We’ve all been there. We see an item listed on a restaurant menu and wonder how in heaven’s name it can charge that much for a hamburger. Or some mac ’n’ cheese. Or a simple Caesar salad.
One woman who dined recently at Beardslee Public House in Bothell wondered as much, and she posted this rant on Google Reviews: “I’m sitting here at Beardslee disgusted with their current price hike. I have one question for the owner: Do you want to alienate your faithful customers that come here two to three times a week? Charging $14 for a basic burger and fries is crazy. … Your disregard for your community and clients in an effort to make a buck because you are now popular won’t fly. I’m 100 percent sure that others will take my stance, based on your food and beer items that are overpriced.”
Owner/chef John Howie, who also operates Sport Restaurant & Bar in Seattle and John Howie Steak and the Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar, both in Bellevue, replied to the disgruntled diner in such a measured, diplomatic way that someone ought to buy him a steak dinner.
“I’m sorry you feel this way,” Howie says on his website (chefjohnhowie.com). “I’m also concerned that you attacked me by stating that I had no regard for my community or clients in an effort to make a buck. I have yet to make a buck on the Beardslee Public House; I hope to someday be able to repay myself for all of the expenses to open a restaurant like the Beardslee Public House. But I do have a question for you … what is a fair profit for an owner of an establishment like Beardslee Public House? 15%, 10%, 5%?”
Howie proceeds to disclose, in astonishingly forthright detail, the annual cost of running his 10,000-square-foot operation, including debt service ($260,000), rent ($600,000), utilities ($150,000), wages/benefits/payroll taxes ($2 million), and so on. Bottom line: Before paying off creditors, Howie expects to turn a profit of just under 2 percent this year on sales of $4.5 million. After debt service, he’s looking at “negative cash flow” of about $150,000.
Howie admits he could skimp here and there to cut costs. But he won’t. “This is not the greedy owner trying to fleece the college student,” he declares. “It is a legitimate business that employs 92 people in the Bothell community. … We use USDA Prime for our regular burgers; no one else uses USDA Prime for burgers. We bake our own buns. We make almost everything we do in house from scratch. That takes time and effort, and we pay our crewmembers a fair and living wage.”
If Howie ran a French restaurant, he might want to add fillet of touché to the menu. The Google Reviews rant has since been removed and Howie says he hasn’t heard anything more from the customer. To see Howie’s rejoinder in its entirety, visit chefjohnhowie.com/blog and scroll to the March 23 entry.