Slick, sleek & slimy

I have fond mem­o­ries, though my cho­les­terol lev­el does not, of eat­ing at D’Best Sandwich Shop in Boca Raton. It’s been a few years, but as I  re­cent­ly munched on a Miami Cuban-style cheeses­teak1 my mind start­ed wan­der­ing and I got to won­der­ing if D’Best still ex­ist­ed. As I went look­ing for their web­site, I re­called a few of their re­gion­al twists on the cheeses­teak, like the New York style, a New Jersey style… not to men­tion their in­cred­i­ble non-steak ex­plo­sion of an en­tire Thanksgiving meal di­rect­ly on­to a bun (D’Pilgrim).

D’Best still ex­ists, al­right… but I was tru­ly un­pre­pared for what I found.

You see, back when I’d vis­it, D’Best-the-subshop was a place you’d leave coat­ed with a thin lay­er of grill grease. Had to wait in line? You’re wash­ing your hair tonight. The place was by no means messy, but it had a cer­tain un­fin­ished qual­i­ty to it… def­i­nite­ly the kind of place where the food mat­ters more than the brand­ing. I’d de­scribe it as feel­ing some­how hon­est… com­plete­ly lack­ing in pre­tense. Kind of blue col­lar? Yeah, I guess.

You can prob­a­bly tell why I was ex­pect­ing the web­site to be en­dear­ing­ly ter­ri­ble. I was ready for a lit­tle Comic Sans, an “un­der con­struc­tion” GIF, and a scanned pa­per menu — as a multi-megabyte bitmap, of course. That would seem nor­mal. Kind of quaint.

D’Best-the-website, how­ev­er, looks very pro­fes­sion­al. It’s fast, de­signed to mod­ern stan­dards, has eye-pleasing amounts of white­space — oh, for fuck’s sake, it’s re­spon­sive — and is even served over HTTPS. Oh, and did I men­tion that it’s com­plete­ly lack­ing in char­ac­ter? It feels like it should be­long to… I don’t know, L’Best Artisinal Panini Bistro.2

And it very well could.

But what re­al­ly raised an eye­brow was this line:

We have an un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to fla­vor. Connect with us and let us know how we are do­ing.

And al­so, this one:

We nev­er stop short of a culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence you’re sure to en­joy.

D’Best’s fla­vor may not wa­ver, but you’d nev­er hear that out of their mouths. Their sand­wich­es may be de­li­cious, but a “culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence” they are not. This is a place where the meat gets grilled by guys in foot­ball jer­seys, back­wards base­ball caps and maybe a tat­too or two.

Something was rot­ten in the state of Boca, so I plugged the above phras­es in­to a search en­gine. And then I did one of these. It turns out there are at least 80,000 restau­rants whose web­sites promise the same “unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to fla­vor,” and look more-or-less ex­act­ly the same as D’Best’s.

All of these, in­clud­ing D’Best and Hickory Hut St. Paul, say the’re “Powered by EatStreet,” a website-in-a-box ser­vice for restau­rants. EatStreet seems to host these sites, and pro­vides them with a gener­ic de­sign tem­plate as well. All of these dif­fer­ent restau­rants, from all over the coun­try, ba­si­cal­ly end up with the ex­act same web­site, with the ex­act same mes­sag­ing, ex­cept for a few small tweaks.

This feels a lit­tle slimy on the sur­face, but is there any­thing wrong with it? After all, restau­rants’ web­sites are of tru­ly hy­per­local in­ter­est. I mean, no­body in DeKalb, Illinois is look­ing for D’Best. They’re more in­ter­est­ed in The Huddle American Food… which has the ex­act same web­site as D’Best. Sigh.

In the in­ter­est of be­ing hon­est with my­self, I tried to ex­plore just which part of me was so of­fend­ed by this. Was I of­fend­ed as a food per­son? As a past D’Best devo­tee? Or as a copy­writer who can’t help but see this as a busi­ness get­ting by with­out need­ing the ser­vices of my­self or some­one like me?

To reach the an­swer, I tried to put my­self in the shoes of the own­er of D’Best, and I re­al­ized that, you know, it must have been a whole lot nicer to run not just restau­rants, but most kinds of lo­cal busi­ness­es be­fore the Internet. Some per­son who re­al­ly needs to be wor­ry­ing about keep­ing rats out of the kitchen doesn’t want to think about about build­ing and se­cur­ing a web­site, plus deal­ing with all the Internet necessary-evils (Yelp, Google, Facebook, OpenTable, Square, Foursquare, etc.) that sup­pos­ed­ly ex­ist to bring them cus­tomers, but in­stead use their stature to in­ter­me­di­ate the cus­tomer re­la­tion­ship, and ex­tract a re­cur­ring fee for do­ing so for the rest of for­ev­er. (Actually, a few of those com­pa­nies would love it if D’Best de­cid­ed to give up on run­ning a stand­alone web­site.)

If EatStreet can keep a sim­ple site up and run­ning smooth­ly, plus keep it more se­cure than the prover­bial site-by-nephew, is that re­al­ly such a bad thing? After all, a few decades in, the Internet is still not made for nor­mal peo­ple; there’s just too much that can go wrong if one doesn’t have the spe­cial­ized knowl­edge to do tech­ni­cal stuff prop­er­ly. There’s def­i­nite­ly val­ue in sim­pli­fy­ing things for a nor­mal per­son who just want to run their damn busi­ness­es. So even if EatStreet is yet an­oth­er friend­ly in­ter­me­di­ary, thanks to them one can or­der a D’Best Philly style on­line — con­sid­er my mind blown. Could that func­tion­al­i­ty ex­ist with­out some cen­tral­ized ser­vice keep­ing the Internet gears run­ning smooth­ly in the back­ground, han­dling the cred­it cards and tak­ing a cut?

For all the up­side they de­liv­er in func­tion­al­i­ty and se­cu­ri­ty, how­ev­er, EatSreet sure has their ten­drils in­to D’Best in an inadvisably-deep man­ner — a quick whois check shows that EatStreet ac­tu­al­ly owns D’Best’s do­main name. Or should I say their new do­main name. I found this oth­er do­main that still con­tains an old­er D’Best web­site. While this site is still slick­er than it should be — re­mem­ber, my cheeses­teak place’s site should look a lit­tle like their pa­per menus, mi­nus the grease stains — this site’s a lot clos­er to what I would ex­pect. There are some ty­pos. It’s got a page where you can meet the team. It has a freakin’ FAQ page where they tell you how to re­heat a cheeses­teak (which, by the way, they say you shouldn’t do).

This Internet ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find is a sign that some­one once cared about and hand-crafted D’Best’s web pres­ence… but at some point said “fuck it, this EatStreet thing doesn’t make me think.” Thanks to their scale, EatStreet can cen­tral­ize best prac­tices for all of their cus­tomers, but they can’t cen­tral­ize the dé­classé char­ac­ter, the lo­cal fla­vor, the unique greasy fin­ger­prints that in­evitably end up on the web­site when it’s made by the owner’s prover­bial teenage nephew.3

While those at the helm of D’Best can do what they think works for them, it just sucks to see a place with so much fla­vor take the path lack­ing in taste. But they have cheeses­teaks to make, and as long as peo­ple keep com­ing through the door to or­der these greasy won­ders on bread, they don’t have any­thing to wor­ry about.

Ultimately, I guess I’m just writ­ing about my­self and my pref­er­ences. While you couldn’t stop me from grab­bing a cheeses­teak if I hap­pened to be in the neigh­bor­hood, from where I’m stand­ing I can’t help but see big, lazy cen­tral­iza­tion as the sworn en­e­my of good­ness. May I nev­er get too big to have taste.

  1. For the cu­ri­ous: a sin­gle slab of steak topped with swiss cheese, mayo and pota­to sticks — a rather un­healthy twist on the ubiq­ui­tous pan con bis­tec, and al­so not a cheeses­teak.
  2. A hy­po­thet­i­cal restau­rant I’d al­so to­tal­ly eat at, by the way.
  3. Just kid­ding! Kids these days don’t ac­tu­al­ly know how to use com­put­ers. They’d just set up a Facebook page.

2 thoughts on “Slick, sleek & slimy”

  1. Responsive, on­line or­der­ing, and hours and ad­dress as se­lec­table text on the front page? I’ll take that over 90% of restau­rant web­sites out there.

    And I do kind of miss d’Best. We have a cheeses­teak truck out here that gives them a run for their mon­ey, though.

  2. Just see­ing the cur­rent site now and hav­ing nev­er heard of this place be­fore, there’s noth­ing spe­cial that makes me want to go there. The old site has so much char­ac­ter. I won­der how cus­tomiz­able the Eat Street web pages can be.

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