Second Chance at a First Impression

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The day after my review of Gemelli’s hit the stands, I got this missive from a reader:

After reading your excellent review, my friend and I arrived at 11:10 this morning (Fri), drooling over the thought of the shrimp scampi ...There was an 8 top that had walked in immediately ahead of us, so we settled into our booth, anticipating that the lone server was about to have a busy couple of hours. Right away we asked about the scampi: "Oh you're going to love this ... that is our lunch special today, and you two will be the first ever to order it!"

We enjoyed a glass of wine and a house salad ... more lunch diners showed up, and about 20 minutes passed before the poor overworked woman reappeared. "We don't have any shrimp today! Someone forgot to order it. You'll have to start over again." She dropped two menus off and disappeared.

NO SHRIMP? How could that be? After the review you gave them, as the owner I would have doubled the normal order and hired additional personnel for the crush of people that would no doubt be coming in. I can't remember the last time I walked out of a restaurant, but it was obvious nothing was going right for us and it was time to bail. The woman was in tears, admitting she was there by herself and in over her head. We hugged her and wished her well, then proceeded down the street for the best BBQ ever at Big Hoss.

Just thought you'd like to know. I know I'll never have the scampi that I was craving because we simply won't go back. As the wise man said, you only have one chance to make a good impression. I wish the staff and owners at Gemelli's all the best ...”

Sounds like a disaster, right? A perfect storm of fuck-uppery. After reading the above e-mail (and laughing a little at the black humor of it all because, short of a catastrophic fire -- which happened once, at Griff’s on South Broadway -- how does a day-after-a-good-review go worse than that?), I put in a call for Gemelli’s side of the story and got chef Loredana D’Amico on the phone.

“I’m the Italian-by-way-of-Chicago chef you wrote about,” D’Amico said. When I told her why I was calling, she said that she’d gotten an e-mail, too, from the same guy. And as it turns out, things weren't quite as disastrous as described.

“It was the first table of the day,” D’Amico explained. “And normally, he wouldn’t have even been able to get shrimp scampi at lunch. It’s on the dinner menu. But because of all the things you wrote, I decided to put it on for a lunch special. But then I get the order and I reach for the shrimp and I realize we don’t have any yet.”

Okay, so that’s pretty bad, right?

“Yeah, but the customer beat the truck in, is all. He got there before the delivery truck did.” According to D’Amico, within an hour they had shrimp “coming out our ears.” And while yes, there is that old saw about never getting a second chance to make a first impression, D’Amico said she did everything she could to make things right with the letter writer: contacting him, apologizing profusely, even offering to buy him dinner.

All things considered, it was just one table. D’Amico went on to tell me how Gemelli’s has been just “beautifully busy” since the review came out, filling up for both lunch and dinner and on the weekends for brunch. As a matter of fact, D’Amico said, “I’ve grown seven more gray hairs since then, you know?”—one for every day since the review came out.

And now that patio season is officially under way, Gemelli’s has added a whole bunch more covers to the book, because this place has one of the best patios in town -- an entire yard filled with tables, fountains and gazebos with a lovely, casual vibe. But even the extra seating might not be enough. From what I’ve heard, the place is really packing ‘em in during prime time, causing some back-ups on the floor.

When I asked D’Amico about the crowds clamoring for her kitchen’s shrimp scampi and chicken rollatini, I could almost hear her shrug over the phone. “Sometimes you’ve got to wait for greatness,” she said. -- Jason Sheehan

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