Denise Gets a New Pair of Glasses

Denise wouldn’t listen to us—the people who live here—but she had a change of heart in front of someone who will put her exploitation of real Baltimoreans in several million living rooms.

By Rafael Alvarez (Baltimore Patch, November 7, 2011)

When I was growing up, my father would sometimes give my brothers and me considered opinions and sage advice on things he thought we should know. If he sensed we were stubbornly resisting or simply not paying attention—which was often the case—he would summarily end the lecture with one of his trademark waterfront maxims.

“You better wise up, Ace.”

We often didn’t and paid the price. Not from Dad, who was and remains a kind and gentle man, though he has his limits. The piper we paid was the world, which cares for us not at all.

Yet when someone outside of the family—sometimes the older brother or even the father of a friend—gave the exact same advice, it seemed to make sense. When this contradiction fully dawned on me, I vowed I would never doubt my old man again.

Why could I not have listened to someone close at home and saved myself a lot of pain?

It was this lesson that came to me when I heard that Denise Whiting, the owner of an embattled restaurant at the corner of Roland Avenue and 36th Street in Hampden, had finally capitulated on her legal claim to the word “Hon.”

After almost a year of saying—vehemently, angrily, stubbornly—that she had done nothing wrong in taking a trademark on a word that means more than words can say to generations of Baltimoreans, Whiting announced yesterday that she’s giving it up.

In that year, hundreds of Baltimoreans from all walks of life had expressed hurt, anger and no small amount of disgust that anyone—no matter the reason—would do such a thing. We let Whiting know, as my Polish grandmother would say, “in no uncertain terms” that her decision was a slap that would not be forgotten.

Said one woman from Southwest Baltimore who counts a baker’s dozen worth of hons in her lineage:

“We weren’t exactly being coy about our feelings but her arrogance would never allow her to accept a reality that differed with her own. If she wanted to know how Baltimore felt, all she had to do was step outside of her restaurant.”

And then Hollywood showed up in the person of Gordon Ramsay and his popular reality show called “Kitchen Nightmares.”

Ramsay not only met with Whiting and her staff in preparation for a show on how one three-letter word could sink an otherwise successful business—Whiting acknowledges revenue losses of up to 25 percent since the controversy began—but also had a powwow with a handful of locals who explained the depth of the insult.

Denise wouldn’t listen to us—the people who live here—but she had a change of heart in front of someone who will put her exploitation of real Baltimoreans in several million living rooms.

I don’t buy her very public mea culpa anymore than I believe that politicians who get caught doing dumb things resign to be with their families.

Once an opportunist, always an opportunist.

But I will give her this benefit. Maybe the price she has paid—and some believe her enterprise will be defunct before 2012 has come and gone—will teach her the same lesson that the teenager at the top of this story had to learn.

Listen to the people who know you best and follow suit.

She might begin apologizing to some real grandmothers—working people who couldn’t afford to eat in her restaurant in the first place—and do so without a camera in sight.

I was taught in Catholic school that the best good deeds are done in near anonymity.

I was taught this: “You better wise up, Denise.”

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2 Responses to Denise Gets a New Pair of Glasses

  1. I’m sorry, that’s Rafael. What is with me and that, “ph”?

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