Havabite: Where Everybody Knows Your Name …

Having passed the clubhouse turn and started the second half of my life, I get to bore my kids with endless recitations of “Back in my day …”

Perhaps my stories have meaning to others.  Or perhaps I’m just talking to myself, which is the principal audience for about 95% of my comments.

Anyway, when I was 17 years old, I got a job delivering pizzas for Havabite Eatery on Main Street in Fairfax.  I drove the company car, a red Chevy with “Havabite” stenciled on the side, and made deliveries all the way down to Lorton.

The restaurant was owned by a middle-aged Greek couple, who had three beautiful daughters.  Although I could make $40 a night in tips (which was serious cash back in 1986), I would have worked for free — just to be near those girls.

It was an idyllic life, but it couldn’t last forever.  One night in June I graduated from high school.  The owner was there and pressed a card in my hand as I walked off the stage.  There was $100 inside.  That was also big money back then.

I stopped into Havabite when I was back from school, but then time passed.  I gradually lost touch with the owners and their daughters (alas, they all got married).  The restaurant was sold to new owners.  For a while, it didn’t seem like it could stay open — especially as everyone got into the pizza delivery business.

But it did stay open and people kept coming to enjoy the Greek and Italian specialties.  In fact, it’s remained a staple of the local “courthouse” crowd, who come for the souvlaki and gyro sandwiches.

Tonight, I was in there with my mom and four kids.  After our dinner, I talked to the current owner (also Greek, and named “Ida” like my daughter).  I told her about my connections with Havabite, back in the 80′s.

She asked if I could write an on-line review.

OK, sure.  I’ll do something like that.

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Yelp! and the Right to Make Confidential Comments

Many years ago (20 to be exact), I was a cub associate in Alexandria.  One of my first clients was a young entrepeneur named Joe Hadeed, who had recently taken over his family’s rug business.

Joe was a marketing genius.  He promoted his rugs and rug cleaning services constantly.  He bought radio time and pushed his product through his beloved Washington Capitals.  We even invited me to a couple games in his front row seats — I brought my girlfriend who was suitably impressed (and is now my wife).

Joe was a fighter.  It didn’t surprise me to see his business grow, although it’s been years since I’ve represented him.

It did surprise me this morning to see Joe featured in the “Wall Street Journal” over a lawsuit he’s filed over bad reviews for his business on Yelp!

In the age of Facebook and I-phones, anonymous reviews have become a powerful engine for driving consumer choices.  It’s gotten to the point that nobody buys any major product until they research it on-line.  (I spent many nights scouring reviews before buying  a tractor mower last summer).

That leads to competitors attempting to sabotage each other on-line.  It also calls into question the objectivity of review sites, who also sell advertising.  Can you trust them?  Do they screen out negative comments for their advertisers?

Based upon the allegations, the barrage of negative statements about Joe’s business had a material impact — causing a 20% revenue drop and the loss of 20+ employees.

Joe’s lawsuit seeks to uncover the real identity of anonymous posters.  As such, it has to surmount Federal law which largely protects on-line comments as free speech.  But is protecting anonymity the same as protecting freedom?

It’s doubly ironic for me, since I’ve represented small businesses which are harmed by suspicious “consumer” comments.   At the same time, as co-founder of the Franklin Privacy Caucus, I’m largely opposed to STATE efforts to collect data or limit speech on the Internet.  However, that doesn’t mean that private actors can’t still find this data — and the source of the anonymous comments.

I can tell you that a lot of business lawyers like myself are following Joe’s case.

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DeSean Jackson to Redskins. HTTR!

It’s a fall evening in the D.C. suburbs.  Monday night football.

The Redskins are playing the Eagles in a “must win” game for both teams.  The ball is on the Philadelphia twelve yard line, after a short kick return.   It’s the first play from scrimmage.  The crowd is screaming.

I’m in the stands, with my friends and beverages.  We are celebrating a big victory in our law practice.  A great night for football.  The Redskins are still competitive (and just signed Donovan McNabb to a long-term deal).

Back on the field, Michael Vick drops back to pass.  He throws the ball deep into the night. It hangs in a perfect parabola.  A classic overthrow.

Somewhere beneath it, a receiver is flying down the field.  He cuts across the middle (right past LaRon Landry) but is trailing the football.  It looks impossible for him to catch the falling object.  Gravity is faster than any human, right.

Yet he snares it.  And the momentum of the catch carries him into the end zone.  7-0.

The stadium goes quiet.  88 yards for a touchdown.  One play just ended the season.

And people ask why you want DeSean Jackson on your team?

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