The Commissary Responds to Sietsema’s First Bites Review
The partners of EatWell DC, which own the Commissary on P Street NW, requested and got what they wanted following Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema's harsh early look at their new Logan Circle eatery: They got the Post to retract the First Bite article, which was originally published on Wednesday in the Food Section and is still available on Mediabistro.com. And they got this nice mea culpa in the Sunday paper:
Critic Tom Sietsema should have recused himself from reviewing the Commissary, a restaurant featured in the Oct. 29 Food section. He and one of the restaurant's owners had earlier had a personal relationship. The Washington Post regrets that he reviewed this restaurant, and will remove the review from its online archive.
When contacted on Monday, EatWell DC managing partner David Winer said he didn't want to comment any further on the matter. "I can't be party in the destruction of another human being," Winer said during our brief phone conversation. He said he had hoped to keep this ugly situation out of the media, which is why he didn't send me (or other members of the local food media) the letter that he e-mailed to the 5,000 members of the EatWell DC mailing list. I told him that I had received a copy of the letter and would run it. Winer agreed that, at this point, the letter was essentially a public document. It runs below the jump.
To our many supporters:
In last Wednesday's Washington Post Food Section, under Tom Sietsema's First Bites column, an article appeared about Commissary, our newest restaurant. Some of you may have read it and been as shocked as we were. It was not an objective, unbiased and informed article as it should have been. Instead it was a biased and vitriolic rampage. We believe Mr. Sietsema used his column as a missile launch for economic assassination against Commissary, as retribution for some perceived wrong against him.
Mr. Sietsema never disclosed, apparently including to his editors, a previous, very close personal relationship with one of our principals. A relationship that ended abruptly and seemingly left him bitter.
We challenged Mr. Sietsema on his grievously negative assertions, his lack of disclosure and the simple fact that the article should never have been written. We insisted that recusing himself was the only proper and ethical thing to have done. He apologized for not recusing himself, nothing more.
All this was then turned over to his editor, Tom Shroder of The Washington Post Magazine. Mr. Shroder, understanding the ramifications of Mr. Sietsema's actions offered a settlement; kill the story on the web immediately, print a retraction in Sunday's paper, and that neither Mr. Sietsema nor any member of The Washington Post food team would ever write about any Eatwell DC restaurant again. What they would not do is apologize for the harm caused by Sietsema's spurious comments. "The Washington Post doesn't apologize" but "we will say we regret".
In Sunday's Post, at the bottom of page two, under Editor's Note, the retraction appeared. The Editor's Note is copied below.
We at Eatwell DC stand behind the quality of the food and beverage in all our restaurants. We stand behind the many employees who prepare, serve and cleanup your meals. We stand behind the many investors who have placed their money and faith in our hands. Most importantly, we stand behind our customers and do our utmost to never let you down.
We thank you all for your past patronage and hope you'll allow us to serve you for many years to come.
David Winer, Managing Member
I asked Winer if the agreement worked out with the Post doesn't, in fact, hurt his restaurants. After all, the city's largest and most influential newspaper would no longer be reviewing his operations. "No," Winer responded, "because I feel potential retribution down the line exists. For all I know, there is a covey of restaurant food critics who have coffee together."
Sietsema, when contacted for comment, e-mailed that, "As much as I would LOVE to share the details, I've been advised not to respond to media inquires, and I have to honor that."