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How can a laminated steak card get you in trouble in Custer?

Published: Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

We were surprised last week to hear that Custer, S.D., had been mentioned on the David Letterman Late Night Show Oct 8. We watched the clip with Letterman and producer Barry Sonnenfeld at least a half dozen times and came away with the conclusion that maybe some people need to lighten up a little bit and concentrate on customer service.

Sonnenfeld apparently had problems with getting a steak prepared to his specifications at other restaurants in the past, so he took an unusual step. While flying from New York to Los Angeles about two years ago, Sonnenfeld came across an ad in a Sky Mall magazine with a picture of a nicely grilled steak. In fact, it was probably an Omaha Steaks ad, he said, and it was perfect, just the way he likes them.

So, he cut the photo out of the magazine and had the small steak photo laminated so he could carry it with him. “It was exactly how I like my steak cooked,” he told Letterman excitedly, while the latter laughed at this odd action. Sonnenfeld pulled the laminated steak card out of his wallet and the camera zoomed in on it. “I think it’s a great idea, fantastic idea,” Letterman said. It has served Sonnenfeld well in that when asked how he would like his steak cooked in a strange restaurant, he whips out the card and asks the wait person what the photo would  be in this particular restaurant, medium rare or medium. Then he orders his steak so it will look like the photo.

Now in the Custer restaurant, Sonnenfeld orders wine and salad and a buffalo strip steak and shows the waitress the laminated card with the photo of his steak and requests that it be cooked to look like that. “Oh, that’s the funniest thing I have ever seen. Let me show it to the chef,” the waitress says to Sonnenfeld. “She came back with our wine and she was white as a ghost,” Sonnenfeld said. Thirty minutes later he and his wife had not received their salads. They were beginning to wonder what was going on.

“The maitre de came out and asked us to leave the premises. ‘We don’t have a cook here, we have a chef. He was very offended,’” she said. Sonnenfeld asked if it was the laminated steak picture and said the waitress thought it was funny. “The waitress is in the alley trying to regain her sense,” was what the maitre de, or hostess, told Sonnenfeld.

“We left and went across the street (actually down several blocks) to the Captain’s Chair (actually Table) and had fried shrimp,” Sonnenfeld said. Letterman quipped, “You can’t beat South Dakota seafood. (Laughter) That’s where you want to be.”

We’re glad that Sonnenfeld and his wife visited our community, but wonder why they couldn’t have been treated a little better at the first restaurant.  Maybe some folks there thought he was just a wise guy trying to make trouble. He obviously wanted a good buffalo steak, but, when asked to leave, was resigned to settle for shrimp at the Captain’s Table. Maybe he was a little gun shy to attempt ordering another steak in town.

Just for the record, Sonnenfeld directed the following movies: Addams Family, Get Shorty, Men In Black, Men In Black II, Wild Wild West, and RV. He is reported to be one of the most sought after producers in Hollywood. We doubt whether he will be producing any movies anywhere near Custer, or South Dakota, for that matter, anytime soon.

He isn’t the only celebrity to visit Custer recently. Another local restaurant owner told us comedian and talk show host Chris Rock, his wife, and kids were in their place of business a few weeks ago and were recognized by a waitress. He didn’t say much. His wife did most of the ordering and talking. He probably wanted to keep a low profile, as do most celebrities.

The moral of the story is we never know who is visiting in our community. This is a good reminder that we need to treat everyone with courtesy, respect and dignity, just as we would want to be treated, because you never know when your place of business will end up on the Late Night Show. Maybe we should invite Sonnenfeld back to Custer and treat him to a great big buffalo sirloin steak, prepared just like in his laminated photo, and show him some real Western hospitality.

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Current Comments

18 comments so far (post your own)
Mike Duncan
October 14th, 2009 at 14:23pm

Why would you be worried that a nut like that would be in Custer. There have been many and they all realize what a nice little town this is. I would have laughed too when someone gave me a picture of a steak - much less be embarassed to be with such a snob. He puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of all the people that visit Custer. And to worry about what David Letterman said? I think not. Who cares what he thinks. He is just another goofy snot that thinks he is better than the rest of America. Got news for him - he is some of the sleazier side of America. So I say - why worry about those two?

October 15th, 2009 at 08:35am

There is absolutely nothing wrong with they way this guy approaches his steak. There are standards and EVERY restaurant has there own it seems when it comes to cooking steak. He was not out to offend anyone, he wanted a well cooked steak. He didn't say..."make it look like this" he said "how should I order it, to have it come out like this?" This is not snobbery, this knowing what you want and expecting to get what you want. The lack of Customer Service in the US has so quickly declined that this guy is thought of as a NUT. Moral of the story. . .the customer, no matter how wrong he always right. Why? He is the boss. Everyone in the service industry from owners/managers to busboys needs to watch the video - Give em the Pickle!

Coastal Cane
October 15th, 2009 at 16:00pm

Welcome to Custer...funny how we think this is the first time this has happened to anyone. Just another reason to make movies in the hills, but not in Custer. Also, since a lot of people throughout the country saw this on Lettermen, where do you think their tourist dollars will go?

Great job on the hospitality

October 21st, 2009 at 03:58am

Now I'm dying to know which restaurant it was! I'm gonna guess it was either the Wrangler Cafe or the Elk Canyon Pub...

October 21st, 2009 at 21:11pm

Too Bad the Chef didn't have a lamination machine. I would have found a similar photo, laminated it and put it on the plate and sent it back out to the customer, just as he requested. Now that would have been something to laugh about.

October 22nd, 2009 at 15:03pm

Now Chris Rock would be a great guy to alienate, he would let the entire world know how he got "handled" in Custer, South Dakota.
This would further set the Southern Hills Tourism industry and economy back several more years.
People who do not enjoy people need to find something else to do. Hospitality is a calling, not a job, and Chef, if you cant stand the heat, maybe its time to move on.. even Gordon Ramsey knows the customer is always right, even when they are not.

October 22nd, 2009 at 16:15pm

Now thats a good idea, alienate Chris Rock.
You can hear it now.. let me tell you about
what happened when I was with my family in Custer, South Dakota...thats right CUSTER, South Dakota man!
Hospitality is a calling and a profession, not a
job. People, including Chefs who choose to enter
the industry would do well to understand that it involves working with people, people of all kinds
and especially people who give you money to do your job.
If we can look past the poor performers and characters that are somehow attracted to the hospitality industry we would find thousands of wonderful folks who are caring and empathetic
hosts. Tourism is the cleanest, most lucrative economy we can bring in to our state. I encourage
owners and managers to fire the crabby employees, they bring our industry down.
signed, a 30 year chef and hospitality professional.

October 28th, 2009 at 02:50am

haha it was not the Wrangler.. That's for sure... I worked for them and I know that Steve, Dixie, Patty, or Alan would have laughed too and maybe joked about it, but they all have great humor and would have done their BEST to make that steak the way the costumer wants it!!! I would have known as my relatives work there!! :) but hey.. Still.. Make the steak the way the man wants it!! Gosh!! :)

October 30th, 2009 at 01:11am

It would be nice to here both sides of the story.

November 5th, 2009 at 12:09pm

I also know it sure wasn't the Wrangler. Their employees and cooks all have a pretty good sense of humor. I've eaten there often and have seen their sense of humor with customers and all shared a good laugh or two.

I also agree with jayde. If possible I would have sent back out a copy of his laminated steak on the plate to the customer.

December 1st, 2009 at 11:50am

From what I know I'm pretty sure it was Sage Creek Grill. I know the cooks and wait staff.

December 9th, 2009 at 10:38am

Yup...It was Sage Creek. In my opinion it is something I wouldn't know what to do with, but it wasn't rude. So he wants a steak cooked how he likes it...Who doesn't? If there weren't tourists in Custer we would have nothing. This town only makes it, because of the money they bring in. So next time you decided to be rude to a customer...Think about it. They are kinda paying your bills.

Troy Turnbaugh
December 29th, 2010 at 06:39am

Visited Custer June 2009. My wife and son were not impressed with the service of the restraunt on main street, the one with the gift shop in the front half of the building. The food made me feel ready to return to the Army MRE meals. The steakhouse outback, second floor was good.
I agree with all comments, but the reality is food should be done right, not by a picture, but by care and concern for the person writing your check, the customer.

Rita S
June 21st, 2011 at 15:04pm

My family and I are heading to Custer in 5 days for a week. Wanted to check on current weather and came across this - I know which restaurant we won't be dining at. If I am going to have steak I am pretty particular on how it is done - not the way a chef likes it but the way I like it.

March 27th, 2012 at 16:11pm

My experience is that most local people around the black hills That I have dealt with have the "Fing tourists" mentality and its pretty ignorant the only thing I dont like about the black hills area is the poor poor customer service that I've experienced. I hope it changes

May 22nd, 2012 at 12:25pm

It appears to me that there are several people, including Sonnenfeld and Letterman, that need to get a life.

June 7th, 2012 at 03:27am

Just eat your Steak at the Alpine in Hill City. It was wonderful! Visited Custer for the Volksmarch last weekend, and loved it, so planning on coming back for a week in August.

September 13th, 2012 at 18:28pm

This is why you want to eat in Hot Springs, as we love tourists in our quaint little town. Sorry Custer, even the Native Americans don't care for the name or place. Ha.

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