Longtime China resident Cam MacMurchy, who ran the well-respected Zhongnanhai blog for several years before co-founding The Nanfang earlier this year, is nothing if not a reasonable and fair writer. We’ve watched from afar as The Nanfang, a community-driven website covering the Pearl River Delta, has steadily grown, expanding its listings every week while continuing to produce interesting content on its blog.
But you know what they say about media: you haven’t made it until you’re notorious, and you’re not notorious until you’ve pissed people off. This week, The Nanfang has made it.
Here’s a story of honest words, hurt feelings, empty threats, and expat blowback — and wrapped up in all of it, perhaps a cautionary tale for restaurant owners everywhere. As MacMurchy tells it:
One for the Road has contacted us regarding our review, in which one of our staff visited One for the Road and wrote about their experience. In our view, the review was fair and based on the writer’s impressions of the food quality, ambiance, price, and service. The review attracted several comments, with some explicitly disagreeing with the review’s conclusions. Those comments all remain on the site and can be reviewed here.
The owner of One for the Road, Jason Cakebread, contacted us to dispute the review and requested us remove the bar’s listing and event information from The Nanfang.
A few emails were then exchanged, in which Cakebread slowly but surely loses his composure. It’s like watching water boil. As documented on The Nanfang, Cakebread’s first email to MacMurchy begins:
You are entitled to write any form of review you wish about what ever establishment you wish.
However, I never gave you idiots permission to place One for the Road or her events in your website.
We do not want our good name associated with your sorry excuse of a website/magazine.
And then he drops a curse:
As I said, write any review you wish as the people who have gone to One for the Road know it’s full of shit.
Followed by, of course, a threat (Ed’s note, 6:44 pm: for clarification, the threat here refers to Cakebread’s desire to have The Nanfang remove his establishment from its listings, a strange request that reeks of nose-cutting to spite the face):
If this is not done we will pursue the matter further as we have consulted our lawyer who says we have grounds to sue.
MacMurchy responds with a kindly written albeit slightly long email, in which he states:
We hope to work cooperatively with One for the Road going forward. We receive substantial traffic from overseas and Hong Kong, specifically from people who are unfamiliar with Dongguan and are looking for a place to eat, have a beer, and relax. Many of these people stumble upon your bar’s listing page, and I have no doubt that many have visited your bar as a result. We have the legal right to list your bar’s information on our website, however would regretfully remove it as a courtesy should you restate your request to do so.
For a second, or a minute, there is hope for a tenuous truce, a belated understanding. Cakebread’s anger thus allayed, hatchets buried, the respective parties put their heads togeth…
Your review was absolute shod, we are not just here for hangovers greasy food burgers and mash!
Oh. Nevermind then.
You can see the place this is headed, and that place is all-caps:
PLEASE BELIEVE ME I HAVE ALREADY CONSULTED OUR LAWYER AND ANYONE THAT KNOWS ME WILL TELL YOU I WILL FOLLOW THROUGH!
We’re guessing MacMurchy chuckled a little before sending his reply, another long, polite email that concludes:
I’d like to reiterate that we have a legal right to list public venues in a database of bars and restaurants. We do this as a service to both our readership and our bar and restaurant partners. As of today, we have over 1,000 venues – many of which are in Dongguan – comprising the largest English-language bar and restaurant database in the Pearl River Delta. Our readers have found us to be a very useful resource, and we will continue to be so with or without One for the Road in our listings. As a courtesy and according to your request, will will remove One for the Road listings and event information within the next 24 hours.Best of luck with the restaurant.Regards,Cam.
Do you want to take a gander on who comes out of this looking better?
If you are ever in Dongguan, never ever visit One for The Road bar / restaurant bit.ly/TSGMWP @zhongnanhai
— Jeremy Goldkorn 金玉米 (@goldkorn) October 24, 2012
But could Cakebread have known, all along, exactly what he was doing? As a businessman, his response certainly makes him look overly sensitive, childish, and petty, but might his restaurant come out stronger for it? You know what they say about publicity, I’m sure. There’s no such thing as the bad kind.
Perhaps time will tell. In any case, we want to give One for the Road a fair shake — here’s its website.
As someone who enjoys writing book, restaurant, and venue reviews, I must say the the review of OFTR seemed balanced. You should point out the good with the bad and be honest in your reviews. Reviews are completely subjective from person to person and every experience will be different. Also, no one needs permission to post a review of anything so I’m not sure why Cakebread’s “lawyer” would tell him he had basis to sue (though, working for a computer game company that gets lawsuit threats daily, it’s amazing how “lawyered up” people suddenly are when they get ticked off).
You are probably right, though, about the publicity this is generating. I never would have heard about The Nanfang or OFTR if you hadn’t posted about it.
Clarification appended: Cakebread was threatening The Nanfang with legal action if it did not remove OFTR from its listings, not the review itself. It’s an incredibly bizarre request, one that I’m not going to pretend to understand from a business standpoint.
Why do all the men in that One For The Road photo have pink, fat faces? Is this the kind of expats who patron One For The Road? I can just imagine it: “Arrr, blimey, them cunts at Nanfang! Pass me another ale. Arrr…”
That Cakebread guy seems more than a little nutty, but I’m not surprised, and doubt it’s the whole story. The Nanfang may be an attractive website, but it hasn’t made the best name for itself in the PRD, thanks to some shady and preferential practices in its listings. If the rumors are true, then that blanket professionalism is just a ruse for snarky condescension and good old fashioned, SEO-whoring publicity.
This happens plenty in Shanghai – Malone’s, Bubba’s… they get a bad review from either an individual or a middling review from the magazine and suddenly all-hell-and-your-mother breaks loose.
There is almost literally no way for the restaurant owner to come out looking anything other than contrite. Be polite, fair and honest and everything will be okay.
That review was not too bad at all.
He should have made a mild complaint about the greasy reference and told them that lasagna takes a long time to prepare (which is does, I waited with friends forever in Hangzhou recently for the lasagna to arrive).
Then he should have made sure his service is better. That’s it.