Association wants practice banned
By LANE WALLACE
Do samples of clam chowder attract business, or do they sully the reputation of Fisherman's Wharf when restaurant employees "bark" at passers-by?
That debate heated up last week when the Fisherman's Wharf Association voted 5-1 with one abstention to ask the city to ban sampling. Last year, the city, which owns the wharf, issued several citations for excessive "oral advertising."
Tom Gawel, general manager of Rappas at the end of the wharf, said it's not the sampling itself that he objects to, but what comes with it. He said he sees discarded sample containers on the wharf when he comes to work in the morning.
"There are a lot of guests who feel intimidation" from those offering samples, Gawel said. If samples were banned, he said, it would be "a lot more comfortable for the locals."
Rappas offers samples because "we're forced to. Everybody else does," Gawel said.
Chris Shake, owner of Old Fisherman's Grotto, supports sampling and said some of his competitors are jealous. Shake, whose family has been on the wharf for 50 years, said he offers samples "from opening to closing" and said it helps attract customers.
As for other restaurants, "if they think it cheapens the wharf, they don't have to do it."
Vince Liguori, owner of Liberty Fish Co., on Thursday said, "I'm for sampling, as long as it's done tastefully." Liguori offers samples, but people have to ask.
Dennis Joshi, owner of Crabby Jim's and part owner of Gilbert's, said he voted to send
the letter to the city but has had second thoughts and now favors sampling.
He said he's considering leaving the association board, saying the group should focus more on trying to bring more people to the wharf and putting on more events.
Rick Marvin, who manages leases for the city, said most complaints about the wharf regard oral advertising. "We call it barking," he said.
Controversy, Marvin said, "ebbs and flows."
After complaints surfaced last year, the city staff issued four or five citations for oral advertising, Marvin said, and that has seemed to help. Under city rules, those handing out samples can ask people who walk up to them if they want chowder, but they can't holler out to people a distance away.
Marvin cited an instance on the wharf "where I could hear it 15 feet away."
Most of the formal complaints come from other merchants, Marvin said, but he gets anecdotal evidence about the public response to the giveaways.
"It's like 50-50. Some like it and some feel intimidated," he said.
Marvin said he's waiting for a letter from the association about its vote, but what that letter will say hasn't been determined.
Mary Alice Fettis, president of the Wharf Association, said Friday that she plans to research the issue. Shake's attorney wrote to the association, saying the samples issue is beyond the scope of the group's by-laws.
But even if there is no letter, Marvin said, the city could take up the issue. He emphasized that no decisions have been made.