Young and Hungry

How Will Don Rockwell Balance Advocating for Restaurants and Judging Them?

In the course of putting together this week's Young & Hungry column, editor Michael Schaffer wanted to know how Don Rockwell, the man behind his budding restaurant association and his eponymous board and project, could maintain his critical objectivity while advocating and promoting eateries.

Good questions, I said. I'll find out.

To be fair, I don't think Rockwell really wanted to answer these questions until he could put a statement of principles together. Rockwell and I have talked over the phone the past two days on this subject, and for the most part, he wanted his comments off the record as he worked out his thoughts.  But he did offer two ideas for the record:

  • That he would include a section on that would list all his personal and professional affiliations, so readers would know immediately where he has financial or social ties.
  • That members of the Association of Independent Restaurants would not influence his dining recommendations to potential customers at "If I don't like the restaurant, I'm not going to recommend it," Rockwell told me. "It will only hurt me if I do."

Early this afternoon, Rockwell gave me a statement that he thought would suffice for now. It says:

"No. 1: is sacrosanct. No. 2: There will be full and unambiguous disclosure of all personal and professional relationships, and No. 3: There will be no breach of public trust."

I suspect this is not the last word on the subject.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Leigh Maltese

    I'll disclose here -- I'm working with Don on this project, so I have a vested interest in responding.

    My immediate reaction came in response to the title of the post: is not about judging restaurants.

    Don and I have had hours upon hours of discussion about how to avoid a perceived conflict of interest between and the Association of Indpendent Restaurants, because we fully intend for there not to be anything shady going on here.

    Sure, Don has his own tastes and preferences, and of course his dining guide. But our goal with the service is not to send people merely to places he likes. He's said it to me a million times -- if someone states, "I really want to eat where I'm going to see senators," or insists they have to take the kids to Ben's Chili Bowl, then so be it -- that's what he'll make happen.

    And that's the crux of it, right there. Sure, all other things being equal, he's going to send someone to a place he likes more than another -- but whether he likes a restauant will *not* be influenced by whether that restaurant is one of the Association's biggest member revenue sources. For Don, it's really about the food and wine, and we intend for it to stay that way.