Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Did bloggers kill Friend or Pho?

Posted on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 12:00 AM

When Rob Kaplan took over the former White Dog space to open his Asian-themed gastropub Friend or Pho last summer, he was confident in the formula and its potential for success. Five months later, his concept is dead in the water, a likely casualty of fierce online commentary that scorned the food from opening week.

Kaplan will stay on as an advisor as new owners unveil another theme for the business tomorrow. His across-the-street neighbors at popular bar F.W.Sullivan's have taken over, nicknaming the place The Lady, short for Lady N'awlins Cajun CafAc. Chef Sean Murphy, formerly of Metro Grill, will supervise both kitchens and a menu of po'boys, oysters, gumbo and jambalaya, crawfish fritters and eventually gator.

Jake Crocker, one of The Lady's new owners, says the deal came together just after New Year's, and the turnaround is one of the city's fastest. Repainting, a new faAade with decorative flags and a balcony, and a deployment of personnel (including a few from FanHouse) are underway, with a soft opening set for tomorrow.

Online commentary from often-anonymous critics is a challenge in an industry already fraught with headaches, Crocker says. “This isn't a hobby, it's a fricking lifestyle. It makes every other business I've been involved in look like a Sunday in the park compared to the restaurant business.  Everybody's a critic. We're getting critiqued [online by bloggers] before we even open. The shots get fired before the ink is even dry on the menu.”

Friend or Pho drew online jeers for its pho in particular, and long before mainstream media critics reviewed the place, commenters cast aspersions against the name and the menu. But bar business was good, particularly as overflow from Sullivan's, which will expand its empire into Fredericksburg by summer. A couple more places are in the works, Crocker says, but for now he and the Sullivan's partners are focusing on their little corner of Bourbon Street, hoping to avoid Friend's pitfalls.

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