Over the weekend, Neptune Oyster chef Michael Serpa caused a small stir with some tweets criticizing a neighboring restaurant's giant lobster roll ("USS Lobstitution") promotion and the lack of creativity in the North End in general. Some agreed wholeheartedly while others shared the sentiment but disagreed with calling out a neighbor, and others accused Serpa of being elitist (and worse names). Serpa stands by his words and has shared some clarifying thoughts with Eater.
"I fully stand by my comments and wanted to make clear that the North End is a great place to have a business, live, eat, and visit. I also believe the North End restaurant and food scene could use some work.
The lack of inventive and creative places for an area that has so many restaurant spaces is a weakness for the North End. Instead of 20 restaurants doing pretty much the same thing with a lack of passion, originality, and ambition, we should have the opposite. Boston is supposedly an innovative city with creative people trying to make a mark and be original. I mentioned that the North End lacks pretty much any diversity in cuisine types, which some people thought would take away from our 'Little Italy'. If 20 out of 100 restaurants (not sure how many North End spots there are) are not Italian does that mean the whole tradition of the neighborhood is gone? I think not. Also if 30 of those other 80 Italian restaurants are creative and distinct, who would argue that that is a bad thing. Italian cuisine is very diverse and distinct from region to region, so perhaps the North End could make room for a really good Tuscan place, a Neopolitan one, a Sardinian one, a Venetian seafood spot, etc, etc. Instead of noticing that a restaurant down the street is busy and popular and knocking off a dish they are known for, maybe think "Why is that place busy?" Because they decided to do something distinct that no one else in the neighborhood was doing and are passionate about what we do at Neptune. Some of the things we have in the North End are amazing and unique, no doubt about it. The sense of neighborhood is like no other in the city.
For my comments I was greeted with some people in agreement (restaurant industry people and chefs especially) and a lot of backlash, some of which was totally uncalled for in my opinion. I was called miserable, elitist, and petty for no apparent reason by someone who doesn't know me at all? Perhaps a bit snarky I could agree with, but after watching Salem Street have place after place start doing lobster rolls and/or oysters and another spot in the North End revamp itself into a on oyster bar very much in the Neptune vein, I can say I'm pretty tired of the lack of originality in what places are doing. If you can't make it doing what you do, try to do something better than knocking off what someone else is working hard to make work. Boston has a very tight restaurant community and as chefs we don't really have a cutthroat competitive environment, but more of a collaborative and fun community. I do not think I was in the wrong for saying that we can do things better in the North End and I think a lot of restaurant people and saavy diners would agree. The attitude by some people in the North End is a real turn off for me. I was threatened a few weeks ago by the owner of Rabia's down the street (who is also now a raw bar, serving lobster rolls, etc, etc) who said he was going to "break my face" for talking to a regular customer of Neptune and personal friend in front of his restaurant. I have never even met the guy and he wanted to physically threaten me. I would love to be able to say that everyone in the North End is awesome and that Boston restaurant community feeling exists, but that would obviously be incorrect. Instead of being negative and competitive, do your own thing and be successful and make some friends instead of enemies.
I have been cooking at Neptune for 5 years and treat it like I own it. The owners are like family and the staff is as tightly knit as they come. I work the line five days a week and we make clam chowder, fried clams, burgers, lobster rolls, fish, steamed clams, and the like. Very elitist stuff. I try to think we do a good job in the kitchen and always am looking for ways to improve the product we are putting on the plate. I would like to see some other places nearby do the same, not a big deal. I understand some people don't like our system or how we do things and that is totally fine. We often get categorized as being rude, snobbish, etc, which I also understand. But there is another side to every story and comment as well. We have a lot of great regulars who our staff loves to see because they get it. Our restaurant is small, it's cramped, there is no waiting area, no reservations, no bar to get a drink while you wait, no dessert, no coat check, no valet parking, no elbow room, no hostess or host at the door at all times, not a lot of amenities in general. But we do have really great product, cooked by people who are proud of what we do, served by staff who bust their ass trying to work in a high stress job in a closet sized space. We treat people like they treat us, be understanding and civil and we will all have a great time. I truly feel bad when people have a bad experience at our restaurant and our goal is always to be hospitable, serve really fresh seafood, don't mess it up too much, and have great beer and wine to go with it.
Also anyone who knows me would be hard pressed to call me miserable, arrogant, or pretentious etc. Life is too short for that, and I am lucky enough to get to work in a field that I am truly passionate about. I hope that anyone who has a negative outlook on Neptune does give us another shot, but in case you don't, I hope there are a lot more unique places for them to try in our city, and especially in the North End."
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