Friday, September 22, 2006

Celebrity endorsements

Twice within twenty-four hours I've pondered the topic of celebrity endorsements with restaurant owners. It's not something I usually do, so the conversations stand out in my mind.

Last night I ate dinner with Wook at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Abashiri. It's a little place in a strip mall in Bloomingdale with a nice atmosphere and excellent sushi. I admit, I've only appreciated sushi-style food for a few years, and I'm by no means a connoisseur, but this food is mouth-watering, and not limited to your average California rolls. (Yum, baked lobster rolls...)

Dave and I knew from the get-go that we really liked this place, and fretted when they didn't seem to have much business. (Of course, we want just enough traffic to keep it thriving, but we don't want to wait to be seated.) We've taken friends there (people much more experienced with sushi-style food), and they all claim this is some of the best they've eaten. Plus it passed the test of any good ethnic restaurant -- people of that ethnicity actually eat there.

OK, so I've established that we've got a nice little restaurant.

Anyway, last night it became apparent that word was getting out about this place. It started with the poster announcing the sale of Boyz II Men tickets for a concert tonight in the northern suburbs. Boyz II Men? What's the connection, we wondered. It turns out, a customer was going to bring in the band to eat before or after the show. OK. Not a huge band, but we could see how the restaurant owners might get excited. Then we noticed the couple posters of PGA players with the accompanying signed, dedicated autographs. Apparently, a few players ate there during the PGA Championship last month at Medinah. Understandable, since Medinah is just a few miles down the road. And then the owner, very polite but very excited, said a customer was going to bring in another celebrity to eat next month, even more well-known. Who knows, it might be a lot of talk on the customer's part, but I'll be looking for more signed photographs in the coming weeks.

Today I was at another favorite restaurant, Camille's in Rosemont. Camille's is a gourmet sandwich shop with a great atmosphere for a restaurant that doesn't offer table service. The food options are healthy and delicious (Quesadilla wrap, Thanksgiving Everyday soup, Lobster bisque...)

Out of the blue, while talking with the owner, he started telling me that he needed to get a photo of the Rockettes next time they were in the restaurant. He said that the last time they were in town, many of them ate at the restaurant regularly, but nobody would believe him without a photo. That led to conversation about other celebrities that apparently make Camille's a regular stop when they come through the nearby Rosemont Convention Center, Rosemont Theater or Allstate Arena. His complaint, though, was that celebrities seem to charge about $75 for a signed, personalize photo. But he didn't want a slick publicity photo, he wanted them actually eating in the restaurant.

I've wondered how some restaurants got their vast collections of signed, celebrity photos. I guess, now I know.

OK, so I've given away two of my favorite restaurants. You're promised to secrecy. I don't want word getting out. I love these places, but I'd hate to wait for a table.

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