It was the beautifully crafted wooden sign in the distance that caught my eye. Arriving, I pulled in, parked in front of the diner, shut the car off and sat for a moment. It was still early, but these places open at the crack of dawn. Always. So, I wanted to get the feel of this business before I went on to my next writing assignment. It was to be a visit of two eateries in one day. My first one was the local diner, The Bauernof, and the second one was the newly opened restaurant on the other side of town, Regal Royalty. I heard that new place has brought in an upscale city vibe, after only being in the area for a short time. It was pricy for the average local person, but the restaurant was seeing an overflow of out of towners since it was in the scenic tour guide of New Hampshire’s best of the best. That crowd brought in the big bucks. How to capture this unique scene in a good way, on paper, was key. It needed to blend somehow with the rural character of this quaint town. I would not and could not blow the story out of proportion. Making it larger than life was not my aim. Two totally different eateries serving guests in their own unique way, would be the way to capture the feel of local first, tourism second. Unfortunately, from what has already been reported, Regal Royalty was more than just the top chef upscale food place to go, it was ‘who’ was dining there with an important status or claim to fame.
Since I had more than a TV dinner mentality, my boss put me on this story. I began writing for our town newspaper when it started from scratch some years ago. Back then it was a compilation of whatever each of us offered and brought to the table but in a story of interest for the community. I found people to interview at a local shop, the town hall, or the dog park who just liked to chat which led to finding something in our conversation to write about leading to a compelling story. It is a trait that I have developed, to engage anyone in a fun way that opened the door to want to share what was going on in their world, whether it was at the office, home or somewhere else. There was always a connection woven into the story that resonated with town folks. This would be my first assignment in another town, as it was a new investment of interest to our expanding publication area.
With notebook in hand, my audio recording up to date on my smart phone, I ventured into the diner. First impressions are lasting impressions and what I felt was real; the soft glow of the lights, country music playing, and the best subtle aroma of a blend of baked fruit, ginger and cinnamon spices. Serve me up! A young lady greeted me and said, “Good morning. Just sit anywhere you like.” I hung my coat on an old-fashioned coat rack then proceeded to slide into the nearest tiny booth as she poured me a fresh hot cup of Joe. It was a cute booth for two and a spot that would be really nice to share a breakfast with someone special. The window looked out onto the east side where the sun was just creeping up. You could pay me a million bucks for that view. It was just a moment that made me relax, and to ponder life in the day ahead. All that while enjoying my first dark roast coffee of the day. I looked around at the homey feel of the place with decorated lanterns, the right color palette everywhere and the timeless wooden décor. The young lady came back and offered to refill my cup, asking if I would like to see a menu. I thanked her but wanted to know if the owner was available. We were interested in highlighting this unique diner by offering an upcoming story for the town newspaper, I told her with a smile. She only slightly smiled in response and said, “I’ll be right back.” That was it. Hmm. I got the feeling something was off but knew to wait and not critique my instincts. Yet.
The owner, an older woman who I knew by name only as, Mariam Goodnow, came out of the kitchen. She paused to speak quietly to the young lady, and I saw her head nodding. I am sure the owner was addressing the daily to-do list to keep ahead of the food requests of the morning customers as the door now opened more frequently. As she passed several older gentlemen, she smiled and welcomed them, giving them a hearty pat on the back. Regulars were my guess, and that was a good sign. Note taken.
I went to stand up and she waved, “Freut mich! Please, stay, I will sit with you. I never seem to get a minute by myself, so I’ll enjoy this moment.”
I thanked her and began my intro telling her of my story idea for the newspaper and our opportunity to shed some positive light on this diner and the other new restaurant in town.
That is when I saw a light go out. I was perplexed when she folded her hands, her lips pressed tight together, and she looked off to the side.
“I take it I said something that was not agreeable. Are you okay with a story and a promotion of your diner? It seems like everyone around here loves The Bauernhof. I am so ready to write a great reflection of your place, to highlight your farm to table efforts and by supporting local.” I apologized by being too blunt, but she stopped me before I said more.
Two pieces of Bienenstich Kuchen were suddenly on the table. My jaw dropped, as this was my grandmother’s prize treat, always. Mariam smiled. “Please, let’s take a moment before we talk. I have a feeling that you might like my family recipe.” She could not help but grin at my little kid reaction. “Guten appetit!”
With satisfied happiness, I finished the unexpected treat and thanked Mariam heartily. “You already made my day! I hope I can do the same for you with a nice writeup piece for the paper.”
Mariam sighed and told me something surprisingly sad.
When she finished revealing what prompted her emotions to take ahold of what she felt strongly about, I was in shock. It seemed like the new restaurant, Regal Royalty, was focusing on reviews and literally created a “vanity plate” to keep enticing a steady entourage of high-class customers to their restaurant. I did some digging and discovered that the posted comments for the diner on the same promotional advertising site as the restaurant were given very poor marks by way of fake reviews while the new restaurant was applauded for bringing its upscale quality improvements to the tourism market. High reviews = lots of money.
By the time I left, she had my assurance that the story written for The Bauernhof would be far above the one for Regal Royalty. Two can play the game and whoever is marketing under false pretenses to trash another’s business would pay the cost in what is known as the actual truth.
Now on to the next story book chapter with Regal Royalty. What will that reveal?
It was now mid-morning as I pulled into their parking area located a fair distance away. The entry sign stated the front door was only for VIP. So, the back door was for the nobodies? I guess it was too early for a formal escort to meet and greet a guest and to provide their weekend famous horse and carriage ride to the main entrance. I strode up and with panache, opened the front door and walked right into the building. Immediately, I was confronted by someone with a very negative tone in the way he spoke to me.
“Excuse me.” He came right over, blocking my view of the door to the dining area. “Is there something I can help you with?” With arms folded, he faced me, turned his lip up and I couldn’t help but just smile in exchange for that lovely first impression. And he was the manager?
“Good morning!” I cheerfully introduced myself and extended my hand as I explained the reason being here at this early hour. I drew my hand back since that was not a receptive gesture. I mentioned the owner by name and asked if he had time in his schedule for an interview. I mentioned the story about the restaurant that I was in the process of writing for the newspaper’s special feature section.
The man, who didn’t bother to mention his name only said, “Wait here.” Oh, boy. This was a whole lot different than I expected. Ten minutes went by, and this same person approached and told me to follow him. Great. We walked through a darkened hallway, turned and went down a flight of stairs. Is this the basement? He turned a light on and at the next door stopped and knocked. A voice answered to come in, and the manager only gave me a chin up to follow behind. This was not at all what I thought.
Apparently, this was the restaurant’s main office which included the security videos in and around the entire building and the property. The owner at least was more cordial than his manager, as he stood, introduced himself and shook my hand. Big surprise there.
He spoke first. “Well, I hear there will be a story in the newspaper giving us some more publicity highlighting the upcoming tourist season. Do I have that right? Our 5-star reviews have been excellent.” I agreed and further explained the reason for my visit.
“A few minutes would be okay. I’m sure you already know how we have already expanded our image to meet the demands of the tourists. We give more to get more, if you know what I mean. Unlike some other place nearby that can’t seem to get enough people through their barn door.” He laughed at his own humorous way to criticize The Bauernhof. He proceeded to rub his fingers together to mimic the money factor. “We’ll go through the upstairs gala area for a quick tour.”
Following him back upstairs, I couldn’t help but feel the unwelcome vibe. He paused by a fancy door and told me, “Please don’t touch anything. We have an important private guest list this evening and everything needs to be according to our standards of elegance.” Okay, I get it. We went through several rooms so I could get a sense of the décor and ambiance. It was like lusterless frosting on a cake, crusty, icy, and overly sweetened. I pretended to be excited in writing the review and gave him a thumbs up as I was escorted out the front door. Walking back to the car, I could only shake my head in amazement of the personalities of everyone including some of the wait staff. Several watched us by giving me the stink eye with added smirks. I guess the word was out about how, in their smug opinion, we were trying to make Regal Royalty a big story only to use the restaurant to make the newspaper more popular. They had no idea how my first impression was going to be a game changer. I can and will write a story without reservation or hesitation. The owner’s fake way to glamourize every square inch of the place didn’t sit well with me. It was all just eyewash. Star reviews? You’d better believe it. I’ll clear that fake bright sky and bring in the real picture. Storm clouds.