Thursday, January 21, 2010

Johnny Rockets, what not to say to a sports legend, and how many Twitter followers everybody has

January 21

Thanks a lot, Twitter followers.

A week ago I tweeted the following: “Introducing Joe Theismann tonight at launch of Johnny Rockets Sports Lounge on UES. Was told to ask him about punting. Good idea, right?”

Did anyone warn me? Did anyone point out that the football legend, on one bad day in his mostly extraordinary career, famously kicked a punt of approximately one yard and that to bring it up, as countless others no-doubt do all the time, would be rude?

No, they did not.

One follower, InsideFandB, basically said “hey, that guy took my pen,” but otherwise, my approximately 1,600 followers — and you know who you are — were silent. Not a word of warning that I might hurt the feelings of a man whose feelings don’t deserve to be hurt and who, although now 60 years old, could easily fold me up into a pretzel and toss me out of the nearest window without breaking a sweat.

Chris Matthews was the one who suggested I bring up the punt. Not that Chris Matthews, wine writer Chris Matthews, who contributes to the New York Law Journal, among other publications, and is husband of food writer Kathryn Matthews. They’re a lovely couple.

We were at the 15th anniversary party of i Trulli, standing around, eating gnocchi and cavatelli and whatnot.

I met the restaurant’s executive chef, Patti Jackson. A pastry chef by training (most recently at Alto under Scott Conant, so not that recently), she told me about how she struggled to make perfect orecchiette — the little flat, round pasta with a name that literally means “small ears.” She was working meticulously, as pastry chefs do, to perfect each and every piece, and she was fretting about her inability to do so to the Italian woman who was teaching her, who finally said, “just shut up and make the pasta!”

Anyway, I told Chris and Kathryn that I would be introducing Joe Theismann at the opening of Johnny Rockets’ new sports lounge, Chris made the punting remark — obviously joking — and I thought I’d see if my Twitter followers cared about me.

I learned that they don’t.

Theismann seemed like a nice guy, though. He shook my hand and I asked him about his restaurant career, which started in 1975, when he was in the second year of his football career, as the Washington Redskins’ third-string quarterback.

Restaurateurs in Alexandria, Va., were looking for someone to lend his name to their restaurant and Theismann threw his hat in the ring. They asked why they should use his name when he was virtually a nobody. He told them it couldn’t get any worse.

Of course, he became a football legend, and the restaurant was a success. Theismann sold out of it in 1990, but a couple of years ago he came back into the restaurant business as a member of Johnny Rockets' board of directors.

The PR people at the burger chain had asked me to use my negligible star power (remember my 1,600 Twitter followers? Yeah well Frank Bruni as of this writing has 4,657, “Amateur Gourmet” Adam Roberts has nearly 6,000 and Tyler Florence has 182,429) to introduce Mr. Theismann, who used his considerable star power to introduce John Fowler, the proud father of Bryanna and McKenna Fowler, as the new president and chief executive of Johnny Rockets.

Joe Theismann does not appear to have a Twitter account, but I reckon that he has more star power even than Tyler Florence anyway.

John Fowler a big sports fan. He was in New York on a sort of media tour, talking to journalists like me, appearing on Bloomberg TV, meeting people at Time magazine.

I’m told that the Time meeting was a particular thrill for him because he was in the same offices as Sports Illustrated, a magazine of which he has every copy since he started reading it at age 12.

John’s such a big sports fan that when news of the sports lounge reached his friends, they told him that it had his fingerprints all over it.

John pointed out to them, however, that he’d only been CEO for a few days, which is not enough time to conceive of and execute a new restaurant concept.

Basically, it’s a regular Johnny Rockets on the ground floor, and then upstairs is a full bar, typical bar snacks like nachos and spring rolls and cheese sticks, a lounge area and a bunch of giant TVs.

The opening party seemed to be a success. A bunch of franchisees were there, and a bit of media. I had a fairly long chat with lawyer Andy Freedman, who with his wife, lawyer Jill Freedman, does the blog Wined and Dined and has 1,245 Twitter followers, as he snacked on cheeseburgers and such. He wondered if the Upper East Side really needed another sports bar.

It’s a fair question, and one to which I suspect Johnny Rockets Sports Lounge will find the answer.


Mark Brandau said...

It could have been worse. One of your followers could have told you to ask him what it was like to kiss Suzy Kolber.

Bret Thorn said...

Or to play for the Jets.

JB said...

Teach you not to post to FB. I knew better, but I don't follow you on Twitter as much as FB and the blog's RSS. Alas, I'm not much of a JT fan. Any considering that, I'm wondering if you and MB know that it was Joe Namuth who alongside me has a crush on Suzy Kolber.

Bret Thorn said...

Yes John, I knew. That’s why I made that crack about the Jets. I’m sure Mark does, too, he just forgot.

Baylen said...

Theismann... a man whose feelings don’t deserve to be hurt

Not to hurt your feelings, Bret, but you're wrong on that one. Theismann's a petulant jerkoff blowhard. (E.g., (Riggins, on the other hand, is awesome.)

You should have asked Theismann if he saw "The Blind Side," probably the first movie to feature footage (in the movie's opening sequence) of his leg being snapped in half by Lawrence Taylor. (It's also a running theme throughout the movie.) "The Blind Side" was great, but seeing the Theismann scene on the big screen--from about 10 different angles--was awesome.

Zoe said...

I am just really impressed that Johnny Rockets is named after him. Gotta be honest with you, Bret. I never knew that. I owe you a fine glass of wine because I know that will come up in trivia somewhere and I will win because of it!

... Lori W

Bret Thorn said...

Um, Johnny Rockets isn’t named after him — neither Joe Theismann nor John Fowler. I don’t know where the name comes from, to be honest, but maybe avid readers of this blog will let us know. Some of them are quite wonky.

Bret Thorn said...

I have it, from the good people at Johnny Rockets, the origin of the chain's name: "The Johnny Rockets brand name originated by combining the timeless Johnny Appleseed story with the classic Oldsmobile Rocket 88. The unique brand name embodies classic Americana and the promise of the future."

JB said...

Thanks, but it does nothing for my crush on Suzy.

Anonymous said...

The Johnny Rockets CEO's name is John Fuller not John Fowler...

Bret Thorn said...

Right you are, anonymous. Thanks for keeping me honest.