Monday, May 9, 2011

Somebody Order Chinese?

On the rare occasion that I get a craving for Chinese food, I like to go to a restaurant in Torrance called Seafood Port.  It's the most authentic Chinese restaurant I've found in the South Bay; and by authentic, I mean the food is fantastic, the servers may or may not speak English and the furniture/decor hasn't been updated since the 1970's.  On this particular occasion, I felt like ordering out so that I could enjoy my food in the comfort of my own home.  I already knew that calling in an order ahead of time is like throwing the dice on a craps table: you might win by getting someone who speaks English or you might crap out and have a conversation like the one below:

If you could imagine Speedy Gonzalez speaking broken English with an Asian accent answering the phone...

Seafood Port: "Hullabaloowpoijerk?"
Me: "I'm sorry, is this Seafood Port?"
SP: "Yeah!  Watchu want?!"
Me: "I'd like to call in an order for take out."
SP: "Yeah!  Watchu want?!"
Me: "I'd like to order the shrimp with snow peas..."
SP: "Wat kine snoopy you want?!"
Me: "Pardon me?" (I didn't know there were different kinds of snow peas.)
SP: "Wat kine snoopy you want?!  Gouwkpdlrj snoopy or kwonenrpwkn snoopy?!"
Me: "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying."
SP: "Gouwkperj snoopy or kwnekmronw snoopy?!"
Me: "I'm sorry, I still don't understand.  You know what?  I'll just come in to the restaurant and order."
SP: *click*

Did she just hang up on me?  Yup... she did.  But I was willing to overlook that small bit of rudeness because she was the keeper of the Chinese food that I so wanted.

After a short drive, I arrived at the restaurant to find it packed to the brim with a line out the door.  It was a scene straight out of the movies.  It was loud, it was chaotic and delicious looking foods kept flying out of the kitchen, delicately balanced on the arms of servers.  I carefully wedged my way to the counter and placed my order with the same lady that had answered the phone.  This time, I could point at the menu to show her what I wanted to order.  There would be no confusion or choice of "snoopies."

As I waited for my food, I watched the chaos ensue as food was delivered to the wrong parties, the line for tables growing longer by the minute and the patience of the people waiting for their take-out order rapidly growing thin.  It all made me start to wonder:  with such a poorly run establishment, how were they still in business?  And good business at that!  The same can be asked about many mom & pop establishments.  I know that customer service is not a priority for a Chinese restaurant; in fact, the concept of customer service is completely foreign (no pun intended).  You're never greeted with a smile and it feels like they're yelling at you when they tell you to "follow me!", but people keep coming back for more.

My conclusion is that they have a great product, they've some how cornered the market and they have STAYING POWER.  When you have a great product, people are willing to overlook a lot of things, which is probably why people are willing to put up with the demands of celebrities, no matter how absurd they are.  Seafood Port is also a great example of staying power.  I don't think the owners of Seafood Port had an ivy league business degree when they immigrated to the United States.  They had a skill, a need to survive and the word "failure" was not in their vocabulary.  They've pounded out, with brute force, a sustainable business that has survived the ups and downs of the economy, while their competition has closed their doors due to poor business.

Did Seafood Port accidentally become successful?  Maybe.  But if you look closer, I'm sure you'll find similar elements in other "accidentally" successful businesses.

Being in the art/entertainment industry is all about staying power.  You have to be able to last longer than your competition.  Thousands of people move to Los Angeles every day to pursue their dreams.  You just need to make sure that you're still here when they've given up and decided to move back home.

As an artist, I strive to be like a Chinese restaurant: have a great product, open 365 days, maintain a 'B' health code rating and stay in business for 30 years.  Sprinkle a little bit of professionalism on top of that, and I should be unstoppable.  Right?

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