It was also very much on my and my business partners’ minds almost twenty years ago, which is why I’m compelled to share my point of view on a topic that, for the community, goes bone deep.
In 1995-96, the decision makers (myself included) of The Chef’s Garden and Truffles perceived that things were broken. So in a naïve move our solution was to toss them out and rename and rebrand the place as Terra.
We didn’t make this decision lightly. Terra was a well thought-out change. Numerous hours were put in by a collection of public relations professionals, marketers and very astute and knowledgeable people who joined forces to create this new image. Our objective was to adapt so we could be positioned to do well for the next decades to come.
Nice idea…but it did not work.
Obviously, my Terra story is reflective of what we’re seeing at the Naples Philharmonic (aka Artis-Naples, aka the Phil). Over the last 40 years, I’ve been involved in helping many entities that faced the “Is it really broken issue.” My guess is that the recent recession had an adverse affect on The Phil, as it did for all of us. It’s also possible the original funders (or founders) were tiring of feeding the kitty and perhaps also tired of being the sole supporters of what they created. The Phil was in no way broken irreparably. Did it need a major kick in the seat? I have no idea. What I do know is that the current scenario is basically untenable.
Because of the Terra experience, I also know that any alteration of a recognizable brand, especially in a small community like ours, can have a huge and perpetual backlash.
So then why, when faced with an image challenge, do we too often think that throwing out the baby with the bathwater is the solution? Instead of creating a new image, we should be looking inward and outward to determine the real reasons for whatever maladies exist.
I admit, I don’t know all the details of what’s going on over at Artis-Naples, and most of us probably will never truly know the reasons for the brand change, or the impetus that necessitated a change. But I am certain that the mess they created looks very similar to the one we created some seventeen years ago, and for this I give my empathy.
It’s unfortunate because I know parties on both sides of the fence well. I admire Myra Daniels for everything she accomplished and single-handedly created. I wish the board had reached out to veteran businesses owners in the area like myself to gain a better understanding of the public’s temperament before employing such a drastic change.
The simple reality is that The Chef’s Garden and The Phil might have been a little broken and perhaps needed a little cosmetic work – but a drastic abandonment of a beloved brand was not the answer.
Like the Phil board, our intentions were great: a new image and new concept to face the future. Yet in reality, all we should have done was think very hard about our own failings and take care of them. That is what lasting institutions do.
The bruises have healed for us and I love where Ridgway Bar & Grill and Tony’s Off Third are today. I consider myself fortunate that the law of unintended consequences brought us on this very circuitous path. It was a tough lesson, but a necessary one as it helped us become better at what we do.
And yet hardly a day goes by that Truffles is not mentioned. For nostalgia, there is a little sign in the garden that says “The Chef’s Garden” in its trademark pink and green color scheme. A daily reminder in an idyllic place!
The restaurant world and the music world share much in common. We’re both here to entertain and please our guests and to enrich their lives.
The Artis -Naples will survive. I’m not sure where it all will go, but I sense the hyperbole is only building and that its bruises will take some time to heal.
For me, I now know that subtle and meaningful change is often the best solution.
And that’s why on June 1st of each year I begin the process of planning the next year’s menu. It is also the time when I reflect on the past year and where we stand. Sometimes I make substantive changes to the menu to be certain we are current with food trends. Last year I worked extensively on Ridgway’s menu and this year Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar is the target for some updating.
Every year I also meet with the cooks and talk about processes and procedures. We discuss how to cook each product and what to look for in detail. We also adapt some of the flavor profiles and this nurtures our creativity. We have fun re-learning the basics.
I live in the Satchel Paige world where I simply assume there is someone trying to gain on me and ultimately pass me by! I do look over my shoulders, however. With all of the new restaurants opening, and some I’ve been to have excellent food, it is important to keep up and always try to improve.
I certainly don’t want to repeat the past where we closed two classic Naples institutions in order to open my only regrettable restaurant. Sometimes we forget where we are and how we got there. Thankfully, we can learn from our past mistakes and avoid the behavior and decisions that caused them. I wish our friends at Artis-Naples had the same foresight.
I look forward to seeing you soon at Ridgway Bar & Grill and Tony’s off Third and celebrating food and wine and our common love of all arts.