An Open Letter to Chowhound, by Charlie Deal (detlefchef)

charlie-deal.jpg

Charlie Deal, chef-owner of Chapel Hill’s Jujube, has written an open letter to the moderators of Chowhound in response to the food forum’s unexplained policy of deleting all discussion of Jujube. This practice is based on no known policy or forum rules and has been discussed extensively on this blog and CookingEatingDurham. Following the break is what Charlie sent me, expressing his frustration with Chowhound’s action and lack of explanation.

Dear Chowhound moderators:

For several months now, you’ve been deleting all posts regarding Jujube and even deleting archived threads. I’ve actually been personally contacted by more than a few people regarding the e-mail they received explaining this policy. In short, you explain that all posts will be deleted pending investigation. Well, how long do you expect this “investigation” to continue and how long to you intend to imply that someone associated with Jujube has been wrongfully hyping the restaurant?

If anyone should understand the damning effects of implication, it is someone who hosts a consumer driven message board, where marginally qualified opinions can evolve into “facts” through the credibility given the printed word. Basically, you tell enough people that you are investigating wrong doings on the part of Jujube and eventually, they’ll just assume it’s happening. For instance, this quote is taken from one of two local food blogs that have discussed the Jujube ban.

CH has strict guidelines re self-promotion by chefs or people financially associated with them. Perhaps Charlie somehow violated these rules with regard to Jujube events. I don’t know.

Fortunately these blogs are allowing discussion on the subject, thus, I’ve been given the opportunity to explain my side of things. Of course, this is something you haven’t allowed even on the feedback or site talk boards. Why will you not permit discussion of your policies even in the section of your website seemingly devoted to that? What are you so afraid of?

Some time ago, I used the word censorship to describe what I felt you were doing in deleting specific posts of mine that took up for the industry as a whole (never, mind you, in any threads about any restaurant that I was associated with). You bristled at my use of that word, saying it implied agenda. Well, how do you explain refusing to explain why you have banned all discussion about a restaurant to the extent that you immediately delete the questions from your feedback board? How is this not agenda driven censorship?

I noticed another interesting thing when I recently went to the Site Talk board. A post praising the mods for their job well done has been locked from further comments. The only reason I can see for having done this is that you’d like to avoid having others who don’t share this same glowing endorsement of the mods bring up instances where the mods over-reached. How again is this not agenda driven censorship?

The best we have been able to come up with regarding this situation is the bit in your Posting Etiquette section that tells people who are friends of a restaurant owner not to post about it. Assuming that is the basis, this bit from the same blog referenced above is worth noting:

If that’s really their standard, then (a) Jujube is screwed, because Charlie’s so nice & approachable that just about anybody who eats there more than 3x is going to be on speaking terms with him. And (b) when are they going to start deleting Watts Grocery posts, if that’s their standard? Several folks we know have posted to Chowhound & mentioned meeting Amy, or having their names remembered by the FOH manager, etc . . .

If you actually did investigate the issue, as you claim you are doing, you might have found that nearly every “friend of Jujube” is a friend because of Jujube and that I almost never see these people except when they come to Jujube. So, once somebody comes in a few times and we get on good terms, they’re not allowed to saying nice about the place?

The good news for me is that Chowhound has developed quite the reputation for this type of behavior so many are more inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt then they are you. As illustrated here:

Here’s what they might say if you were to have a post deleted, and they were to send you one of their occasional “we deleted your post” emails:

“Sorry about this, but we’d like to explain why your posting was deleted. We are not currently accepting postings about Jujube, because we’ve seen a slew of suspicious postings about it. Your posting wasn’t suspicious at ALL, but the problem is this: if we let good posters like you post about it, it could open the door for more shenanigans. We’re not sure who’s responsible, but for the time being, we think it prudent to take this one place “off our table,” so to speak.”

I read/refresh Chowhound pretty obsessively, and I haven’t ever, in my recollection, noticed a “slew” of suspicious postings about Jujube. I even see the occasional post that winds up getting deleted a few moments later, so I feel like if there’d been a “slew” of suspicious posts, I would’ve noticed at least some of them, but I haven’t seen anything.

Reports about good meals, yes. Hard to avoid those, since Jujube is a great restaurant. But nothing that smelled fishy.

The bad news is that others might not be as diligent as this person. Some random person enjoys a meal at Jujube, discovers chowhound, decides to write about it, gets the above e-mail, does not have the context a regular poster might have, and assumes that I’m up to some sleazy self-promotion tactics.

So, I suggest you do the investigation you claim to be doing. What it will turn up is that this “slew of suspicious postings” have been made by people who regularly post (or at least did until they were turned off by your policies) on a number of Chowhound boards. These were not people who appeared out of nowhere, said something great about Jujube, and then vanished as quickly.

Either that, or quit implying that you are conducting this investigation.

Charlie Deal
aka detlefchef

Proprietor/Chef

Jujube Restaurant.

 

Attached urls of referenced blogs

http://durhamfood.wordpress.com/2007/10/18/jujube-chowhound/#comments

http://varmintbites.com/

 

Photo of Charlie Deal courtesy of Pop The Cap North Carolina

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37 Responses to An Open Letter to Chowhound, by Charlie Deal (detlefchef)

  1. Joe says:

    Noted and linked. It’s nice of you to give Mr. Deal a forum. Thanks.

  2. detlef says:

    Yes Dean, thanks for doing this. It’s satisfying to get this off my chest.

  3. Alex says:

    Glad to hear that people are supporting Mr. Deal in this rather ridiculous hoorah. Anyone know who owns/administers Chowhound?

  4. Varmint says:

    Chowhound is now owned by CNET Networks. This type of moderation existed when it was solely owned by Jim Leff, and I don’t sense any changes have been made. Again, this type of censorship/moderation has been well documented on Eater. This is just the first time it has really affected anyone locally.

  5. Varmint says:

    Here are a few other sites that discuss Chowhound bans.

    Becks & Posh

    Gastronomie

    LA Food Blogging

    Flyin Saucier

    MeatHenge

    Chubby Panda — long, detailed story

  6. I'mHONGREEE says:

    any press is good press

  7. detlef says:

    FWIW, it’s been 48 hours since I sent my letter via e-mail to C-hound. While I got a auto-reponse to the effect that the issue is being looked at, I’ve heard nothing else since.

    I understand why it might not be in their best interest to have this sort of matter debated in the open. After all, there might be plenty of people who are unaware of their policies and would be turned off if they knew. However, for them to refuse to even speak to me privately about this is disgraceful. Knowing how quickly these people are at jumping on “offending posts”, I have a hard time believig that somebody wouldn’t have addressed me personally in 2 days.

    Once again, their continued implication that I’ve done something wrong and refusal to bother looking into it any further is what really pisses me off.

  8. Chubbypanda says:

    You know, you might have a case with defamation of character or something. I’m not a legal scholar, but you might want to look into it. At the very least, you might be able to get them to alter their standard form letter when they delete posts about Jujube to make it clear that they’re not accusing you or the restaurant of wrongdoing.

  9. Joe says:

    They might feel that, if they’re going to address the issue fully, they need to figure out how to do it. This is all supposition, but: Are they going to stop deleting reviews? Are they going to put up a list of places they simply don’t accept reviews for? Whatever they do, how are they going to implement it so that it doesn’t appear arbitrary or capricious or like they’ve got it in for someone?

    Having said that: Yes, it would sure be nice if they e-mailed you (or whatever) and said something like “Yes, we’re going to do something, but we don’t yet know what.” Do we know whether the article got any further than an auto-responder? A real human may not have even seen it yet. I hate autoresponders. They don’t do what people think they’ll do, at least not for everyone.

  10. detlefchef says:

    Well, chubbypanda brings up something that I had been thinking but was afraid to mention myself. It would seem that it is the responsibility of someone who hosts an on-line forum to actually follow through on any accusations they make about alleged wrong-doings on the part of merchants.

    In terms of Joe’s response. One would think that they might have figured out what they were going to do about this in 6 mos. The 48 hours since I personally contacted them is one thing, but they’ve been implying that I may have acted inappropriately for some time now and one should expect that they were obliged to actually look into and determine if that was actually happening by now.

  11. Varmint says:

    Of course, Charlie could sue, but that’s not going to get him anywhere. It’s not like his restaurant has been economically hurt as a result — or rather, it’s highly unlikely that he could PROVE that Jujube has been hurt.

    I’m quite certain they know about this. I’ve even noticed that someone from a CNET.com IP address has been visiting this blog. In the end, however, they just don’t care. It’s their site, their moderators, and their rules (although unclear or unwritten ones).

  12. Joe says:

    Well, I hope they are in fact doing something. If reposting the letter at my site (instead of just linking to it) would help, I’ll be happy to do so. But yeah, you deserve some kind of answer, and it wold be really nice if the way they were doing things (both the way they handle the post deletion junk and your note to them) didn’t leave you hanging, and feeling like your restaurant is operating under some kind of cloud.

    I know this has been touched on elsewhere, but perhaps if an independent entity were to list everyplace that is banned by Chowhound, it would both put pressure on them and let others know that “If you post about X on Chowhound, it’s gonna get deleted.” It might also help lift the stigma of the “investigation” bs. Perhaps that’s just too much work, especially on a national basis. Again, I don’t post on Chowhound, so I’m kinda talking out of my @$$ here.

  13. durhamfood says:

    Posting a list of banned restaurants somewhere sounds like a good idea. The list of discussions of these ridiculous bans above could help get that idea get started.

    Personally, I’m planning on posting on Chowhound a full account of the Jujube Chef’s table that a number of us will be enjoying in a few weeks.

    I’d also be happy to post the entire text of the letter on my blog too.

  14. feistync says:

    1. i am so disappointed in chowhound – that’s the first place i visit for recommendations in my mission (when i get to plan in advance).
    2. i am looking forward to visiting jujube! i’ll make that my orange county restaurant.
    3. i hope you don’t mind – i posted a link to your blog on mine.

  15. Nibbs says:

    I’ve got to say that I can remember seeing JJB cut down on either e-gullet or chowhound (by someone who I think didn’t know Charlie is often on), and I didn’t see a response from Charlie at all. And that, to me, was classy. His food is his defense.

    It is great to think that there are chefs out there reading all comments, good and bad, on their restaurants AND participating discussions on the board. I’m all for requiring honesty and integrity on the boards, but this policy doesn’t seem to be an effective measure to provide it. All it seems to do is to discourage chef’s from participating, which is a shame.

    A note on Watts – I wanted to like Watts food the first time I was there; But I didn’t, and posted as much. As much to give feedback TO the restaurant as ON it – Because I know that they’re listening. I just hope that they’re listening to E-Gullet as well, since I think I’ll be moving my occasional postings back there from now on. And THAT ought to catch CNET’s attention. So Chowhound – Finish this investigation and restore the JJB posts.

  16. Alison says:

    I wrote a review of my birthday dinner at Jujube on CH back in March. Part of the 2 apps, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, 2 glass of wine, glass of port, glass of dessert wine meal description included an extra app sent over compliments of the chef (I had mentioned in my reservation request that it was my birthday celebration).

    Another CH’er told me about a post that he’d seen before it, and the entire thread, got pulled… someone had posted a snarky comment about having to know Charlie in order to get a good meal.

    Really really quickly afterwards, all mention of Jujube was obviously banned.

    The only way I “know” Charlie is by repeatedly having been to his restaurant – and the only reason I would part with my money repeatedly at a place is if I love the food and service. The fact that CH blacklisted the place is utter BS.

  17. Kathleen Purvis says:

    This is very interesting, in light of our recent experiences. We recently had posts removed as well. Someone started a thread complaining about The Observer’s restaurant coverage. After it went on about a week, I asked Helen Schwab, the restaurant reviewer, to reply. She did so in what I thought was a professional, friendly manner, and she invited anyone who wanted to discuss The Observer’s restaurant coverage to contact her. Her post was deleted. We both contacted the moderators to protest — after all, she was replying to criticism of her work, so ought to be able to speak up for herself. We were told that asking people to contact her constituted “marketing of a publication.” The policy on posts is so draconian to be obscene. I now have a policy of no longer replying to any Chowhound threads.

  18. detlef says:

    For those keeping score at home. After my second letter to Chowhound…

    Jujube take 2:

    Your failure to even respond to my e-mail is puzzling. You may know by now that a number of Triangle area food blogs are discussing the ban on discussion of Jujube. Perhaps you are irritated at the rather frank criticisms being levied against Chowhound by myself in particular.

    Of course, I’m not sure how you’d expect anyone, about whom there have been implications of wrong doing, should act when the group making those implications refuses to even address the issue either publicly or privately. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. Not only am I being excluded from one of the forums where people discuss good places to eat, but my good name is being questioned whenever anyone tries to post something. Honestly, you must have some reason to believe this is justified and I hardly think it unfair for you to, at very least, contact me about this.

    Honestly, what exactly are you trying to accomplish here? I understand that you want to keep your site “hype free”, that’s fine. If you have reason to believe that somebody is abusing the site, look into it. But, you should really, in fact, look into it not just say you are.

    Charlie Deal
    Jujube Restaurant

    …I finally got a non-automated response. It is as follows:

    Unfortunately, we’ve been backed into a corner on this one because our private communications on this matter have been made public. Since we don’t make public announcements on these sorts of issues, and private communication is not possible, we will have no further comment on this.

    I don’t exactly understand what they are saying. It does seem rather cryptic. The best I can determine is that they are upset that people have been posting their “private” communications on the subject. It should be noted, however, that every posted e-mail from Chowhound has been a form letter. When I followed some of the above links to other people complaining about Chowhound, the letters were exactly the same as, for instance, the one that Ross Grady posted. Thus, this was hardly some intimate communication that was intended for Ross’ eyes only and he somehow violated their trust by showing it to all of us.

    Whatever…

  19. Joe says:

    Now they’re just making themselves look both stupid and spiteful. I know the corner they’re in — they’re trying to have it both ways: — be a common carrier and moderate discussions at the same time. But they make it sound as if others have put them in a bad position. In my opinion, the corner they’ve “been backed into” is one of their own design. And insulting you (Charlie) in that backhand way just makes it worse.

    A couple weeks ago, I put up a link to Chowhound. I’ve now taken it down.

  20. Varmint says:

    That response doesn’t surprise me at all, as they’re trying to shift the blame on others. There seems to be a sense of infallibility at most discussion sites, where the moderators refuse to admit they screwed up.

    Maybe we need to start a new site: http://www.chowhoundsucks.com (Edit — Oh, crap, someone already started that site, and it may not be entirely appropriate for work!)

  21. durhamfood says:

    I just took down my link to CH. I’ve had enough of them. I haven’t posted anything on there in a few weeks.

    I think we should spread the word as much as possible regarding this, and ask local foodies we know well to not post on CH any longer. This is more than unfair.

  22. durhamfood says:

    I just put up another post on the issue…

  23. […] Chowhound did not reply to Charlie’s open letter, he recently sent another: Your failure to even respond to my e-mail is puzzling. You may know by […]

  24. Varmint says:

    I forgot to mention that earlier this month there was a brief discussion on Chowhound about best dumplings in the Triangle, and when someone mentioned Jujube’s dumplings, the entire discussion was deleted. I’m almost tempted to encourage everyone reading this to suggest Jujube for every single Triangle-related thread to see how the moderators handle that. I’m sure they’d yank our posting privileges, but what a fun prank it would be.

  25. […] An Open Letter to Chowhound, by Charlie […]

  26. Tom from Raleigh says:

    I can’t believe the level of scrutiny CH has. I posted a reference to “that Asian fusion place next to Bin 54” and the post was deleted. Not only will the not allow reference by name, but now even the idea of Jujube must be expunged.

  27. troubledbychow says:

    Well. I dont know what the chowhound is attempting to achieve, but i guarantee you if you contact them directly with an offer $$ they will not only keep all of the threads but also will allow a slack sh**t job of nearly blatant advertising. I really dont know why it still has such a HIGH PR on search engines while they are doing the opposite of what they present themselves as…. If someone (doesnt matter who) makes a thread about the restaurant, it will be deleted on suspision of self promo. Well, x-cuse me CHOW on a D**ck – how do you know (ip of poster etc does not matter… it could be easily adjusted for)? So, again how do you know whether post is legit or fake? ? ? assumption has a clear ASS in it – and that’s what CHOW is about… If you dont pay them money directly – they will not promote your business nor allow even the customer experiences to be expressed if it looks like a promotion to them .

  28. troubledbychow says:

    again they are not the only source to discuss the restaurants. I believe that YELP, eventful ETC have a better service and overall ajax / js works much better than on chowhound – creating a more pleasing experience. So, why this sh*t site still has a top rank i dont know.. they really do not deserve it – just like PPC and other pay for ad websites…

  29. TxFoodie says:

    I had similar issues with CH. I replied to threads with info about a restaurant I had worked at. I openly disclosed I had worked there and provided whatever insight I had (all positive). I then reviewed a new restuarant they had opened – again positive. You guessed it, all posts were deleted and I got a “nice” email asking me to never write about the restaurant again. Now imagine this, what if I had never mentioned I’d worked there? How would they have known? What a stupid policy. They can only enforce it against the honest folks or worse give up and totally blacklist a restaurant like they’ve done to Jujube. I no longer use CH. Sometimes I miss it but whenever I think about them I get so mad that I just find some other source (like yelp) to use.

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