It began with a Yelp review.
On October 7, a Yelp user who goes by the name "Tyler H." posted a one-star review of Sweet Dixie Kitchen, a restaurant in Long Beach, California that boasts a menu of biscuits and gravy, sweet potato hash, salmon Benedicts, Frito pies, and bread pudding.
He claimed that he saw workers sneak a bag of Popeyes chicken into the kitchen shortly after he and a friend were seated at the restaurant. He'd assumed that the chicken was a snack for the kitchen staff, but when his $13 plate of chicken and waffles arrived at the table, he found the taste of this chicken eerily familiar and a touch too stale. When he asked his waiter where the restaurant had sourced the fried chicken, the waiter admitted that it came from none other than Popeyes.
The restaurant compensated Tyler and his friend for the meal, but Kimberly Sanchez, the restaurant's owner, responded the next day to the Yelp review. "We PROUDLY SERVE Popeyes spicy tenders," Sanchez wrote.
She insisted that she wasn't doing anything wrong in getting her chicken from Popeyes; for example, she wrote, she sources the restaurant's gumbo from a "friend who sells it as a local farmer's market." Besides, she says, the restaurant's kitchen isn't equipped with a fryer, so she and her staff have to outsource their chicken one way or another. "So whatever to you and your little review like it was some great exposure, and whatever to you dude," her rebuttal to Tyler H. concluded.
Sanchez's admission was at odds with the restaurant's earlier claim on its Facebook page that "Everything is made here," though the messaging on that has since been amended to clarify that "most" menu items that are made "from scratch," barring "that darn chicken we bring in." (Popeyes has not responded to request for comment from MUNCHIES regarding the legality of using its chicken as an ingredient without disclosing that to customers on a menu. We'll update if the company gets back to us.)
The restaurant's opacity struck food writer Brian Addison, the former executive editor of the Long Beach Post who now operates his own publication titled Longbeachize, as particularly dissonant. Addison had, earlier this month, put Sweet Dixie Kitchen on his list of Long Beach's essential breakfast joints. After being alerted to the Yelp reviews and Sanchez's responses to her patrons, though, he surfaced the complaints from the restaurant's clientele in an article published Monday of this week.
The restaurant's Yelp page is now congested with one-star reviews and passionate five-star defenses. Addison's article prompted Sanchez to post a 583-word paragraph to Facebook yesterday morning, one that's since been edited heavily, wherein she incorrectly associated Addison with Foodbeast and equates the level of vitriol she's received to a smear campaign against her business. (A screen grab of Sanchez's original post is below.)
"I definitely found [Sanchez's] response questionable," Addison told MUNCHIES over the phone late Tuesday night. "As I started filtering through comments on Facebook, I saw a number of responses from patrons who were largely concerned with where their food was coming from." Addison found Sanchez's tone perplexingly caustic and evasive, and he feels her lack of discretion has more gravity than people may realize.
"I know the internet thinks it's hilarious, but I think it's super serious," Addison told MUNCHIES. "This restaurant is in a working-class neighborhood of downtown Long Beach serving up Southern food. What they're doing almost borders gentrification of food." He finds the restaurant's handling of this blowback indicative of its greater problems, on a conceptual level: those of ignoring the history of Southern food and where it comes from, and dismissing reasonable questions regarding that.
"You're providing something that is very special to people," Addison says of the role of a restaurateur. "It's not something to take lightly." A restaurateur has public responsibility to patrons, he says, a responsibility that Sanchez has abandoned by combatively responding to patrons.
"This certainly has gotten way way out of control," Sanchez wrote to MUNCHIES Tuesday night. "Two months ago, I wanted to bring in a fried chicken product for a biscuit sandwich, as my restaurant is very centered around our biscuits, and nearly everything we do is made in-house. I have the ridiculous labor to show for that, but we don't have a lot of equipment and don't have a hood so we can't fry."
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Sanchez explained that, after sampling a number of potential products one night, she stopped by Popeyes to pick up dinner. She liked that chicken more than any other she'd tried, so she figured she could squeeze Popeyes chicken onto the restaurant's biscuit sandwich, a sandwich of house-made wasabi coleslaw and tomato jam.
"It isn't written on the menu since I'm not 'reselling' the strips," Sanchez told MUNCHIES. "I am using them only as an ingredient in a menu item featuring our biscuit." She also claims that the incriminating text on the restaurant's "About" page on Facebook was written about two years ago, when it was indeed true that all dishes were made-in house. "If we can't make it from scratch, I intend to find the next best thing if we include the ingredient on our menu. Hopefully my customers appreciate that."
"I not only bleed just like you all, but I have a staff," Sanchez said. "A woman who supports her kids. A guy trying to find an apartment. A college student paying her way through school. I love them as if they were my kids."
Addison told MUNCHIES that he's been vilified as a man trying to take a small business down. "I've gotten messages to the effect of, how dare you crucify a small business like this," he said of the past few days, quietly aggrieved. That argument doesn't hold too much sway to him, after all: Sanchez has made comments against patrons quite publicly, and the proof is in the pudding.
Sanchez, though, is just waiting for this fracas to blow over. "If the decisions were wrong or misleading to some, I wholeheartedly apologize. Fox News said it was a rant, and it is not," Sanchez wrote MUNCHIES regarding the way her Facebook post has been framed by national media. "It is from my heart."