Bounced from the Sushi Bar

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For years, Guido Rahr was a regular weekly customer at Sinju Restaurant, a sleek sushi emporium across the street from his office in Portland, OR’s, artsy Pearl District. Taking a seat at the sushi bar earlier this summer, Rahr noticed that bluefin tuna was on the menu.

Rahr, who is president of the Wild Salmon Center, an international conservation group, says that he asked the chef whether it was Pacific or Atlantic bluefin. The chef responded that it was Atlantic—one of the most endangered fish species in the ocean, on the very brink of extinction. In what he insists was a diplomatic manner, Rahr said that he recommended that the restaurant consider not serving Atlantic bluefin. “I said it really politely and more in the sense of, ‘I’m a regular customer and I’m concerned. You really ought to think twice about doing this—especially in Portland where we take sustainability seriously,’” he told me in a telephone interview.

There were two other customers at the bar who overheard the discussion but went back to their meals with no apparent loss of appetite.

On the way out the door, he told the manager that he would gather some information about bluefin, and the following day, he dropped off a packet. And for nearly a month thought nothing more of the incident–until he returned to Sinju, only to be greeted by a hostess who asked Rahr and his party to wait by the door, then vanished into the kitchen. According to Rahr, she came back out holding a cell phone, which she presented to him. Her boss was on the other end and asked Rahr to tell him his concerns. Rahr repeated the bluefin facts, and the manager said that he would prefer that Rahr bring such issues to him directly and not in front of other customers. “I thought, OK, that’s fine,” said Rahr. “It was all very cordial.”

When Rahr put the phone down, the hostess informed him that he was no longer welcome in the restaurant. “She said the staff were afraid to serve me,” said Rahr.

“I was stunned. Shocked. All of my conversations had been very polite and low-key.”

In mid-August, Rahr emailed a letter to Mike Chen, a manager at the restaurant group, which has two other locations in Portland. He has yet to get a reply. I reached Mr. Chen by telephone and asked him to comment on the incident. He requested that I email my questions, which I did, but so far no one at the restaurant has responded.

Rahr hasn’t had sushi since being banned. “Instead of as a loyal customer, they treated me as an adversary. I can’t see how any place can serve bluefin with a clear conscience. I need to find a new sushi restaurant.”

Luckily, living in Portland, he has a clear choice. He said that he plans to check out Bamboo Sushi, which has won high praise for its fish—every morsel of which is sustainable.

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12 comments

  1. devlyn says:

    Though Bamboo sushi isn’t in the Pearl, it’s much better sushi – the best I’ve had in all of my travels, and I’m lucky enough to live in Portland, too. Sinju serves plenty of unsustainable seafood, including unagi and saltwater shrimp; I’m surprised Rahr was eating there in the first place.

  2. Mark Ryan says:

    This incident is about cultural etiquette and not about fish sustainability. It’s clear that Mr. Rahr insulted his host in front of other diners. Why should the chef or the manager care to consider sustainable fish (even one month later) when Mr. Rahr still hasn’t apologized for his poor behavior at the restaurant?

  3. Clayton says:

    I too love Bamboo Sushi and find it to be the best sushi in PDX. I cannot believe that someone who devotes their life to conservation could patronize a business that in no way supports their personal efforts. Rahr should actually be ashamed of himself. He should know better and be an example to those “regular” diners who find the choice of choosing to always eat sustainably a tough pill to swallow. At least when he goes to Bamboo, he will love it:)!

  4. shannon says:

    I’m sorry but no matter what culture you come from or how politely or rudely you voice your beliefs, supporting the extinction of a species is irresponcible, immorale, and ignorant. Although it would have been more inteligent and tactful of Mr.Rahr to speak privately with the chef and or manager about the matter, It is his right as both a member of society, and as a customer to voice his conscerns about what he is eating. People don’t think twice about complaining about food that is ill prepared, and yet it’s a huge foa pou to mention his conscern over thier participation in the endangerment and extinction of a species? Yes he could have been more polite about it, but if we consumers fail to insist on choosing more sustainable food sources, and caring about where the products we buy come from, then bussinesses will continue to act immorally and irresponcibly until one day we’ll all look back and realize that all our clothes were made in sweat shops, and that we’ve ruined our ecosystem all because it was too “inconvient” and “rude” to stand up for what we believe in. Although he could have gone about it differently I applaud Mr. Rahr for standing up for his beliefs in a day and age where we are so reluctant to do so.

  5. Megan says:

    I don’t think it matters that Mr Rahr said something about the fish in front of other customers. (It clearly didn’t affect them in the slighest!) When a paying customer has a complaint or concern over their meal, they’re expected to consult the wait staff then and there – I mean, who would wait until getting home if they concerns over their meal or the menu? I don’t think his behaviour at the restaurant was poor. It’s not like he demanded that they stop serving the tuna – he simply brought it to their attention, and even went back to provide them with the proper information. If only all customers were so attentive to what they eat!!

  6. Stephanie says:

    The sad fact is that most Asians do not care about depleting the ocean of fish or about killing sharks for their fins or highly intelligent dolphins for their meat. I have many Asian friends and have tried to figure out the source of their apathy to no avail.

  7. The sad fact is that most White Americans do not care about depleting the world of brown people or about killing Arabs for their oil or highly desirable privatized war contracts. I have many White Americans friends and have tried to figure out the source of their apathy to no avail.

  8. Not_Your_Asian_Friend says:

    Wow.
    Way to support your righteous beliefs with racism, Stephanie.
    Really hard to take lessons in global responsibility from a bigot, gomen nasai.

  9. extramsg says:

    Sinju having bluefin did not affect Rahr’s meal. There was no reason to confront anyone then and there. His approach obviously wasn’t effective, either, so tact or (I would say) no tact, it was not beneficial to his cause.

    Further, his descriptions of the events don’t make sense. Having worked as a host, it seems unlikely he would be remembered so clearly as to cause his hostess to immediately call the owner a month later unless the interaction was more (ehem) memorable than Rahr describes.

  10. alieda says:

    Perspective, people, please. If he could have said/ done it in a better way, we move off topic so conveniently. Then again, the restaurant could have stopped serving the dish or at least discussed the issue with it’s concerned (and loyal) customer in a more responsible manner. But this isn’t about etiquette, and we all know it.

  11. I’m glad that Mr. Rahr spoke up. I was recently at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the food, I was very sad to see blue fin on the menu. The whole time, I just hoped that other people weren’t ordering it.

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  1. Score One for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna–And for Consumer Outrage

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