Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Sep 01 2012 12:00 PM

HERB BENHAM: Restaurant takes full responsibility for delicious cake

By The Bakersfield Californian

Last week, I went to Jake's Tex-Mex Cafe for some chocolate chip cookies. The only place that can touch Jake's as far as chocolate chip cookies go is Sequoia Sandwich. Still, it's hard to beat Jake's, with their soft sand-dollar-sized chocolate chip discs (especially good after an order of Herb's chili fries).

The servers behind the counter were wearing black T-shirts with the phrase "Socially Irresponsible" printed on the front and "Yep, that's us" on the back.

The T-shirts were not part of their normal uniform and after a few days of wondering about what the shirts could possibly mean, I called Sarah Slayton-Price, daughter of Jake's owner Skip Slayton.

"A woman called a few months ago and said she had had a piece of our Texas sheet cake at an office bridal party and had loved it," Sarah said. "The following week, she found her car driving itself three days in a row to the restaurant in order to get a piece of the sheet cake. After the third day, she snapped.

"'In a country that has an obesity problem and all the other attendant health issues" -- Sarah was quoting the woman -- 'How could you display the sheet cake where customers can grab it rather than store it behind the glass where they might have to ask for it and thus maybe not buy a piece? You are being socially irresponsible and are no different than a drug dealer.'"

By this point in the conversation, the customer was screaming into the phone and Sarah could almost hear the adrenalin pumping through her veins.

"I told her that I understood her struggles with food and that I heard her criticism, but I also believed in choice," Sarah said. "Dessert is a treat, and some people like a treat after their meal" (certainly if that meal is my signature dish, Herb's chili fries).

It was disheartening, Sarah said. It was almost as if she were witnessing somebody falling apart on the phone.

The restaurant business is brutal, and anybody who has been within 200 yards of it knows this. Restaurants are food, theater and entertainment all in one package. There are weeks when Sarah feels inspired by the daily performance art and other weeks when she can't imagine having to do it again.

"We're also competing against chains," Sarah said. "Chains will automatically give somebody a $10 gift certificate when there is a problem with the quality of the food or the service. We make it right for our customers if we do something wrong, but there are people who work the system."

A woman in Jake's recently ate three-quarters of her sandwich and then sent it back and wanted the meal comped. That would have been fine, but, coincidentally, an employee had seen the same couple at Jack in the Box the night before, trying a similar ploy.

The woman distraught over the sheet cake was not looking for reimbursement; she was just upset that she had fallen into the clutches of Texas sheet cake. Sarah decided to take the phrase "Socially Irresponsible," which the woman had used, and put it on a T-shirt the servers wear on Fridays. The shirts have become a hit, just like the sheet cake (and Herb's chili fries), and she's sold more than 150 of them and had to reorder three times.

That the shirts sell for $6 may be one reason Jake's has sold so many, or it may be that people are embracing the message behind "Socially Irresponsible."

It could be that most people realize it is a losing battle to resist the Texas sheet cake, whether it's behind glass, on a tray on the counter or locked away in the safe.

Either way, I still prefer the chocolate chip cookies and give myself over to them as willingly, completely and socially irresponsibly as possible.

***

More bad news for those people whose cars drive themselves: Last week, Jake's unveiled its newest dessert, chocolate frosting slathered between two fresh chocolate chip cookies. Talk about unfair.

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