Veni Vici Vendetta

Most restaurateurs follow the adage that the customer is always right. Even if the diner is nuts, the savvy eatery entrepreneur realizes the value in word-of-mouth.

Unless you're Gary Horowitz, owner of the Italian Grotto -- a long-standing restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale. In that case, any customer with a complaint is a "pain in the ass" and gets shown the door.

A customer had such a poor experience the other day at the Grotto that he filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, sending me a copy as a "concerned and terrified Scottsdale resident," and asking to remain anonymous out of fear for his safety. Nothing terribly startling there; complaints about restaurants are common. I get several calls a week regarding some sort of injustice. Most of them barely warrant a courtesy call to get the restaurant owner's side. In this case, however, Horowitz wasn't interested in talking.

"Success in the restaurant business is judged by enemies," he told me when I called to ask about the cranky diner. "I hope they said something bad." I asked if he was interested in knowing what the concern was. "I could care less who you're talking about. I'm here 22 years. I have too many people who love me and respect me to worry about one little pain in the ass who doesn't."

Likely, it would have been difficult to forget the disgruntled diner, who, in the BBB claim, demands to be reimbursed the cost of the meal and tip. Not only that, but he wants Horowitz to be forced to take anger-management classes, and to deliver the reimbursement to a third party in order to avoid Horowitz' "possible violent behavior."

According to the complaint, the diner ordered mussels, found the seafood to "taste wrong," sent it back, and ordered another entree. Horowitz then approached the table, the diner claims, clutching a handful of mussels, pushing it in his face and insisting that the seafood was fresh. Horowitz refused to remove the uneaten dish from the final bill, and later refused to revisit the table to discuss the charge. The waitress, the claim says, then directed the diner to leave the restaurant without paying any part of the bill, to avoid Horowitz "making a scene."

Minutes later, the report states, Horowitz chased the diner down the street, "screaming that (the diner) was stealing and threatening to call the police." Eventually, Horowitz agreed to remove the mussels charge, and yelled at the diner to never return.

Horowitz admits he has a strict policy. "I never get a dish back," he insists. "I can say I served that dish 175,000 times and I haven't gotten (one) back yet, lady. It must be you, not me."

The customer may have been crazy. But it seems to me, it would have been a lot easier to just remove the charge for the offending dish and swallow some pride.


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