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Back at the Stove, a Luddite no more

Friday, January 03, 2014
 Back at the Stove, a Luddite no more

My restaurant didn’t even have a website until the summer 2007.  This was when I bought out my partner and became sole-owner of Taberna de Haro.  Since fate had so decisively  catapulted me onto  such new and un-manicured paths, I figured a hot date with the 21st century was also in order.  My first website was colorful and appealing. Sensual.  My favorite feature was that there was no way for me to update it or manage it in any way.  Luckily in this tumultuous time of change for me,  there was a welcome and flattering flurry of mentions, articles, and kudos in most of Boston’s publications, and my little Taberna flourished. “What a great publicist you have,” commented more than a few.  Nope, no publicist. Word of mouth buoyed me and my fellow owner-operated restaurants, nary a Tweet nor a FB post required to make an honest living using your rough hands and firey heart.

I worked around the clock, filling the gap my departed partner had left both in the restaurant and at home.  When the Fall of 2008 happened, we tightened our belts.  I redoubled my support of WBUR to remind locals of my reasonably-priced establishment, and emerged from the recession lean and grateful.  I still had yet to open a Facebook page or a Twitter account.  “Have you ever thought of a publicist?” many queried.

By 2012 it was time for me to grow - or face obsolete-dom.  The Seaport district was swelling with jumbo restaurants with their enormous advertising budgets, and chain steakhouses arrived on the scene with their formidable heft.  ‘BIG’ became the trend.  Two small local publications past away, The Phoenix and Stuff, leaving us small restaurants with two less trumpets.  Local and much-loved chefs began to open second and even third spaces, and I was still just a little spot where nothing BIG nor exciting really happened, unless you count the yearly Wine Spectator Award for my BIG Spanish wine list and the bristlingly fresh sardines and razor clams I served a few times a month.  I would have hired a publicist, but there was nothing new to publicize.

When the space next door to me  here on Beacon St. opened up, I felt fate nudging me down paths unknown once again.  A 60 seat restaurant?  A bar with big-girl cocktails and comfy high chairs?  A hostess and a Sous Chef?  A bookkeeper? Yes, to all of it.  And loans!  And a Twitter account!  And a frenzy of photos on the Taberna de Haro Facebook page touting the gorgeous specials my talented Sous Chef makes!  A shiny new website that requires managing and posting!  And, a publicist.  

My days became consumed with e-mails, Tweets about Spanish wine, posts, blogs, managing a staff that had double in size, and mostly, learning the language of TechSpeak so I could effectively maintain said website.  I learned to send newsletters from it, no small feat considering the language of each aspect (layout, colors, photos, importing addresses, text, etc.) is different from the other.  Not even my graduate degree in language helped me with this.  I learned about pixels and sizing each photo appropriately for each separate spot on the site.  Why would they be consistent with one another?? I learned that when your Unsubscribe button malfunctions, you lose customers.  I learned that when you find something to get passionate about, something truly exciting and reasonably unique like roasted suckling pig, you may thrill your foodie base  but you alienate your vegetarian friends.  I learned that the contacts of a good publicist get you mentioned here and there, but don’t fill your restaurant like a good old fashioned review did way, way back in the late ’90’s and early 00’s. ( I knew I needed a publicist when Eater, who also loves BIG, did a full-page, detailed review of the new tapa bar chain that opened in Brookline last year - 2 days before it had even opened!  Clearly the words of a publicist, verbatim, on the page).  I learned that Yelp is the Power of the People in a way that democracy only dreams of being, and it needs to be properly respected and managed.  I learned that it is very sweet when people ‘Like’ your sensual food photos on FB, but this doesn’t pay the rent. I’ve  crunched numbers late into many nights to understand my intimate relationship with the bank - and I’ve concluded that Boston needs double the number of residents to support all the new restaurants that have opened in the past few years.   I also concluded that I missed having calloused hands and burned wrists.

Dizzy from all the news and words and buttons and worries, I have re-entrenched myself, elbow deep once again, into the olive-and pig-scented soul of the Spanish cuisine I so adore.  Artichokes, lentils, goats, endives, sheep cheeses, anchovies, saffron, quince, blood sausage, eggplants, sweetbreads, flan, smokey paprika and sherry vinegar all bring me peace and thrill in equal parts.  Back in the kitchen, a Luddite no longer, I am cooking more than ever at Taberna de Haro, as well as writing a cookbook.  And I know 2014 will be a BIG year!
                            Deborah Hansen

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