Sarma Melngailis of Pure Food and Wine: ‘Elitism Bothers Me, Too!’

Photo: Melissa Hom

After Sal Anthony called out pricey raw-food restaurants for being trendy and elitist, we weren’t surprised when Pure Food and Wine loyalists rose to defend the establishment he (let’s be fair) may or may not have had in mind. PF&W;’s owner, Sarma Melngailis (who you’ll recall is not averse to the occasional lamb meatball), even stepped into the commenting fray to defend her prices (a tamale that was once $22 is $23 these days), saying “there is hardly a single person working at PF&W;, whether front of house or back of house, that’s a ‘raw foodist’ so how can we be arrogant about that?” Here’s the rest of her argument, in case you missed it.

I resisted chiming in but now I can’t help it. Arrogance involved with it? Where is the arrogance? Yes, if you go the route of using the vegetable pulp that comes out as waste from the back of your juicer as the main ingredient in your pizza crust, you can charge less. That’s great and very efficient. But we don’t do that. We use the best organic and specialty ingredients available and have extremely dedicated, lovely, and talented people on staff. There is hardly a single person working at PF&W;, whether front of house or back of house, that’s a “raw foodist” so how can we be arrogant about that? We don’t have high prices because we’re “elitist”. It’s the only way we can make it work! Anthony owns the building they’re in (I think, not sure). At PF&W;, we pay [INSERT ASTRONOMICALLY HUGE NUMBER] a month in rent for our restaurant, big backyard garden space, juice bar, two kitchens, etc. There are over 60 people on the payroll, and that’s with a lean staff. Anyone who runs a really nice restaurant knows it’s NOT easy. The LAST thing you’ll find in our food or space is arrogance. We put forth a beautiful product and experience. And most importantly, as with ANY restaurant or product, you’re not being forced to go there or buy it. Is Le Bernadin a rip off? Per Se? Why are we a rip off then when we also use the best ingredients in a varied and creative menu, w/ talented staff to make it all happen? If that’s a rip off, again, no one is forcing you to come sit in our lovely garden. You’re welcome to go sit at A’s and order a vegetable pulp pizza. (Note: I mean no ill will towards A’s… the more options for people the better. But I don’t think you can compare what we’re doing.) And by the way, I totally agree w/ Anthony. Elitism bothers me too! Does that mean nice restaurants shoudln’t exist? OK. I’m done. :-) Sarma

Come on, Sarma, no ill will? This is turning out tamer than the nonexistent Grimaldi’s versus Ignazio’s feud!