Transcript for Episode 1: Dylan Denicke
Markus: Hi, welcome to the first episode of FoodBrews. Before we start with our first guest, David, can you explain a little bit about FoodBrews?
David: FoodBrews came about because Markus and I met at one of the food tech events that I host. At the event, we were talking about what we both like, and we realized we both like podcasts, as well as “food and brews,” or alcohol—and we thought why not make an episode about food and alcohol? So we can enjoy food and brews together.
M: Food and brewery: a good combination!
D: Especially since you’re from Germany, it makes perfect sense.
M: I love… beer, especially.
D: Yeah, and it’s fun because we get to interview all kinds of restaurant and brewery people, and anyone we want.
D: Yes, brewers.
M: Okay, onto questions about how to-
D: -or not answer questions
Dylan Denicke: I prefer brewery people.
D: Yeah brewery peope, there ya go. “Brewer-ers. So another thing is, FoodBrews is about bringing different people together and we BREW over ideas.
M: Yeah! Thank you. So enough introductions. We warmly welcome, Dylan. Hi Dylan!
D: Hi Dylan, thanks for coming.
M: In your short introduction, you said you, uh, have … something to do with Yelp? Or not?
Dylan: Well, I don’t have anything to DO with Yelp. It has a big part with ME and my experience working with food. It’s kind of always in the back of mind a little bit.
D: So you owned a restaurant, right?
Dylan: I did, yes.
D: Maybe tell us a little about that.
Dylan: Well I was a server, an oyster shucker—I probably shucked over 2 million oysters.
M: Two million?
Dylan: Probably! Yeah.
D: How many can you do in one day?
Dylan: I don’t know, two thousand? And that’s while, you know, listening to a podcast. But yeah I found myself in a position where I was able to own a restaurant with a talented chef. So it wasn’t really a dream, but a circumstance that I took advantage of. And it was cool, it was in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. It was super competitive, some would say “oversaturated with restaurants,” but we had a good four year stretch when we got out with barely our skin on our backs.
D: Tell everyone about the name of the restaurant, and how you came up with that, and then let’s move into Yelp and how that fits in.
Dylan: Well the name of the restaurant was called Beast and the Hare, which is now a played-out theme, with the ampersand in the middle. And I’m not saying we were the first to do it, we were just more aware of trends coming so we put an ampersand in our title. And I gave my partner credit for coming up with the name, and he gives ME credit—we can’t remember, cus we were probably drinking beer or something.
M: Food brews, eh?
Dylan: Exactly. Brewing ideas over brew with my partner. And, I’m pretty sure he did it though, I’m going to give him credit. We were actually going to call it “Salt Block,” which I thought was cool because I picture deer licking a salt lake and it was hilarious. And I like salt. It’s such a big part of owning a restaurant. But then we named LLC “Sea Salt Block” naively not knowing that you have to have a different name for a restaurant, so that ended up being the name of the LLC, and we had to quickly come up with another name. I think I would have stuck with it if I had to do it again.
M: So what is your story with Yelp?
Dylan: So Yelp was a such a problem, like a lot of necessary evils in the restaurant world. Just like Opentable and all these other platforms. You have to pay them, which is why they’re evil, but it’s necessary because that’s how people find out about you.
D: especially Yelp, its extremely effective.
Dylan: Oh yeah, definitely. I use Yelp everyday– don’t tell my friends. But that’s why it’s a necessary evil, like when someone writes something bad or negative, often I would say, three quarters of the time it was not deserved or it was misinformation, or they thought they were in a different place or whatever. My partner would get red in the face and type an email back, because you can contact the person.
And I would shrink away from the computer and curl up in a fetal position not knowing what to do with myself or what kind of person I was to let Yelp have such an effect on me. We had such different reactions to it.
I finally found my way of dealing with it which was opening my own account and writing fictitious Yelp reviews.
M: That is a very different reaction to Yelp. (Laughs)
Dylan: (Laughs) Yes. So I wrote one about a prison mess hall as our restaurant. Basically repeating all the clichés that drove me crazy. Like, “I really wanted to like this place. Is this even organic? Is aeloi made with raw egg? You’re kidding me!” And so forth.
And I literally had a thousand words, this one. And it was really fun, and cleansing in a way. And then I wrote another one about the Berkeley parking enforcement and everyone was writing one-star’s, “These jerks! How dare they! I was just at the store for a second!” And I’ll give them five stars, “I don’t see what everyone’s complaining about. They put the ticket right on the windshield, it was super easy to find…, there’s four different ways you can pay for this ticket! What is everyone complaining about? They even give you an envelope to put your check in. So… that was kind of how I dealt with it, and it actually helped in some weird, twisted way.
D: So what was some of your favorite stories at Beast and the Hare?
Dylan: you want a Yelp story?
D: Let’s do a Yelp story.
Dylan: My favorite one by far is this woman wrote a scathing, I mean, she was horrified and disgusted with us, and this is not a joke, she was not kidding like me with the parking ticket thing. She was angry with us for serving LION meat, and that was mean. Obviously it’s mean to eat a lion, I think most people would agree. So I brush it aside because at this point I’ve been in the business for 3 years, so I knew: don’t read a Yelp and get obsessed. You won’t sleep and it’s really awful. But we really, I couldn’t—I mean I did let it go.
But one of our servers, Sarah, she was hilarious because she was so blown away by this, she had to find out if A) it was real, and I knew it was real. You kind of get a feel for it after a while. B) why the hell did this woman think we were serving lion meat?
Dylan: Did it taste like lion? [Sarah] did all this research online, and what was happened was: some prestigious chef from South Africa was in town and he had literally some thousand-dollar plate underground dinner for crazy-foodie-big-game-eating-illegal-sort-of uber foodie nerd or geeky stuff.
M: Oh you know, you have… everything.
D: (Laughs) It sounds like movie, Ace Ventura Pet Detective, where they all get together and
Dylan: same vibes, yeah! “You cannot pass Go!” so this guy, this chef actually put on illegally served lion meat that was killed inhumanely or something, so it was weird and gross. Anyway, the point is the legtiable meal underground for $1000 a plate in some closed place in the basement. Somehow this woman thought this was where she was! She was at that dinner but we were this normal little restaurant in the Mission.
D: Maybe it’s the “Beast and the Hare”
Dylan: Maybe it’s the simple, cus yeah people CAN be that way. Names can be easily defined. People can be like, “I read this thing in a food blog.” Lions can be a beast, and “how dare they serve this lion!” We can still find this review, I would never ask Yelp to take down this review. That’s for sure.
M: That’s a great story.
D: One thing I want to ask about the oyster shucking: how do we know if an oyster is good or not?
Dylan: just like anything else: milk in the fridge, leftover Chinese when you’re too lazy to cook, you just smell it, really. It’s that simple. If it smells questionable, it’s … okay. But maybe you want to enjoy it, so don’t eat it. But an oyster is bad when it smells worst than when you take your cast off in the seventh grade and you smell hand—it’s worst than that. So just use your best judgement. We evolved as humans to avoid rotten food.
M: Have you ever found a pearl in your oyster?
Dylan: I have! I found three or four. So these are farm oysters that I worked with. They occurred naturally. So out of two million oysters that I have probably shucked in my life,—these guys are looking at my two farm muscles right now as I say this– (Laughs) that means this is pretty low probability that this does happen and what’s funny is that they’re weird shapes and color. So only one I’ve found actually looked like one from a necklace…
For the rest of the story, listen to the podcast!