Kevin L. Hoover
HUMBOLDT – When hungry diners sit down to dinner this fall at the many local eateries participating in the second annual Humboldt County Restaurant Week (HCRW), they’ll partake of fine food, tasty beverages and lively conversation.
Among the topics of discussion might be the bitter dispute between the culinary genius who initiated Humboldt County’s version of the event and the enterprising publisher who promoted and expanded it with a comprehensive multimedia push.
Luke Patterson, founder of Luke’s Joint on the Plaza and The Other Place on K Street, initiated Humboldt County Restaurant Week last year, formulating plans in July and August, he said, for the late-September/early October event. It promotes participating local restaurants of all kinds, from formal, “white tablecloth” dining facilities to food carts, all of which offer specially discounted meals to entice new customers to sample their fare.
Similar Restaurant Week promotions in other areas have helped stimulate restaurant business for years. New York’s Restaurant Week is entering its third decade.
Patterson acknowledges that he didn’t invent the concept. “By no means am I claiming that the idea of Restaurant Week is mine,” he said.
But, he maintains, he did first initiate HCRW in Humboldt last year. He says that when he was first getting it off the ground last year, he mentioned it to someone on the North Coast Journal’s staff. “Let’s team up and do something,” he says he suggested to the staffer. The response, he said, was “nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Patterson says he mentioned HCRW again to the Journal, and again elicited no response.
Instead of a traditional advertising push involving print media, Patterson promoted the event via a “guerilla marketing” approach, which included the humboldtcountyrestaurantweek.com website, a Facebook page and flyers.
Arcata Main Street did send out a press release, which was published at no cost in the Arcata Eye and possibly other periodicals.
Patterson said the unconventional approach – charging nothing for restaurants to participate, then promoting it without advertising expenditures – was successful.
“We did so well last year, we don’t need to advertise it,” he said. “It will feed on last year’s success.”
So it was with some dismay that Patterson received a proposal from the North Coast Journal to be part of its advertising campaign for a slightly-renamed “Humboldt Restaurant Week,” slated for October.
The Journal’s ad proposal includes a full-page ad in its annual Menu of Menus publication, five weeks of ads in advance of the event in the Journal’s print edition, a special pull-out section the week prior and a special website loaded with logos, links and other Humboldt Restaurant Week information.
The proposal would charge participating businesses $4,000 for what it claims is a $9,106 value.
Patterson was outraged. “They’re hijacking my idea, using my intellectual property,” he said. “They’re taking my idea and selling it back to me to make money off it.”
The Journal’s approach doesn’t just appropriate his concept, he said, it perverts it by turning Restaurant Week into a profit center for a newspaper rather than a cooperative effort among foodies.
“It looks like, to someone who doesn’t know, that we have endorsed this incredible fee,” Patterson said. “It makes us look exceptionally greedy.”
He noted that his NCRW was endorsed by the City of Arcata with a City Council proclamation, and has partnered with other area businesses. Unwary readers could conflate the two different Restaurant Weeks and assume the City and HCRW partners are tied in with the Journal’s effort.
“There’s so many wrong things about this, depending on what ethical prism you want to look through,” Patterson said. “It’s a kaleidoscope of wrong.”
He said he is planning legal action against the Journal, beginning with a cease-and-desist letter from his attorney. “It gives me no pleasure to do this,” Patterson said. “I feel nauseous and physically ill. It’s only come to this after at least six times declining their insistence to commandeer this idea and run with it for profit.”
The Journal view
North Coast Journal publisher Judy Hodgson offers a vastly different perspective and sequence of events. She said she developed the idea separately from Patterson, if somewhat simultaneously.
In a letter to Patterson, Hodgson explained that she told her staff about her idea for Humboldt Restaurant Week in June of last year after attending the annual Association of Alternative Newsweeklies conference in Detroit.
She then approached Patterson, she said, but was rebuffed. “We gave him a proposal to help publicize it and he got all upset and said, ‘no.’”
Hodgson extolled her business as uniquely able to magnify the Restaurant Week concept far beyond what it would otherwise be, benefitting restaurants throughout the county.
“We are a media company with the largest circulating newspaper in the county (48 percent market penetration rate),” Hodgson told Patterson in the letter. “In May we are launching a new state-of-the-art print+web+mobile website listing every restaurant with maps, photos, menus, and a food & drink blog.”
Patterson’s response, she said, has been inordinately hostile from the outset. When she heard of his Restaurant Week effort, “We went to him and said, ‘This is great. We are planning our own generic Restaurant Week to launch in 2013. Can we partner?’” Hodgson said Patterson “blew up” and became “not just rude, but verbally abusive to me and my employees.”
The opinionated Patterson is known as something of an enfant terrible among other local restaurant and business owners. He is regarded as brilliant and innovative, but also temperamental. More than one associate has fallen short of his stringent standards and felt the sting of a sharp retort.
“He’s gone off on everyone,” said another Arcata restaurant owner who asked to remain anonymous.
“He’s a fabulous chef and a genius when it comes to food,” Hodgson said. “We’re a media company. We have a perfect right to do our own Restaurant Week if we want to. I don’t think he speaks for all Arcata restaurants.”
“What’s it all about, anyway?” asked the local restaurateur. “Restaurants can advertise wherever they damn well please.”