REVIEW: SPAHA CAFE, SPANISH HARLEM
Friday afternoon. Just got out of a meeting, taking a tour of a new kitchen. Starving. Hubby and I are walking up a few blocks to proper Harlem where his studio is, 125th & Park. Food is not top quality up there. It’s more functional.
We’re at 116th, anticipating a small gem of a spot w the best biscuits or fruit smoothies. We had made fun of the name of this tiny spot on the corner, Spaha Cafe. Spanish Harlem. I suspect that only shitty, deceptive real estate brokers use this terminology to sell rape boxes in a horrible neighborhood. That being said, it appeared laid back, door open, breeze flowing, bob marley playing behind the counter. We figured, this could be the best healthy option we will have up here in this neighborhood. Walking in, the cold box is sparse, w thin sandwiches & whole red velvet cakes. The mid 30s Hispanic dude donning a fitted and plaid shirt asks what we’d like and we reply we’d need a minute and he walks away. I’m looking at the salad set up and it is sparse as well. The menu is hand written on white foam core in green pen w things just scribbled out. Like, “Nevermind”, not “Were out of this.”
Signs all point to fuck, wrong decision. There’s one customer eating a salad on the computer in the corner. A couple other guests walk in and she gets up from her lunch and posts up behind the register. She asks what’s on my salad and just starts poking $2, ingredient after ingredient. A $5 salad quickly turns into an $11 uninspired mess of dead vegetables. The strongest flavor in the salad was the dude’s apathy. Hubby orders a pesto chicken panini for $7.50. It takes 10 minutes to get and was an insulting size. Like children’s menu w a splash of elementary sophistication. She asks questions over and over again, each time adding more to our check. A salad, sandwich and ice coffee (w barely any ice, come on, you don’t make the frozen water, a machine did) came to $22 on 116th and Park and I feel like slapping this bitch.
Your food sucks. Your work ethic is pitiful. Your attitude is embarrassing. She didn’t want us to be in her space, eating her romaine hearts, sipping her coffee flavored water. She seemed “over it” though the place was empty at 1:30pm. Her energy told me she has never worked in the restaurant industry before. No spoons for feta cheese. Using a bread knife for pesto. No napkins. It’s these little things that make it obvious.
Also obvious is the windfall of an idea that she had–make a “nice” place for the growing population of white folk who are migrating to the neighborhood. No other place is making cappuccinos. And with Lavazza coffee! We can make shit edibles and the white folk will come and we can charge them Manhattan prices. The fleecing of a race to make them feel like they are being considered in a predominantly brown/black neighborhood. Myriad awnings use the word “barrio”, a reference to Spanish hoods (I’m half white, I know how to use the word “myriad”).
We sit down and Hubby gives me a green light to begin eating while he waits on his Little Guy Panini. A woman orders a cappuccino and quietly sits in a table near us and reads the paper. The owner, I’m assuming since her entitlement wouldn’t exude so strongly from a just a sandwich artist or barista, comes around as a queue of 5 forms, picking up a lone plate and wiping the crumbs to the floor with her hand, no towel, napkin, or gloves. Shes straightening up, anticipating these customers would like to sit down. The paper reader has pulled a table closer to lay her A6 out without awkward folding. The owner, says, are you using this, the reader says, yes to read the paper (which was the cafe’s, not hers) and the owner says, ok, yeah, no, I need it so people can sit. She pulls it away from the woman, leaving her paper, flapping by the floor.
The men who order a tuna sandwich and a panini sit down near the owner’s lunch tables, and one man eats his cold sandwich while his cohort waits. She calls him and gives him half a sandwich. She tells him to get started and he can get the other half when it’s ready. Every customer says “thank you”, she says, “sure”.
A white girl in all black w a douche skully and sunglasses walks in straight to the back and I witness the first smile in the cafe. Hi Lisa!
We leave as two of the five customers. The three people working in this tiny, fledgling cafe don’t even look at us.
I’m sure she has no idea how horrible she appears, taking our money through gritted teeth. At some point you may have been good at something. But this isn’t it. You are the reason why the restaurant industry is plagued with rampant abuse of power and service. It is not okay to treat customers like you are doing them a favor. The whole system is set up for a restaurant to provide food and service. You are not doing guests any favors by providing a table or a paper to read. We expect napkins (they had a roll of paper towels), fresh food (every bite, I anticipated the tongue buzz from rotten cheese or eggplant), and a sense of thanks.
We’re paying your rent. We’re payin for your kids diapers. Were paying for you to sip coronas on your stoop. That’s how this works. You put in, we put in, you take out. You put in, we put in, you take out. And over again.
Eventually, she will exhaust herself with her customers’ annoying demands such as, can I have a knife, more salt, or extra balsamic on the side. My only wish is that people who decide to start a restaurant/bar/food business, do their research and/or hire the experts. If this happened, if all entrepreneurs accepted humility and educated themselves instead of assuming knowledge and know-how, the perception of the food service industry would change. I promise. When asked what one does for a living, one would proudly say, I’m a bartender; I’m a barista. We could consider these jobs, “normal” or “a REAL job”. As it is now, we are contract workers who generally accept mediocrity and complacency and move on when the weight is too much to bear. If this woman at Spaha Café would hire someone with charisma and experience, she could save her project. She could contribute to mending the economy by taking someone off unemployment. She could have satisfied customers returning instead of miffed customers leaving.
This review ultimately harkens back to my last post re: the dumbass dubstep DJ trying to flip beats into burgers. In the end, JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN, DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD.
Note: I just looked this place up on Yelp, the useless source of reviews. I just read the “About This Business” and what do you know, she has no resto experience. It also says that she cares and is active in the community. We must have caught her on the day her dog died, she got her period, and the IRS announced an audit. Any of the pics I found were from when it must have first opened because they did a complete redo of the interior and it’s nothing of the original. The heart is gone.
Another note: I don’t know what the fuck I was doing with verb tense here. I wrote this on the train and it started out as notes and turned into a post. I don’t feel like editing this and being all anal about the grammar. Usually, I correct erroneous usage of subjective and nominative pronouns in a prepositional phrase but I’m really busy today and am anxious to get in the kitchen. Gimme a break. Thank you.