Ethics Dunce: Red Medicine Owner Noah Ellis

Red Medicine is a Beverley Hills restaurant; Noah Ellis is the owner. S. Irene Virbila is the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic, who, like most U.S. food critics, works at staying anonymous, which she had successfully done for sixteen years. Not being recognized served the needs of diners, who want to know what the food and service is likely to be at an eating establishment when the customer isn’t preparing to write a critique that can make the difference between a restaurant’s long-term success or failure.

Last week, Noah Ellis intentionally destroyed Virbila’s ability to perform this service, or at least made it more difficult.

Ms. Virbila and three guests arrived at the new neo-Vietnamese restaurant to dine. Despite their reservations, the group waited for a table for 40 minutes, and still hadn’t been seated. Ellis, the restaurant’s managing partner, recognized Virbila, who had unfavorably reviewed one of Ellis’s partners’ work at another restaurant. Despite the fact that they had waited so long, Ellis ordered her and her friends to leave, then took a photo of the critic, who protested. Later, he posted it on Red Medicine’s website, writing,

“Our purpose for posting this is so that all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her.” He then reviewed her reviewing, calling Virbila’s critiques “unnecessarily cruel and irrational.” Ellis concluded by writing, “We’re writing this to make everyone aware that she was unable to dine here, and as such, any retribution by her or on her behalf via a review cannot be considered to be unbiased.”

Ellis is the Julian Assange of restaurant owners.

Like Assange, he underestimates the value of secrecy, and overestimates his right to unilaterally destroy it. In the case of food critics, secrecy serves food consumers, and is a nuisance only to restaurants that want to deceive potential diners by giving special treatment to critics, who then report their experience as typical. There is no reasonable defense of his intentional exposure of her identity, which was unethical in oh so many ways:

  • It was vengeful, unkind, and motivated by spite.
  • It was unprofessional, treating a critic doing her job as a personal affront.
  • It irresponsibly harmed the ability of other restaurants to get fair reviews.
  • It made it more difficult for Virbila to use her expertise for the benefit of Los Angeles diners.
  • It unfairly harmed Virbila professionally.

He was also rude to Virbila and her friends, who had done nothing but arrive to give Red Medicine their business.

I am told that some bloggers have actually come to Mr. Ellis’s defense, though I can’t locate any of their posts. I would love to read them, for they must be ingenious or demented. He is an Ethics Dunce by any reasonable standard.

9 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Red Medicine Owner Noah Ellis

  1. Excellent choice, Jack. You’ll be happy to know that Mr. Ellis hasn’t done any serious damage to Ms. Virbila’s professional effectiveness. The LA Times explained in this article–
    http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-editors-note-restaurants-20101230,0,3870239.story
    –that recognizing a food critic when she enters doesn’t allow the restaurant to do much to change her experience, as long as she continues to make reservations under an assumed name.

  2. I don’t understand that, though. In the current case, she hadn’t been seated yet and her friends hadn’t ordered for her. Surely the place, if it had seated her party, could have taken extra care with everything the group ordered. And what about service? Or assignment of waiters and waitresses?

  3. As the Times piece points out, the restaurant could, if it wanted, give the recognized critic extra service, but she’d likely be skeptical if she could see all around her people NOT getting such service. Apparently Ellis knew who she was and kept her waiting out of animus toward her.

    • Nice guy.
      Though I still am skeptical. Do you notice the service other tables are getting? I know the critic is working, but assessing every other diner’s experience along with one’s own is a lot to expect.

      • It’s not just table service, it’s food prep. The chef, manager, and server are going to spend more attention preparing her food. They will get the biggest lobster, use more truffle oil, make sure all vegetables are crisp, find perfectly shaped strawberries, etc. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that mistakes happen, and quality varies. When I waited tables, the “field greens” salads were made by servers before the restaurant opened for the day, but if a known critic was there, it would have been made to order by the chef, leaving out the romaine and iceberg. The critic wouldn’t even recognize the salad at table 2 was the same one she ordered..

            • Unfortunately, if I switch between the psuedonym (which isn’t even my initials) and the real name, the two will be clearly linked for the world.

              Granted, the psuedonym is probably no better than Richard Stark or Mark Twain due to some early, less careful behavior. An interested party with decent google-fu could figure out who I am with a pretty high degree of confidence. Hopefully there aren’t any parties interested in blowing my anonimity.

              Also, Jack could know what my real name is, as I use a non-dummy gmail address with a public google account for my email. I just trust him and other reputable bloggers to follow the “Your email address will not be published” agreement. I do this intentionally to put a check on my behavior. I try not to write anything that would be a huge detriment if it was linked back to me.

              I’m not a public figure and don’t have a blog, but i do use tgt across a number of different sites, and I have been noted as a cross blog commentator by a couple people. In the online world, I’m known as tgt more than anything else. I think I’m pretty clear about which fights I have a dog in when I’m arguing on that side of an issue, but I can do a short background in the interest of openness: atheist (with a Catholic family and ex-Jesuit father), liberal (with libertarian leanings), upper 20 something software engineer (with a Math/Philosophy education) living outside of DC in a true middle class area with my ex-wife’s cat.

              Beyond that, I’d like to remain mostly psuedoanonymous for the time being. If I start a blog, run for office, or becoming a media sensation, I’ll let you know.

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