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@downhousehtx vs. @allisonhiromi

Silly international fuss over Matsu, Down House, Heugel Twitter feuds only hurts Houston

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Allison Matsui vs. Down House Down House/Facebook, Allison Matsu/Facebook
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Forrest DeSpain, general manager at Down House Photo via Down House/Facebook
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Posted at about 1:30 p.m Thursday Photo via Down House/Twitter
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Posted just before 1 p.m. Thursday Photo via Down House/Twitter
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News_Bobby Heugel

In a more perfect world, what happened on Twitter would stay on Twitter.

That's why when the fight between Allison Matsu and Down House hit the Internet earlier this week, I stayed as far away as I could.

In case you haven't seen the story on Eating Our Words, Eater, KPRC, The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, TIMEGizmodo, Consumerist, CNET or NBC Action News in Kansas City — yes it's gone national, international and then back again—  it started with Matsu having drinks with a friend at Down House Sunday night. She overheard a discussion between the bartenders in which one was either quoting or insulting Anvil owner Bobby Heugel (versions of the story differ).

Matsu tweeted something about it, which included calling the bartender a "twerp" and amending the (now-deleted) tweet with the hashtag "#jackoff."

 Should Matsu have been kicked out from Down House? No — not even close. But I can't defend the tweet, either. 

Down House manager Forrest DeSpain, who runs the restaurant's social media, saw the tweet from home, called the restaurant and asked to be put on the phone with Matsu. Matsu says she was cursed out. DeSpain says his tone was firm, but polite. Matsu was kicked out of the restaurant, and an Internet firestorm followed.

Maybe everyone is so fascinated because the intersection between the online world and the real world has never been so immediate — issues of food and etiquette in our modern times always get attention. But this episode just feels so ... tawdry. I'll second Heugel's opinion that it sucks that Houston has made such strides in becoming a legit culinary destination and a mature food town, and what makes the national and international news is this drama, which makes all the players look petty.

(Heugel and Matsu now have their own feud over the incident. After a war of words, Heugel tweeted that Matsu is now banned from Anvil, too, because she's "too big of a PR liability." Sigh.)

Should Matsu have been kicked out from Down House? No — not even close. But I can't defend the tweet, either.

I think it's one thing to make fun of people to your friends, privately. (It falls into Whitney Houston's "it's not right but it's OK" criteria.) Twitter isn't private — Matsu has nearly 2,000 followers. What if you were this bartender? You think you're doing your job and giving a customer good service, only to find out that the person who has been acting nice to your face is insulting you and calling you names at the same time on the Internet.

"Twerp" is hardly the worst thing to call someone — it's even daytime television-approved — but it's not nice, and it's personal. Should we be allowed to be rude on the Internet and not expect any real-world response? I hope not, because I'm tired of people being rude on the Internet. (Also, get off my lawn, you damn kids.)

As an occasional critic, I try to keep the humanizing exchange between actor Justin Long and film critic Michelle Orange in mind, and remember that I don't have to be mean to be critical.

Matsu may be blunt, but she isn't actually a chronic whiner. And Down House owner Chris Cusack actually runs a really great coffeehouse, bar and restaurant.

So I'll be happy when everyone can put down their smartphones and focus on what's cool about the Houston food scene — that chefs are engaged with their customers, that new concepts are constantly breaking boundaries, that diners are smart and opinionated, and that the general tone is one of support and goodwill.

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