customer: make them pay $25 if they check their bag, even though wheeling it to the gate means they can probably gate check it for free. Screw the customer because margin is the priority.

For every major airline (United) that I gripe about (United) because they (United) have made travel a nightmarish (United), there is a JetBlue. What makes that airline different? It at least puts on the facade of caring about its customers. JetBlue offers some  little comforts, like chairback TVs, free baggage, and comfy seats built for regular-sized people. Sure, it has stockholders that care about margin and profit, but it has found a space where good customer service means more than just getting from point A to point B.

The problem is that like JetBlue, Cafe Kubal is not the norm. Instead of others adopting this principle, we end up with Dunkin Donuts shops on every corner and in the middle of the airport.

Meatless Monday: Black Bean Soup

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It has been so long since we made black bean soup here at Al Dente HQ that I wanted a recipe to lean on so I could nail a more authentic Latin American flavor. Since I was using Goya beans and Goys Sazon, I figured Goya would have a good recipe.

I figured incorrectly.

What Goya did offer was an incomplete puzzle. Three ingredients listed — adobo peppers in sauce, chopped onions and cilantro — are never referenced in the instructions. Had I been following this direction to the letter, I would have found myself with a lot of garnish and without much in the way of flavor. Onions provide an important flavor in this dish and cutting them out of the equation is senseless.

So, I took the ingredients offered by one of world’s largest food manufacturers and attempted to make an actual recipe.

Continue reading Meatless Monday: Black Bean Soup

Saturday Dinner: Coq Au Riesling (and a slight FAIL)

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The coq au riesling recipe had been sitting on my Pinterest wall for a few weeks. Wine, chicken and cream seemed easy enough. When I finally popped the recipe open, I found the metric system. Conversion calculators seem to figure all of that out. Easy enough, right? Right? WRONG!

2013-11-16 at 18-37-20Alida Ryder’s recipe at Simply Delicious calls for 30 minutes of cook time, half of which is in a covered pan over medium-low heat. It needs at least twice as much, as I ended up serving nearly raw meat to everyone. The meat closest to the bone was pink and there was blood present in each piece. It took a four-minute ride in the microwave to finish things off.

Continue reading Saturday Dinner: Coq Au Riesling (and a slight FAIL)

Sunday Dinner: Pot Roast

Although not every topic can be illustrated, we believe most blog posts can and should have a visual element.

— Joy Victory,

Funny. See, I meant to take photos of Sunday’s pot roast. I really did. I ran into a little problem. (Here come the excuses.) The battery in my camera was dead and apparently some moron didn’t seat the backup battery correctly in the charger. This is the same moron who let his iPhone battery go dead on Sunday as well.

So, no photos of the preparation process. Or the end result. Or anything really. The best I have is the map of the cow to illustrate where a chuck roast comes from:

Continue reading Sunday Dinner: Pot Roast

Sunday Dinner: Grilled Pizza With Clams and Bacon

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My hypothesis was simple. A pizza shell would work better for grilling than dough because it would be less brittle or prone to tears.

I was incorrect.

The first thing the shell did when I put it on the grill was break nearly in half. The shell was rather thick and dried out much quicker than fresh dough. Worse, it pitched a tent, going convex on me and letting the toppings roll off onto the grill surface.

Continue reading Sunday Dinner: Grilled Pizza With Clams and Bacon

One plus two plus two plus one

The auto-publish feature on WordPress’ interface is pretty nifty. It allows me to setup posts in advance and publish content through the day, just like real blogs.

Of course, it’s only good as the moron publishing the content. Yesterday was June 16. Today is June 17. For some reason, I set my Monday content to publish on June 18.

Math. Failing me since 1981.