We get a lot of feedback of all sorts. We respond to 99% of it. I don't have the opportunity to do that much of the responding...trying to do my job and all of helping Steve to run the company...but from time to time I do get the chance to have a bit of a dialog. Often, the ones that come to me are the ones that deal with the philosophies and menu choices that we have for the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. Since I was the main driver behind the menu and philosophies, sometimes I'm the best to respond. So, when I can, I do. This is one such short email thread that I thought I'd share. It has some similarities to other email conversations, so it seemed relevant. Cheers! Greg
From: Rod M. Sent: Monday, February 09, 2009 3:50 PM
Had lunch today at your brewery, and as always enjoyed the beer. That said, the food is over priced and the portions are too small. I suppose if you served normal food portions, the price might be about right. Whereas we do understand the concept of keeping out the riff raff by charging high prices, beer drinking is for the working classes also. The thought of serving a $5.99 cheese burger lunch might send chills up your spine, but you may even get more people to show up. The dining room was 2/3 empty while we were there. I am just a dirt archaeologist, so what do I know about business (especially in today's economic climate). Rod
From: Greg Koch: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 8:42 AM
Rod, Thanks much for the feedback. It's much appreciated. If you don't mind, I'll respond with an equally straightforward response. First off, glad that you enjoy our beer. We know that it's quite a bit more expensive than the generic industrial alternatives, and that you're among the relatively small percentage of people who appreciate it and are willing to pay for something better. The truth is that most don't 'get' specialty beers, and don't see the value in them. However, that fact is changing and more and more people are getting turned on to the "affordable luxury" that great craft beer represents. Regarding the prices of our food, I can assure you that it is not overpriced. A bold statement perhaps, but I can explain. I make that statement based upon the fact that our food cost percentages tend to skew higher than is typical in the restaurant business. In other words, the cost of our raw ingredients makes up a higher percentage of the cost of the finished plate than what the restaurant business considers is the right percentage. Most restaurants' profitability on a plate of food is higher than ours. Why? Because the ingredients we buy cost significantly more than typical commodity foodstuffs. You see, when we decided to build the restaurant and have folks over to our house (that's how I see it...you're an honored guest that is coming into our home, the brewery), I felt that I should research food and the food system. So I did. I read introductory level tomes such as Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma, and then moved on to more weighty books such as Food Politics, and The Ethics Of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. What I learned was not pretty. True, I had long been on the side of the Slow Food movement but I will admit that I did not know the full depth that is the travesty of our food system in the United States. And I do not use the word "travesty" lightly. In short, I came to the realization that we could not in good conscience participate in the commodity food system. Pre-processed foods? No. High fructose corn syrup? We enacted a complete ban. Factory meats? No way! Tasteless veggies that travel countless miles to get here? Absolutely not. Instead, we opted to prepare everything from scratch in our kitchen, source out higher quality ingredients, use all-natural meats and source our produce from local, small organic farmers. The sad fact is that once you step outside of the industrialized food system, costs skyrocket dramatically. However, we believe that the value is indeed there. The percentage of income that we spent on food has gone down dramatically in recent years, as illustrated in this pdf. This otherwise generic article on the subject is especially relevant as a result of the three "comments" posted by readers at the end of it. Conversely, the cost of our health care has skyrocketed. In fact it's flip flopped with food costs since 1960. What we used to spend on food, we now spend on health care. That there's a connection between the health of our food, and the health of our population and planet is not a terribly new line of thought. However, most of our populace still seems to either not recognize this, or not want to recognize this. Yet, there is light. There are growing movements that are seeking to reverse the decline of the health of our people and our planet. Please know that our philosophies are not geared towards "keeping out the riff raff." While I might admit that a lower "riff raff" quotient might be overall desirable (it's no secret that we're not an establishment that caters to drunkards or hooligans), our goal has always been to do what we feel is right. You are correct that the thought of a $6.99 hamburger does indeed send a chill up my spine, but not for the reason that you may have thought. The true reason would be the slashing and burning of our food philosophy and ethics that would be required to get there. I just won't do that to our guests. When you came yesterday, you may have noticed that you arrived on a day of torrential downpour. As you may know, Southern Californians are wholly unprepared and uncomfortable with rain events, and especially with blustery ones. Yesterday was especially blustery. It did indeed affect our lunch business yesterday. The modest crowd would be attributed to the fact that it was the Monday before Valentines (the restaurant business often takes a slight dip before and after major dining occasions such as Valentines, New Years, Mothers Day, etc.), and raining cats and dogs. I am happy to report that our restaurant business went up by 20% in 2008, vs. 2007. Business remains solid in the early part of 2009. While not everyone 'gets' --- or heck, even likes --- what we do, there is indeed a significant number of people who are voting with their fork and dollar, and coming. And coming often. My apologies for the long response, but as I felt that your concerns were quite understandable, I thought you deserved to know our perspectives. In closing, I'd like to ask you to view the Food Declaration http://fooddeclaration.org/ when you get a chance. Hopefully, you'll consider signing it and passing on the word. The health of our nation depends on it! Cheers, Greg ------- Greg Koch, CEO Stone Brewing Co. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens 1999 Citracado Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92029 760.471.4999 x1102
From: Rod M.
Mr. Koch, Thank you for your response. I respect your enthusiasm and passion. Perhaps more importantly, I like your beer. And, I get it. Healthy food, healthy people, healthy planet. Some of us support the farmer’s market every Sunday morning, and buy everything available that is organically produced. By the way, in reading the food declaration attachment I did not read in the 12 principles a specific advocation for foods that are organically produced (and are pesticide free). In the meantime, the baby back ribs and cheese soup we ordered, while made from scratch and from (and in support of) local farmer resources, would cause my doctor to give me a severe reprimand based on the saturated fat content. But perhaps that is all I was saying, once in a while we need a fun break, and do the things we are not supposed to do while having a craft brew — at an affordable price. It cost the two us $55 for lunch with tip, including two tasters and two 8 oz beers. Our lunch would be defined as a large bowl of soup, a scoop of hummus (we shared), and the smallest baby back ribs I have seen in my entire life. I recommend that you have the staff inform “guests” up front that there is a charge for every taster and not just state that yes we will happily give you a taste of any beer you want. We live AND learn. The upshot is that we cannot afford lunch at the brewery on a regular basis. Perhaps we will just drink and skip the food? Thank you again for your reply. Rod PS- I am sincerely happy for you that business for Stone continues to go up.