Charles Owner Redecorates After Bruni Smackdown


Rookie restaurateur Cobi Levy took a beating at the hand of Frank Bruni yesterday (the waiters were like yummy chew toys, but tough to swallow in the end), but the Charles will not cede to the Times. Levy spoke to Ben Leventhal, and then re-papered his windows with Brunis words.

Is there anything Bruni said that you agree with?
I dont think Charles is for everyone. I admit that. To some extent by having a place that is called exclusive which people assume means pretentious youve got a target on your back and Frank Bruni is definitely going to come gunning for you. But, I just thought it was unfair from the get-go. Even the things about the restaurant that are undeniably positive, he just refused to discuss. He didnt want to like it and went out to really crush us. It read like an amateur-hour book report.

Even if veiled, Brunis clearly making suggestions. Will you take his advice? Were packed tonight like I was packed last night. Were booked out this weekend like we were booked out last weekend. Im not going to say that a review from the Times is not important it certainly is important but at the same time were going to go about our business. Were always trying to get a little bit better and we strive for that every night. But am I going to change things for Frank Bruni? Absolutely not, because I dont think the restaurant was for him to begin with.

But any time you open a restaurant, you open it knowing some people will get it and some people wont.
True. But as a critic, you have to just be honest about it. Alan Richman and Im not just saying this because his review was positive he at least came in with an open mind. He says, look, this is not usually the kind of place Im going to like. Im an old Jewish guy and this isnt an old-Jewish-guy place. I assumed [Bruni] would give us no stars, but to do it the way he did, he refused to admit that there might just be things he doesnt get. He decided not to, and to [instead] really stick it to us. That part is a bit unsettling. You want to be judged on your merits and be given a fair shot.

Bruni also made the point that the approach might not be recession-appropriate, that people dont want to be bothered these days with something like an unlisted number or the newspapers in the window.
Is there a little bit of a game? Yes. But this morning I had 45 requests for reservations in my in-box. Were not unclear about our reservations system. Its on our website. You Google, then you use your e-mail and you ... e-mail us. Isnt that how most people function today? In fact, this whole thing about having a phone number? Its not 1985. We use e-mail now. Thats how I communicate. Frankly, I think its more convenient for the customers. There arent limitations on it. No hours of operation, no hold music, no "press two at the tone"; you dont have to wait until noon to call. You decide you want a table, you e-mail, we respond, and thats it.

And the thing about the newspapers ... unfortunately the owners of the building put up scaffolding two weeks after we took the lease and started doing work upstairs. So he kind of destroyed the faade anyway. In some ways, it works as a reveal, but its also necessity. The outside of the building looks awful right now. My plan was always to take the newspaper off the windows when the scaffolding came down. And Cynthia Rowley likes it. Cynthia Rowley was at the party and she was complimenting me on how excellent the restaurant looks, and she said her favorite part was the newspaper over the windows. This was before we were officially open. I didnt have the heart to tell her that it was just a function of me not wanting people to know we were open yet. I think anyone who hasnt been ... should come in and sum it up for themselves.