Today's PG story about the big Burrito restaurant group (PG story here) is a business story masquerading as a food story.  Don't get me wrong; I've eaten at Casbah many times, and Kaya, and Soba, and Eleven, and multiple Mad Mexes, and I like all of the food a lot.  Casbah is my favorite of the bunch.

But the food is neither the point nor the reason to celebrate BB's success.  You can find better food in Pittsburgh.  More innovative food.  More challenging food.

What I like about the bB experience, particularly at Casbah, is the attention to detail that's rare at a mid-range restaurant.  (Casbah isn't cheap, but it isn't at the highest end of the scale, either.)  I love the service.  At every single meal I've eaten at Casbah -- lunches and dinners over the years, that's well over 20 at this point, including groups both small (3 and 4 people) and large (I've had dinners at Casbah with 15 and 25 people) -- I've been attended by a service staff that was attentive, responsive, accurate, and knowledgeable, without being obtrusive, oppressive, or overly familiar.  I've eaten at a lot of Pittsburgh restaurants, even restaurants pricier than Casbah, where the wait staff projected an I-just-don't-care-that-much attitude.  The Casbah staff are there to make sure that I have a great dining experience.

That's a tribute to the service staff themselves, but it's also a tribute to the management of the restaurant, and to the management of the organization as a whole.  It's hiring the right people, training, supporting, and compensating them properly, and then letting them do their jobs.  (If someone remembers an older Pittsblog post about tipping practices, note that I'm a habitual 20-25% tipper at bB restaurants.)  I assume that nothing is actually perfect at Casbah or other bB outpost, and I imagine that if this post gets around I will read or hear anecdotes about mistaken orders or rude service or abusive managers.  But based on my own experience, I have to assume that these would be the exceptions, not the rule.

The bigger story here isn't the dining experience.  The bigger story is a story of a new, post-Steel Pittsburgh:  individual entrepreneurs willing to innovate in territory incognita, investors willing to partner with them along the way, a dining public that gradually but perceptibly came to embrace their vision, persistence and resilience in the face of occasional failure, and -- as China Millman's PG piece makes clear, owners who "get" the idea of paying it forward.  big Burrito's success has meant success for big Burrito staff, and many of those are now bB alumni, owning and/or working in other new restaurants around town.  A great deal of attention is paid to the nail-biting adventures of high tech entrepreneurs coming out of CMU:  will their company succeed?  Will there be funding?  Customers?  Profits?  Employment growth?  Spinoffs?  How can Pittsburgh grow and nurture an innovation economy and recover its former commercial glory?

Maybe it turns out to be the food after all.  But not cupcakes.  Fake Mexican burritos. 


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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