After six years of serving the Downtown Long Beach community, owner Kimberly Sanchez will officially transfer ownership of her bakery and restaurant Sweet Dixie Kitchen in the coming days.
“Early mornings, late nights and the occasional late night that turned into early mornings—Sweet Dixie Kitchen was there,” wrote her son Nick Sanchez. “Memories of pot lucks with neighbors out on the sidewalk during warm summer nights; memories of new friends that felt like family. […] It’s an emotional goodbye to this restaurant that brought so much happiness to so many.”
Sanchez will transfer ownership come Aug. 18 and be serving a Popeye’s chicken sandwich Aug. 8 and 9 before switching over to its new owners and, well… We’ll get to that.
While Kimberly has yet to return comment for this story, I myself should probably say something because many still feel I am responsible for their closure in one capacity or another because of a story I wrote two years ago.
Here we go. Again. This is Popeyesgate.
At first, it was a non-story. Someone had alerted me to a bad Yelp! review on Sweet Dixie Kitchen, a restaurant I had just included on my Essential Breakfast Joints that year. The review had a pretty serious accusation: the restaurant was buying Popeye’s chicken from up the street and repackaging it as its own for their $13 chicken and biscuit sandwich.
Now, I say “non-story” because, as a food writer and lover of cuisine, I find Yelp! to be absolutely horrendous. It fully democratizes food criticism—and not in a good way. People can base their reviews off of emotionally driven one-offs—”Food was great but couldn’t find a parking spot: ONE STAR” or “I really liked their dipping sauce: FIVE STARS”—that essentially harm both restaurants and patrons. Even more, we’re in the age of constant ratings; nearly every app will ask you to rate it and, should you not give it five stars, will typically prompt a “What is wrong?” message. This then codifies in the public’s mind that there is either five stars or one star and nothing in between. Add onto this “Yelp! elites,” reviewers that are rewarded by the company for visiting and reviewing as many places as possible and things start to get creepily over-scrutinized as restaurants scramble to please these elites and solicit positive reviews.
In other words, Yelp! exemplifies the lack of healthy conversation for small businesses.
It wasn’t until I began examining owner Kimberly Sanchez’s comments that my view shifted. Defensive and rude, Sanchez began crudely dismissing customers that weren’t so outraged that Popeye’s was being re-sold to them as much as they were concerned that they weren’t being informed it was being done in the first place.
And this is where the ultimate point of the story comes into clarity: If a restaurant is re-selling already-prepped fast food, it should clearly note that it is doing so. And if a restaurant is not equipped to make certain types of food—in this case, Sanchez’s kitchen is not properly built to have a deep frier—then you simply don’t make that food.
It’s really that simple. So, I wrote the story.
And, for those that don’t know, it blew up and went national. Huffington Post. The Today Show. ABC. Complex. The NY Daily News. Even Bravo TV’s Tabatha had her own comments. Despite geographic location or the type of publication, there was no boundary for which the story couldn’t cross.
Initially, the comments were supportive. People were happy to know what was happening. But as the story grew larger, a pitchfork-wielding group of Dixie defenders came at me, claiming I was ruining a business.
“Shame on you, Brian Addison,” wrote one of my dear friends.
“So apparently you selectively support local businesses based on your own whatever agenda yet witch hunt others based on the news hook?” wrote another commenter.
“I guess the writer wants to see this local business go down in flames.”
It went on and on. Someone even said they expect “a more responsible journalistic approach” that considers “whether the benefits of accountability outweigh the community wide consequences of articles” as if I knew and planned the story to go national. You know what stories from 2017 I would have preferred to go national? This one. Or this. Or this. Or this. (At least that one scored me an award from the L.A. Press Club.)
But those stories didn’t go national because I am not the President of Journalism and writers are not wizards that control the success of their content; if they were, every story would go national… international… intergalactic…
Sanchez reached out to me for PR assistance. When I told her to simply stop re-selling fast food, she bluntly told me she wouldn’t, so I told her she might as well own it. And she did. She created a #Popeyesgate shirt that she sold and even named a sandwich after me for a period.
But still, both by Sanchez and her patrons, I was blamed for the chaos.
Ultimately, what none of Dixie’s defenders were grasping and/or acknowledging is that the story connected with a huge audience because most people found the actions and responses of the restaurateur to be flat out wrong.
Here’s how I ended the original article:
Ms. Sanchez, “this isn’t necessarily an attack on your business as much as it is defending the right for customers to know what you’re feeding them; it’s about being forthright in saying that this is an insult to those who care about food and how it is made and where it comes from[.]”
That is the point. And though, perhaps, Sanchez still feels I began the process of her restaurant’s decline two years ago, there is no writer and no review that can close a business; it’s the actions of a business that close a business or cause it to reach a lower amount of people.
I’m only the person who writes about those actions. I am what I am.
Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated with Ms. Sanchez’s last day at Sweet Dixie Chicken as well as correcting a line which insinuated that the shop closed.