29 January 2010

An Open Letter to Jacques Torres, Chocolatier

Cher Monsieur Torres,

To begin, please let me express how much I love all of your products; your chocolate is my absolute favorite!

I am writing to recount to you a somewhat unsettling thing that transpired during my most recent visit to your store on Hudson Street, where I drop in about once a week. The day was Thursday, January 28, around 3:00 in the afternoon. As my friend and I were sitting in the store enjoying a couple hot chocolates and a cookie, we noticed that the famous actor Paul Rudd (whose appearances include “Anchorman,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and “Knocked Up”) had just entered with his young son and a few friends.

As you know, “celebrity” sightings are a fairly common—almost quotidian—occurrence in New York, particularly in such fashionable neighborhoods as Soho. And indeed, it is undoubtedly due to the sheer frequency of such encounters that the staff behind the counter registered no visible surprise, shock, or awe at whom they were serving; they simply treated him as an ordinary customer—no more, no less.

It was then, sir, that things took a turn for the absurd. No sooner had Mr. Rudd placed his order on behalf of his little boy (I believe it was cocoa) than the store manager popped up from behind the counter, as perky as a spring bouquet, exclaiming, “Hi! I just wanted to say hi!” She then announced to the increasingly confused-looking Mr. Rudd that his order was “on the house.” Despite his protests, the manager would have none of it, explaining, “Jacques always gives chocolate to children!” Mind you, Mr. Rudd wasn’t the only one who was confused by this odd behavior—one of his friends chimed in, only half-joking, “Hey, why don’t I get free chocolate, too?”

The manager, at this point painting the very portrait of a star-struck Times Square tourist, proceeded to make Mr. Rudd’s hot chocolate herself, as if the regular barrista were unfit to provide him with the VIP service he deserved as the veritable icon of the silver screen that he was.

In short, my friend and I found it rather unprofessional that your manager reacted to this encounter with celebrity in such an over-the-top manner, which also happened to implicitly devalue the rest of us “ordinary” customers who a) actually paid for our experience at the store, and b) had our drinks prepared by the (otherwise very capable) regular barrista. The number of B-, C-, and D-list celebrities in Soho is legion. For their sake and that of the rest of your customers, I hope that this sort of spectacle is not the norm each time one of them happens to drop into your store.

With very best regards, and compliments once more on your wonderful products—