Tasty Knishes, and Service With a Scowl, New York TimesBy
If my wife and I are at Brighton Beach for the day, we usually end up spending an hour or two at one of the boardwalk restaurants like Tatiana. But a friend recently told me that if I want to try a more authentic former Soviet food experience, then International was the place to be.
I stopped by earlier this summer to write this piece for the New York Times. Although I was first hooked by the enormous selection of food, from every type of kielbasa you can imagine to pre-cooked dishes like lagman soup, what caught my attention most was the huffy way the servers treated everyone. For most of the four hours or so I was there, there was barely a smile in sight. And yet, almost all the regulars I spoke to told me that one of the things they liked best about the place was the fact that the store felt like family.
When I lived in Russia during the 1990′s there was no such thing as service with a smile. Reporting this story reminded me that for this first generation of immigrants, American-style customer service is still a foreign concept.
M & I International Food breaks all the rules of American retailing. It doesn’t have a catchy name. Its sales clerks don’t immediately smile at customers or make small talk.
And yet this supermarket and cafe on Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn has inspired fierce loyalty from regulars — most of whom seemed, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to be as surly as the people serving them.
The lone smile in this sea of grumpiness, radiating from beneath a large straw sun hat, belonged to a woman who offered only her first name, Raya. She said she had been a customer for 10 years because of the store’s excellent food, its low prices and, yes, its employees. “I am very thankful for such wonderful people,” she said in Russian.
Tasty Knishes, and Service With a Scowl (New York Times)