–Ben Kwan, Attorney
As soon as the story emerged earlier this month about the Harvard Business School professor who berated a Boston-area Chinese restaurant over his takeout bill, I was champing at the bit to get on the DuetsBlog to pen my own long-simmering epistle about the burdens of running a Chinese takeout joint.
This one hit close to home and I couldn’t wait to pile on with a few words about personal branding for lawyer-professors (or anyone else similarly inclined) as to their dealings with small, family-run, immigrant businesses.
As you all likely know by now, the Internet fury that landed on Harvard Professor Ben Edelman’s doorstep followed a series of emails Mr. Edelman exchanged with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline, Mass. Mr. Edelman accused Sichuan Garden of violating Massachusetts state law on advertising because Sichuan Garden’s online menu hadn’t been updated to reflect current prices. In other words, Mr. Edelman paid $4 more than he thought he was supposed to for his takeout. And then he had the nerve to ask for treble damages.
Long story short, the Internet cried foul and Mr. Edelman apologized.
What could I possibly add to this saga, where Harvard and its alumni bore the brunt of so much shaming, where lawyers everywhere took a collective hit for this guy’s questionable citation to black letter law on behalf of Egg Foo Yung lovers everywhere?
Very little. I just wanted to pile on with the rest of the Internet on behalf of the folks like my dad, who runs his own Chinese restaurant in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. I’ve been intimately involved with dad’s restaurant since I could reach the dishwasher by standing atop an over-turned five gallon soy sauce bucket (dad will say it was much earlier, when I learned how to pocket tips from customers). Heck, I’ll be there tonight after leaving the law firm. And I’ll be there because it’s New Year’s Eve, and as usual, I know we’ll be slightly under-staffed, and the extra help may prevent us from forgetting a pint of white rice or a bag of crispy chow mein noodles in someone’s NYE takeout order.
Let’s just say, I’ve dealt with a Ben Edelman or two in my life. So piling on Mr. Edelman wouldn’t be hard to do.
But then I read this response to the whole ordeal, which Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden released to Boston.com:
We have been overwhelmed with the response and support that has flooded our way. It means the world to know that there are still good people in this world. We have been contacted by people from California all the way to Australia offering kind words and support. I have been attempting to keep up with writing back personally and thanking each and every one of you. We have been offered donations, free services, including website services and legal advice, which I kindly denied.
I just want to make clear that we are not a business in financial distress. We have been blessed with the support of our amazing community and hospitality family that has understood the value of a hard working family. Your support and kind words are more then enough.
I have received overwhelming support from Harvard graduates and the student body. I believe that one man’s actions should not be the burden of another. I just want to apologize to Harvard for all the negative association they have been linked with this ordeal. I also believe that something good can come out of all this situation.
I support Jon Staff and will contribute to the Greater Boston Food Bank. I appreciate all the support and increase in business we have received but you need to realize we are just one of thousands of small establishments that need your support. I ask you to not just support us but your neighborhood establishments also, your local take-out restaurant, a bodega/market down the street. If we stick together and support our local community we will grow together as a community.
I kindly ask all media inquiries to respect our customers and our business hours. My number one priority is to our guests and the experience they receive at our establishments.
Ran Duan, on behalf of Sichuan Garden
I think that’s called grace. How’s that for a bit of personal branding wisdom for the new year?
The world was on Mr. Duan’s side and could easily have tolerated a swipe or vindictive jab at Mr. Edelman’s expense. Rather than a shot at Harvard elites who go around wielding their power over a $4 discrepancy, Mr. Duan went out of his way to apologize for the ill feelings Mr. Edelman wrought upon his academic kin. That’s classy.
And it’s the right kind of proactive, unsolicited response to an otherwise ugly situation that’s invited the now all-too-familiar indignant Internet pileup. Rather than add to the disdain for Mr. Edelman, Mr. Duan pivoted attention and took the opportunity to showcase and encourage some good.
So let it be resolved, this New Year’s Eve, that we enter 2015 with thoughts on grace in lieu of shaming when the latter is just too easy. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and well-branded 2015.