Monday, May 23, 2011

The Mike's Chili and Gyros Incident

When planning out our quest to find the best cheese coney in Cincinnati we knew it would be filled with some ups and downs. However, what happened at Mike's is something we never imagined occurring on the quest. We knew that at some point we might upset someone if we made a negative review of their restaurant. We did not know that even before leaving a restaurant we would anger someone so much that they would call the police on us. It was quite an experience but it at least did end on a good note.

Here is a blow by blow recap of the events at Mike's Chili & Gyros that led to the police being called:

Usually when we go out to a restaurant for the quest I just use my cell phone to take pictures. However this time my phone was low on juice so I decided to take my small point and shoot camera. We were the only customers inside the restaurant which made me happy cause I wouldn't have to worry about taking pictures around customers. The employee working there (who I assume is in the family ownership) noticed me taking a picture, which led to this conversation:

Server: Not to be nosey, but I noticed you were taking pictures.
Me: Yeah, we are visiting all the chili parlors in Cincinnati. I was just taking pictures to document our experiences.
Sever: Oh. I have never seen anyone taking pictures in here before.
Me: Yeah I was just taking a picture of the restaurant and of the food.
Server: Ok.

She then walked away, she seemed a little confused but gave no indication that she was upset nor that she wanted us to stop taking pictures. If she asked us to stop taking pictures I wouldn't have a problem with it, its her business and I respect that right.

After we left finished the meal I went outside to get a picture of the exterior of the restaurant and that is when the fireworks were set off:

Server: *storms out the front door* I need to know why you are taking these pictures!!!
Me: We are just documenting our experience when all the chili parlors. We run a food blog about Cincinnati chili. (Alison then chimes in and further explains what Cincinnati Coney Quest is)
Server: NO! You can not take pictures!
Me: Ok I'm sorry, we did not mean to offend you. We can delete the pictures.
Server: Yes delete the photos!
Me: *deletes pics* Ok, I deleted them. Once again we are sorry.
Server: Let me see!!!

At this point I go over to her and try to show that there were no pictures of her establishment on my camera. As I am scrolling through she is trying to hit random buttons and then attempts to snatch the camera from me. This is when I blow up:

Server: No! I'm getting your info and calling the police!

I probably could have been a bit more tactful there, but I was very upset and frustrated at this point. We walk back towards our car and she storms out the back door to write down our license number. I apologized for the language I used and for the whole situation but she wasn't having any of it and called the cops. We waited around for a little bit for the cops but after no arrival we decided to go to a nearby park to go for a walk and calm down. During this time Alison had the good idea of calling the cops to let them know what happened and our contact info.

About 5 minutes later the cops called Alison. Alison explained everything that happened above. Apparently the employee told the police that she thought we were taking pictures of the restaurants security (this will make a little more sense later) and that she told us stop taking pictures (which was a lie). Luckily the cop was very friendly and understanding. He explained to her that we weren't up to anything sinister and that we were just documenting our experiences.

She gave the cop her number so we can call and apologize to her. Yes you read that correctly. This further angered us. Luckily, a couple of hours later (coincidentally as I was writing this post) we received one more phone call, this time from Sam, the owner of Mike's Chili and Gyros. Alison told him what happened, what that Cincinnati Coney Quest is and that we did not intend to offend or harm the woman working or the restaurant. He apologized for the misunderstanding and our bad experience. He also told us that there have been a number of break ins at that location recently which is why the woman working was suspicious of us. Sam seemed to have a better understand of what CCQ is all about and was very interested in our blog and our quest to find the best cheese coney. He said we can visit his west side location of Mike's anytime, he will give us coneys and gyros and will even pose for a picture for us! We do appreciate this gesture, that being said, we have heard complaints about rude service at the east side location and he should get that under control.

Today was a very hectic, unpleasant and stressful day but we are happy there was an amicable resolution. I don't know what the protocol is for taking pictures in restaurants (fellow food bloggers feel free to chime in) but in the future we could ask the parlors staff if its ok that we take pictures. We typically don't like to tell people we are there for a blog before we eat our meal because we don't want any special treatment. However in this case it might have led to less confusion and maybe the police wouldn't have been involved. Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered at all. Regardless, we are very appreciative that Sam reached out to us and that both sides can put this incident behind us and concentrate on what we love, Cincinnati chili. Someday we may take him up on his offer for coneys and pictures.


  1. Wow - I have never had anything close to that! I've gotten questions lots of times - but have never even been asked to not take photos! I always use my point & shoot camera - my phone doesn't take great photos.

    Glad you pushed through!

  2. Clint/Alison: That's an amazing and unfortunate story!

    I'm not clear what the legalities are with regard to taking photos in a restaurant (maybe a lawyer can chime in on that), but I would guess the owner does have the right to not serve whomever they choose, including those taking photos. I know of one restaurant in New York City that flat out bans photography of any kind...if they catch you, you'll get kicked out.

    Having said that, there is NO excuse nor can I think of any legal basis for her forcing you to delete photos of the restaurant (particularly the exterior) or of the food you purchased. You bought the food, it's yours, so you should be able to do what you want with it.

    The only defenses food bloggers have against situations like this are discretion, speed and judgment. Some restaurants are just not conducive to photos (e.g. poor lighting, upscale ambiance, etc).

    If I feel too uncomfortable or "on the spot" about taking a photo, I won't do it. But if others around me are snapping birthday photos (for example) or it's so crowded no one's paying attention to anyone else, I snap away! In recent years, we've also cut out flash photography if the place is too dark, then no photo.

    Sorry this happened to you. I think each food blogger has his/her own bad experience to tell, but the beauty of these situations is all the publicity and traffic you'll get. :)

  3. Yeah that is what I assumed. We still don't understand why she didn't tell us to stop taking pictures in our initial conversation if it bothered her that much. Such a crazy experience.

  4. Ah yes, my worst fear. It's one of the reasons why I never use a DSLR (oh, iPhone 4, how I love thee), and another reason why I have lots of lawyer friends.

    She could have handled it so much better-- asking you, perhaps, why you were taking pictures and maybe explaining that they'd had a lot of break-ins. Even just posting a "no pictures" policy-- not unheard of, though rare here in Cincinnati-- would have been better than calling the police. Seems kind of like an abuse of police resources.

  5. That's the same reason we don't bring out our dslr. Yeah during that initial convo she should have mentioned the break ins, I don't know why our explanation confused and apparently angered her. We would have stopped taking pics if she asked us to during that conversation. Just an all around epic fail on her part. From now on I'm making sure my phone is fully charged before going out!

  6. I see retail, both large and small, making this same mistake over and over. Her job is NOT to police the restaurant it is to assure a quality experience.

    No internal or external theif will ever steal more money from your business than bad word of mouth.

    If it were my place, she'd be fired. But then my people would be more properly trained...

    sorry you had such a bad experience. This is a great blog and one of my favorites to ready, please keep doing it!

  7. We got the impression she is likely part of the family who owns the restaurant so it would probably be difficult for her to be fired. Whatever her relation may be, the main owner really needs to have a serious discussion with her about proper customer service, especially since this isn't an isolated incident. Here are some quotes from one of our facebook commenters:

    "which one (east or west)? unfortunately there is a difference in taste and quality. the one in the old God Star building (east) is better. THey are are a little rude there at times vs the one on west side very friendly and a little cleaner looking, but not as good."

    "ive seen people at Mikes East side have cops called on them B4 :) wasnt me and they kind of deserved it, but they didnt start it the people at Mikes did"

  8. and don't worry, despite this speed bump the quest shall continue!

  9. Wow. First of all, if she didn't want you to take photos, she could have asked nicely or even told you not to before she called the cops. Secondly, even if there was a security issue, I would think "I'm reviewing your restaurant and I wanted to have some photos" would've been an OK reason to allow photos.

    Honestly, it doesn't matter if they have the best coneys in the history of the free world. The way you guys were treated just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I wasn't even there.

  10. I guess she thought we were lying.

  11. Sorry for the problems you had there but if they have had break ins, I totally understand cameras being disconcerting, but they simply could've stated that up front (as you mentioned) Then again, maybe they felt intimidated once you took OUTSIDE photos. 25 yrs ago, I lived in that area while married, above a friend's business for seven years. It was a mostly commercial area with some homes. Nice elderly in the area in those days but a few troublemakers were moving in. I know from a businessman in that area, it's more so now :(

    He tells me they routinely chase away hookers (Even during the day!!) and at night have them picking up johns there & the police call him at home about this. He has been there since 1970! This biz is a golf club shot (a driver) from where you were. I can't remember how long Mike's chili has been there but do KNOW there's been deterioration of the neighborhood AND type of people that live there. They razed some buildings & entire trailer park some years back, also near this chili place.

    I think your dropping of the F bomb might've made her feel threatened (not an attack on you, just saying...many people are shocked by any cussing but the "F" word still can shock :)) Even though you are nice friendly, foodie types, perhaps that made a red flag go off for her, but she could've handled things better unless she was truly starting to panic, maybe?

    Plus, is there a language barrier? I know some businesses in the area, even many years ago, had folks from around the world as owners. For instance, spaghetti place had guys that spoke English but if the sisters filled in, there could be issues. And if you called the house & the mother moved here from Jordan answered & you didn't speak Arabic, she'd say "No Speak English" and hang up on you :-D (TRUE story. My friend who sold Mary Kay called the house once, Ha)

    Anyway, I'm glad this had a happy ending, that the police were nice to you, and the son apologized...and I WOULD take up the offer to visit the West Side location for a face to face conversation. Sort of a redo :)

    Good luck if you go to their other store. Hamilton is not the city it used to be when I was growing up & it's sad to see it on such hard times....been going on for well over 15 + yrs I hate that existing businesses don't get the digital age & Social your review could really help them out..provided the food is deserving.

    p.s. The West Side locale is a few blocks from my mom's so let me know when you go there. I'd like to know how their food is as we've never tried it.

  12. I don't know if this helps, but I found this post on a photo website by a guy named William Hutton. He says this of photography in restaurants:

    "In the US, in a public restaurant people have no legal expectation of privacy (except for the restrooms). After all, many restaurants have security cameras. Until the restaurant owner(s) tell you to stop, you may photograph whatever you want in an area where the public has free and open access. If you stop, they may not take your camera, touch you, insist you delete cards, turn over film, etc. If you refuse to stop (or even if you do stop), the owner(s) can tell you to leave immediately or be arrested for trespassing. If you still refuse to leave, then the owner(s) will call the police and you will be arrested for trespassing. Under no circumstances (unless you act in a way that threatens physical damage or danger) can anyone except the police legally touch you, or your equipment. They can not legally threaten you. All they can do is insist you leave immediately and call the police if you refuse."


  13. Thanks for all the info about Hamilton. It was our first time there.

    I certainly didn't intend to curse at her but she tried snatching my camera from me, so in the heat of the moment it just came out. I tried to apologize immediately but her mind was made up by then.

    We might take him up on the offer, but Hamilton isn't located conveniently to us and we aren't in any rush to return. Maybe next time we go to jungle Jim's we will visit the other location.

  14. Sad thing is I have had many dealings with Sam from complaints to trying to get his help with community outreach and it never goes as he says. He says one thing just to blow smoke it seems, because in the end if he isn't getting a $$$ for whatever he is doing he will back out and change the deal. They have good food, and terrible service. If they would just relax and provide a friendly experience you would actually see customers there. They worry about $$ so much they drive customers away resulting in less $$$

  15. They are quite rude. Me and my wife went to the one on rt 4 a few weeks ago and she got a 5 way and I got 4 cheese coneys. I asked for hot sauce which they gave me in a portion cup. I love hot sauce and asked for more and was told that I had enough and that it cost money and for my coneys I was allowed 1 portion cup filled about 1/3 full. They were very rude and serious about it. So now I'm left with the feeling of why bother going there again.

  16. East Hamilton has rough for the last 20 years or so... The West Side of Hamilton is probably a better option. The East Side location used to be a Gold Star until the early 90's.

  17. A shame to hear they know about the rude service complaints and don't do enough about it. I've never heard of a chili parlor (or any restaurant) limiting the amount of hot sauce you can have. Now that I think of this is one of the few places that we visited that did not have hot sauce on the tables.

  18. this is a fantastic story! I gotta hit this place up next time I am home. Did you get to eat the coneys?

  19. Yes we got to eat the coneys, the craziness happened after we paid and were leaving. The coneys were ok, not among the best but not the worst either.

  20. thanks for your efforts ... perhaps your readers can set up a "get out of jail free" trust fund for you two! keep up the good work!

  21. Great article! I am from Hamilton and have ate there several times. I normally have gotten their guros. Never tried he conies. They are quite strange. I think their family is originally from Europe or something like that. Not to take their side but I always got an old fashioned vibe from them. Don't know if you have ever tried an A&W burger joint but they normally are ran by a greek/indian family. It always reminds me of that.

  22. It makes one wonder why people want to get into running a restaurant when providing good service is easily as important as quality food. It's a shame you had such an awful experience, but good that you're sharing it with your readers. Hopefully the management will change their approach to customer service.

  23. Wow. My husband and I eat at the Rte. 4 location regularly, it's our usual lunch stop after a trip to Jungle Jim's. We've never had a problem with the service, and they're usually quite friendly. One of the waitresses even got to recognizing us and when would ask us if we wanted "the usual"! :)

    (I usually get either a 4-way with onions and a cheese coney, or one of the burgers. My husband usually gets a gyro and a cheese coney.)

    And I've taken pictures of my food (but not of the building itself) there in the past without problems. I don't think anyone saw me do it, though. So sorry you had such trouble with this place! :(

  24. Clint, I reviewed Mike's a few years ago and took a lot of pictures: