Big Bad Guru Daddies

I’m currently facing a moral dilemma such as those that plagued Socrates, Sir Thomas More, and Marcia Brady that time when she had two dates to the big dance.

The dilemma is over a new restaurant in Provo called Guru’s. It’s one of a chain of semi-fast food establishments started by Utahns with the goal of serving quality fare at a reasonable price, while still maintaining an atmosphere of stifling pretentiousness.

And therein lies the quandary. The food at Guru’s is great. I’ve eaten there three times in the last two weeks, making it second only to Wendy’s in terms of how much of Eric D. Snider’s money it gets. But as much as I love the food, I hate the place, which is so full of itself, it’s a wonder it doesn’t choke.

The first sign of pretentiousness is when you walk in the door and see a huge picture of Gandhi on the wall (Gandhi of course being well-known for his hearty appetite). Under Gandhi is a quote from Gandhi, which says something like, “Whatever you want to change about the world, start with yourself, ’cause you’re not exactly perfect, either, Mr. I-Want-to-Change-the-World.” (It is possible that I have projected my own sarcasm onto Mr. Gandhi, for which I apologize, although what’s he going to do, beat me up?)

Then you see the menu. There are four major food categories, which are as follows, and which I am not altering in any way: “Ignite the Fire” tacos and burritos; “Stir the Soul” rice bowls; “Self-Fulfilling” pastas; and “Enlightened” salads. There are also beverages to “Quench Your Inner Thirst,” as opposed, one assumes, to your outer thirst, which you quench by pouring the beverage over your body. They also have desserts — very tasty ones, I might add — which do not have a New Age moniker (“Enlarge Your Butt” is my suggestion).

When I first heard about the place, and how they make their employees do an hour of community service a week, and how the job applications have questions like “What are your lifetime dreams?” and “What are you passionate about?,” I naturally expected the food to be vegetarian and for the place to be crawling with hairy-legged waitresses. The fact that the food is good (i.e., non-vegetarian) and the waitresses are normal (i.e., non-hairy) frustrated me. I despise pretension, which oozes through Guru’s front doors out on to Center Street; yet I like the food. Do I continue supporting a restaurant that I think is too big for its britches? Or do I ignore the pompous corporate philosophy and just enjoy the tasty vittles? Furthermore, can I go on saying “vittles” when the word is actually spelled “victuals,” even though no one pronounces it that way?

Actually, it’s all irrelevant, because I will soon have chased Guru’s out of business altogether with my own chain of non-pretentious Utah restaurants. The name of these restaurants: The Steak Center (“Where There’s Never a Dry, Boring Meating!”). Each Steak Center will have one enormous dining area with basketball hoops at either end, and folding metal chairs and long tables covered in plastic tablecloths. The waiters will be 12- and 13-year-old boys wearing white shirts and their fathers’ ties, and at the end of the night, the customers will be asked to help fold up the chairs and tables and vacuum the floor. The main menu items will be the Porterhouse Rockwell Steak, the Primary Rib and the Poor Wayfaring Pan of Beef (all garnished with Parsley P. Pratt), but we’ll also have, when it’s in season, Eliza R. Snowcrab, and a whole line of “And It Came to Pasta” (including Kraft Moroni & Cheese). Additionally, we’ll have breakfast items (including Pearl of Puffed Rice and Frosted Minivans, as well as Adam-ondi-Omelettes) and “In Our Lovely Desserts” (including Fast Sundaes, Gadianton Cobbler and the sinful Laman Meringue Pie).

On the wall, a quote from Gandhi: “Mm-mmm, love that steak!”

When this appeared in The Daily Herald, the "tag" at the end of the column said, "Eric D. Apple Cider can be reached at...."

For you non-Mormon folks, rest assured that all of the puns in the final portion of this column are very funny. They are explained in detail below.

Note that I employed a similar comedic device -- making well-known phrases into food items -- in my Shakespeare column. This is a leitmotif that I expect to continue using until it no longer amuses me, which probably means forever.

Several of my friends thought long and hard about possible menu options. My research assistant/consultant/fashion adviser Josh said I should do "something with Eliza R. Snow," though he could offer no more help than that. Jesse came up with "Primary rib" and "Poor Wayfaring Pan of Beef." The rest were mine.

Some of the ones not used in the column: I had "having your calling and election made sherbet"; Dan had "Samuel the Lemonade" and another very funny one that could be viewed as disrespectful and therefore won't be repeated here; Dave, who is usually pretty good at this sort of thing, could come up with nothing better than "Count Your Many Dressings" (which I like) and -- his favorite -- "Plancakes" (as in "plan of salvation," I guess). I assured him that the reason people laugh when he tells them "plancakes" is that they can't believe he's actually proud of staying up all night thinking of that.

Leif, meanwhile, insisted that any names with "ham" in them (like Abraham) could easily be made funny by applying them to the food called ham. This included Noah's son, whose name was just Ham. This is why "Snide Remarks" is not usually written by committee.

In the lead, I originally had it as Jan Brady who had two dates to the prom. Immediately after this was sent out to the e-mailing list, someone pointed out that it was actually Marcia, not Jan, and that it was just a big school dance, not the prom. This person also knew the title of the episode, which both impresses and frightens me. At any rate, as you can see, I've fixed the error. (I managed to catch it before it was published in the Daily Herald, too.)

Now, to explain the Mormon food puns:

- "Steak Center." Play on "Stake Center," the central meetinghouse/chapel for a "stake," which is something like a district or diocese in Mormon geographic terms.

- The basketball hoops, long tables, etc., etc. This refers to Mormon social events, which invariably include dinner. If held at a meetinghouse, they are usually held in the "cultural hall," which is essentially a recreational room that serves primarily as a regulation-size basketball court. (They call them "cultural halls" because they used to be built with full-service theatrical stages off to one side, too, for cultural events. Now, the stages are perfunctory and don't even have curtains or real lighting systems, and the main purpose of the cultural hall is to be a gymnasium, since playing basketball on Saturdays is far more important than producing plays or musicals.) Often, the deacons -- 12- and 13-year-old boys in the LDS Church -- are assigned to act as waiters for the dinners, and afterward, sure enough, everyone has to stay and help clean up.

- "Porterhouse Rockwell Steak." Porter Rockwell was a rough-and-tumble, shoot-'em-up early convert to the LDS Church, and he served as Joseph Smith's close friend and occasional bodyguard, and as Brigham Young's bodyguard.

- "Primary Rib." "Primary" is the name of the children's organization in the LDS Church.

- "Poor Wayfaring Pan of Beef." "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" is an LDS hymn (though written by non-Mormons), noteworthy because it was sung by Joseph Smith and his fellow captives when they were in Carthage Jail, not long before they were murdered.

- "Parsley P. Pratt." Parley P. Pratt was an early LDS apostle and an active missionary and author for the church.

- "Eliza R. Snowcrab." Eliza R. Snow was the second president of the Relief Society (the church's women's organization), and helped organize the youth and children's groups. She was the sister of Lorenzo Snow, who became president of the LDS Church; she was a polygamous wife of Joseph Smith, and later of Brigham Young. A very active poet, writer and an outspoken gal all around.

- "And It Came to Pasta." "And it came to pass" is a phrase repeated often in the scriptures, but most especially in the Book of Mormon.

- "Kraft Moroni & Cheese." Moroni was the last prophet to write in the Book of Mormon.

- "Pearl of Puffed Rice." Play on the Pearl of Great Price, which is a book of LDS scripture. ("Pearl of Puffed Rice" is also an old Garrens Comedy Troupe joke, by the way, from a sketch about a breakfast cereal called "Every Fiber of My Being," which is another joke altogether.)

- "Frosted Minivans." Mormons tend to drive minivans 'cause of their large families.

- "Adam-Ondi-Omelettes." Adam-ondi-Ahman is, according to LDS scripture, the name of the place where Adam lived after being cast out of the garden. It gets deeper than that, but that's good enough.

- "In Our Lovely Desserts." Play on "In Our Lovely Deseret," a children's hymn written by the aforementioned Eliza R. Snow and put to the tune of the Christian song "Jesus Loves the Little Children" (bet even you Mormons didn't know that), which in turn was based on a Civil War song about a captured Union soldier ("Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching!"). "Deseret" was a colloquial name for wherever the Saints were gathered, back in the old days. "In Our Lovely Deseret" was just a children's song until 1985, when it was placed in the revised LDS hymnal.

- "Fast Sundaes." The first Sunday of every month is designated "fast Sunday," a day when the church as a whole fasts (that is, goes without food for spiritual purposes).

- "Gadianton Cobbler." The Gadianton Robbers were a band of malicious thieves and murderers in the Book of Mormon. (Whenever the Garrens did a song parody, we would introduce ourselves as "the Gadianton Rockers," by the way.)

- "Laman Meringue Pie." The first joke I thought of for this column. Laman is the first "villain" in the Book of Mormon, the rebellious, occasionally murderous (though ultimately rather cowardly) brother of the righteous Nephi.

And the others listed as "almost-used": "having your calling and election made sherbet/sure" has to do with salvation, and it's kinda deep; "Samuel the Lemonade/Lamanite" was one of those notable exceptions of righteous Lamanites; "Count Your Many Dressings/Blessings" is a popular LDS hymn.

About a week after this was printed, we received the following angry letter. I had thought that if anything, my frivolous use of Mormon terminology would upset someone, but no. It was my dissing of Guru's that angered this particular letter-writer. As always, the original spelling and punctuation are preserved.

As a former staff writer for The Daily Herald of many years ago I enjoy reading the newspaper in order to keep up on friends who are still writing at the paper and in an effort to keep up on the news of Utah Valley and the community. [This person wrote for the paper during the Great Comma Shortage of the mid-'70s.] What is disappointing to me however is the need of so many columnists in this newspaper and around the country who in their writing go for a style filled with Sinicism, negativity and what they must think is dry-wit.

The world we live in is filled with enough sinicism [nope, it wasn't a typo -- that's actually how he thinks it's spelled] and negativity. It slaps us in the face day-after-day in the headlines, on the television screen, and in the movie theaters that are supposed to be entertaining us. So why not take the chance with the space you are afforded in you columns to uplift us, point out the positive and stop taking cheap shots and poking fun.

Two cases in recent weeks from the pages of The Daily Herald. First, Snider's review of a new restaurant in Provo, Guru's, that also has other locations in the state. Instead of concentrating on praising the creativity and fortitude of a couple of young entrepreneurs who began years ago waiting tables and now have seen their American Dream come true; Snider takes exception to the use of uplifting quotes and wording in the decor of Guru's.

He does praise the food and the fact he has eaten there three times, but then he is critical of the fact that part of being an employee at Guru's is the donating of personal time to community service. Since when is that a crime? Wouldn't the world be a better place if more companies required just such a noble thing? [Yes, unless they made a point of blabbing about it all the time, doing their alms before men, like Guru's does. Then it would just be another self-serving promotional gimmick.] My question to Mr. Snider would be this -- when was the last time you did something for nothing for someone else. [Answer: Today. And my boss didn't force me to do it, either!]

He also poked fun at the application for employment [and everyone knows job applications are sacred, holy documents] at Guru's that asks the applicant what their hopes and dreams are in life. Our world might be a better place if more people asked young men and women what their dreams are, because it certainly seems somewhere along the line we've stopped asking and young people have stopped dreaming and hoping. [Quite a dim view of our youth. And I'm the cynical one?!] Mr. Snider said that Guru's was a good place to eat if you could get past the pretentiousness of the place. What you call pretentious most people would call creative. What is pretentious is the title of your column; "Snide Remarks." [I suspect this is a case where someone has heard a big word and doesn't know what it means, but knows it's an insult, so they decided to just fire it back at me, even though it doesn't apply. I hereby offer a free copy of either "Snide Remarks" book to anyone who can find a definition of "pretentious" that would result in it being accurately applied to the naming of my column "Snide Remarks."]

[The writer then complains about an editorial-page column written by Don Meyers about Charlton Heston's recent alcohol problem.]

I will always be proud of the fact that I can tell people I was once a staff writer for The Daily Herald. [The Daily Herald, on the other hand, disavows all knowledge.] But to those of you who control the barrels of ink and reams of paper [yeah, you people who operate the press -- straighten up your act!] -- don't be so cynical and use more of the space to point out the positive instead of the negative.

Clark H. Caras

We in the newspaper business love the complaint that newspapers focus too much on "bad news," and don't report enough good news. From time to time, newspapers have popped up that vowed to focus on good news. Invariably, they have gone belly-up within months. And when we do run happy, fluffy, human-interest stories on the front page, we get this complaint: "Wasn't there any REAL news to report today? If I wanted fluff, I'd read the National Enquirer!" So either way, people complain. I say, focus on the GOOD things you read in the newspaper; quit complaining so much about the bad things.

It didn't quite reach the proportions of the "Titanic" column, but this column -- or at least the chunk with my Mormon restaurant pun names -- got e-mailed around quite a bit for a couple years after it was published. The Mormons like their funny forwarded e-mails as much as any other culture.

On Sept. 5, 2007, the Deseret Morning News reprinted the Mormon-themed part of the column after a reader submitted it for their online "Mormon Lite" feature. What happened next, with a link to the Des News' version, is chronicled here.