Most restaurants post menu boards outside and Valerio's was no exception. But the text was: 'Sometimes menus do not reflect what you might find in a restaurant. So I didn't bother with one. In our restaurant you will find atmosphere and character, friendly and witty staff, a half-crazy owner and real food. The kitchen is in open view and you are welcome to inspect it. The cockroaches left long ago. The only animals are my cats. Otherwise I am stuck with a bunch of paranoid humans to deal with. If you are accustomed to all this, then come down and join us. . .
It was more than enough to rope us in. The setting was cosy and we ended up at a table across from Valerio himself. Greet us? Forget it. He rummaged through invoices and receipts. But we were promptly handed a menu in keeping with the posting outside. It began with the rules of the road: 'May I remind you, we don't do family counselling. We love children (ours]). Nothing is free. We welcome uncomplicated tourists. If the noise level is too high, adjust your tongue.'
It also laid out the culinary philosophy: 'Momma was always right. No fancy sauces, no frills or nouvelle cuisine, but sensible, genuine, tasty, hearty food.' Tasty? It was fabulous.
On the way to the gents, I saw a wall of framed letters - of complaint. One, from the sales director of a local TV station, said the service was lousy and the choice of white wines skimpy. Framed with it was Valerio's response. He said the customer had 'three hours at a so-called business lunch' to complain but hadn't uttered a word. Why now? And, hey - white wine is not a house speciality.
I returned to our table and for the next 45 minutes Kate and I talked about dropping what we were doing and starting a restaurant. We mused that no other endeavor could so encourage individual expression.
Last week I promised tips for creating a business around the idea of beauty. Let's turn analyst and see what can be learned from Valerio's.
Wow] Valerio's had superb food. But mostly it was a kick. Valerio's had beauty. Spirit, character, personality - call it what you will.
Surprise. The Macintosh, with its mouse and icons, surprised most computer users in 1984 and changed their idea of computing. So, too, Post-Its and our concept of sticky. And Valerio's.
Holy Toledo] Look, it was such a happening that we thought (for an hour anyway) of changing our lives.
Subversive. Starting with the anti-menu and continuing with the public letters of complaint, Valerio thumbed his nose at convention. Likewise, early Apple computers were clearly anti-computer, symbolised by its fun apple logo and the sandal-wearing founders. Such things make the customer a co-conspirator in a pirate adventure.
Heart. Valerio's made a connection. It was refreshingly, joyously human.
Lively. Valerio's is energetic but not loud. Not glitzy but aerobic.
Beyond satisfaction. Valerio's neither 'satisfies' nor 'exceeds expectations' - it redefines expectations. An event? A way of life?
I'll know it when I see it. In his novel, Lila, Robert Pirsig wrote: 'Quality doesn't have to be defined. Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions.' Despite the inevitable howls from the Total Quality Management crowd, I agree. There is a place for measurement. And a place for art. Both are important. Art endures.
Have I defined beauty to your satisfaction? Probably not. But I contend just using terms like those above will get you thinking in useful and non-traditional directions. Give it a try. And if you're ever in Auckland . . .