But actually, it turns out that having a BBQ joint is the ultimate way to be judged and critiqued. Every day you open your doors to the public is an opportunity to be scored, rated and reviewed. I never claimed to have the best BBQ, but I endeavour every day to create the most authentic BBQ I can. Some days I nail it, the combination of that piece of meat, the smoke, the heat, my timing in all the critical moments of the cooking process is perfect and the product is magic. We cook pork butts, briskets, pork ribs, beef ribs, chickens, sausages and sometimes others all at the same time and to a deadline - to get it out to my customers. Sometimes we win and what goes out into the restaurant is the BBQ magic. Sometimes just one of those elements from the core product to the smoke, cook time, resting or the rest is off and the product is less than perfect. Sometimes I or my pit team fall short and it breaks my heart. I want desperately for every person to get the best of what we do and every day I go into Red Gum thinking about and working toward making that happen. My sides are authentically southern, many are family recipes and I love them. We cut our fries by hand from potatoes that we have researched and tested. We cut, blanch, fry and serve every day. They are not bought in frozen, we make them each day, and did I mention they are cooked in beef fat. O.K fries are not O.K. We endeavour to make the best fries we can and sometimes we fall short, but we try our best.
I am so incredibly proud of my business, the food, the space, the look and feel, our ethics and of course my staff. It is better than I could have ever imagined, and my wife is to thank for that. We dreamed it up together, but she made it a reality. Anyway, what I am trying to get at is that Red Gum BBQ is an extension of me, my family, it is not a nameless faceless business but is owned by people who care, who feel and who have risked it all to follow a dream.
This leads me onto Easter 2018. Easter was tough, probably the most tough we have had it in a while. One of our key members of staff left us just days before the weekend, a number of our most experienced staff were granted leave without our knowledge, to say we were understaffed was an understatement. Melissa had to cover lots of shifts and worked herself into oblivion, but she is a legend and soldiered on, never wanting to let me or others down. We have had a lot great press recently, we were on Channel 9’s Postcards, we have had a Broadsheet, a Herald Sun and an Urban list article written about us and there has been a bit of a buzz surrounding the business for quite some time. This combination of factors colluded to create the storm that was Easter 2018. We were busy, super-duper busy, in fact the busiest we have ever been. Many folks who came had a wonderful time, they ate, they laughed, they were merry. They told us how much they enjoyed themselves, how they loved the food, the vibe and that they would be back with all their friends. And some, did not.
That feeling of knowing that you are doing your best and that you are falling short is tough to take. Flogging yourself and knowing that you failed is painful, the desire and want to do right by people and not being able to do so, is agonising. Whilst many had great times the ones that did not haunt you. In the days that followed Easter we heard from people who didn’t enjoy their time with us. They called, sent emails, wrote facebook messages, reviews via facebook, Trip Advisor, Google Business and Open Table. Where we could hear it, we heard it. They left their one-star review and essays about why their experience was less than average. They told us why we sucked. Some considerately, most, far from it. They were angry and frustrated and accusatory. We were 'greedy' and 'horrible' and 'misrepresented ourselves on Postcards in order to manipulate people.' And many had lots of valid points. We know that some food went out colder than it should due to not having enough runners. Sometimes drinks came after meals because we were short staffed, the toilets got neglected due to being under the pump and focusing on bodies and food in front of us. I am sorry about that. Sincerely and honestly. I am sorry that we ran out of meat and ruined people’s dinner plans. I know a 15% surcharge on a public holiday is a lot, but our staff need to get paid by the award rate and if we don't do this on these days, we can’t open. I know glasses were backed up as our dishwasher broke down and kept tripping the circuit breaker. I know that our fries weren’t up to standard as the busyness consumes and standards drop. I know that the Red Gum experience was not what I demand it to be and that my offering was diminished and for this I am honestly and genuinely sorry.
Every 1 star review I receive I take personally, I read it, I lament, and I learn. Today we had a leadership meeting purely focused on Easter 2018. We read every piece of negative feedback - from the food, to the building, to the service and it hurt, it was painful. What was interesting though was that there was no blame but rather solutions. We all recognised that this was not us, nor what we wanted to be. Negative feedback can be hard to hear but I think what is important is to own and learn from your mistakes, in this moment we tried our best, but we fell short. We now have a plan and hopefully we won’t make the same mistakes again, but I can’t say for sure we will not. We will continue to grow, learn and do better.