It is very difficult to be gracious about online criticism. This is as true for normal people as it is for celebrities, and it is especially true for one of Toronto’s douchiest restaurants (it happens to be in my neighborhood).
Sugo is a self-described “NEIGHBOURHOOD RED SAUCE JOINT SERVING UP CLASSIC ITALIAN-AMERICAN.” It’s the kind of place where when you walk in and the staff greets you like an old friend — but an old friend they were just talking shit about.
Most of Sugo’s 1,800 Google reviews are positive, despite nobody I know in this city having anything good to say about it (it’s been described to me as “trash,” “overpriced,” and “douchey.”) However, they recently committed the most cardinal sin in restaurant ownership — replying defensively to a negative yet pretty generous and thoughtful review.
Last week, a diner named Elena Rubi, while noting that the restaurant’s pasta dishes were “large and tasty,” described a negative interaction with Sugo staff:
“The staff at Sugo are really strange. My server was making fat jokes towards me regarding my order and while I was eating. It made me super uncomfortable.”
In a now-edited reply, Sugo offered no apology, but instead an explanation:
“If you look back at our 1000+ reviews you will see people writing about our great staff and the fun nature of our restaurant. We didn’t receive these by insulting our guests but by bringing them into the fun. The server was having some fun with you and nothing was ever meant to be insulting; instead, I’m sure it was meant to be endearing.”
Sometime between last night and this morning, Sugo edited its reply and asked Elena to email them in an effort to “start a dialogue.”
This is not Sugo’s first rodeo when it comes to negative customer experiences. In 2018, the restaurant’s co-owner, Conor Joerin, accused one unhappy customer of “[leaving] a shit google review and when I contacted you about it, you didn't even have the class or stones to reply.” Joerin proceeded to tell him to, "Go back to whatever city you came from. We don't want guys like you in our town." That same year, they admonished someone who asked whether or not they were wheelchair accessible — a conversation that escalated to Joerin saying, “Put your money where your mouth is and start fixing steps or mind your own business.”
Something tells me that if a paying customer tells you that a server made a fat joke at their expense while they were ordering — or if there are valid concerns about the quality of your food and the accessibility — the correct response is to eat shit and apologize. Fortunately for Sugo, it seems like enough people love the authentic Italian-American experience of being yelled at by a real piece of shit.