Is there a restaurant anywhere with a worse name than Dirt Candy?
Evoking filth or muck, the E. Ninth St. vegan eatery says its moniker is a tribute to what great veggies really are: treats from the dirt.
“We were dead-set on not having a one-word name,” says Amanda Cohen, the chef and owner. So she and her husband chatted about “what vegetables meant to me” before coming up with the eureka moment: “They really are like candy from the dirt.”
Cool origin story, but the restaurant has no doubt lost a bushel of business because of its name. “It’s a strange name for a restaurant and doesn’t sound appealing at all,” says Roja Shirzad, 32, Manhattan. “I wouldn’t put anything in my mouth that is called ‘dirt.’ ”
Fellow Manhattanite Hester Abrams didn’t have a problem with the name, per se. “I just don’t care for dirt,” she says.
Restaurant consultants were divided on whether Dirt Candy was a disastrous name or merely a bad one. But they do agree that naming is a key part of a restaurant’s branding.
“It’s just as important as any of the other design elements, because it holds out what you’re trying to be,” says Andre Neyrey, CEO of Manhattan Restaurant Consultants. “You’re really distilling your concept down to a word or two.”
Even some of the best restaurants in town botch the big decision — causing countless diners to skip what might have been a great meal. Here are the worst-named great restaurants in town:
154 W. 13th St.; 174 E. 82nd St.
They’re nothing if not flexible.
Namesake dish at Flex Mussels
The phone rings off the hook at both locations of this seafood joint, but plenty of times, it’s a wrong number. “Sometimes we get people who think it’s a gym or a massage parlor,” says co-owner Laura Shapiro.
But the name actually refers to a menu that’s more flexible than a yoga master, with two-dozen versions of the mollusks on the menu.
“Since the concept of the restaurant was doing over 20 different varieties of mussels, the play on words was just something that developed,” says Shapiro. “We’re flexible.”
4924 Eighth Ave., Brooklyn
You might think Metro Cafe is a place to get coffee, but this blandly named restaurant in Sunset Park serves “incendiary” Szechuan food, News reviewer Michael Kaminer wrote.
Owners Ella and Kang Chan said the generic name was inspired by cities such as her hometown of Hong Kong and her new home of New York. “I just liked the name,” she says. “I’m from Hong Kong, which is really a metro city.”
Chan isn’t worried about the name. “People know already,” she says of their cuisine. “Because of Yelp, and our Facebook.”
Besides, in Chinatown, no-name names such as “Triple 8 Palace” and “Prosperity Dumpling” are more the norm than the exception.
38 Henry St., Brooklyn
Who would name a classy Northern Italian restaurant after a peasant dish your Jewish bubbe serves on Passover?
Aaron Showalter/New York Daily News
The blandly named Metro Cafe in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, offers spicy Szechuan food.
Alas, there’s a simple explanation: owner Antonio Migliaccio comes from Ischia — and his surname roughly translates to “noodle pudding.”
Yes, the grilled octopus, homemade pastas and Tagliata prime rib are award-worthy, but too few people know it.
“I probably said ‘No’ 20 times before I finally let him bring me here,” says Julie, who was dining the other night with her boyfriend and declined to give her full name. “Now I feel like an idiot because the food is so good.”
37-47 74th St., Queens
An Indian restaurant with a Greek diner name? Only in New York.
The highly respected Indian joint took over from the original Greek greasy spoon in 1983 — and first served a 50-50 mix of Indian and Greek food.
Eventually, the food became exclusively Indian — but the name stuck.
Chef and co-owner Gian Saini, who is Indian, says there’s no confusion about what type of food the restaurant serves, despite the generic name.
“Everybody knows,” he says. “Americans, Indians, everybody knows!”
Chef Gian Saini at work at Jackson Diner in Queens
Everybody? Well, Neyrey, the restaurant consultant, didn’t.
“Jackson Diner really doesn’t tell you anything about it,” he says. “It’s very generic.”
Finding out what’s in a name
If you heard of a new company called “Dirt Candy” what would you think that company sells?
“Sterilized dirt dipped in chocolate.”
Christiaan Cino, 48,
“Some kind of T-shirt company.”
“Something with chocolate.”
Ray Ried, 65,
Patsy Ried, 63,