WASHINGTON, DC—Citing a longstanding need to "restore honor and dignity to the American food-service industry," Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) announced the public debut of their joint business venture Monday, a chain of integrity-themed restaurants which opened in 12 locations nationwide.
The new Russ & John's chain, which the two senators funded privately via small financial donations of no more than $2,000 per investor, was founded on the idea that "today's customers want quality food without all the lies and exaggerations that all too often accompany it," according to McCain.
"When we say we've got the best burger in town, you can be sure that we can back up that claim with documented evidence," Feingold said to an estimated crowd of 4,000 at the grand opening of a Russ & John's in Stevens Point, WI. "We've done the research, our staff has interviewed hundreds of burger lovers, and I can truthfully say that nothing compares to our mouthwatering Bleu Cheese 'N Bacon Burger."
Feingold described what he called the eateries' three bedrock principles. "First, we will never mislead customers with pictures on our menus that make a sandwich look bigger, juicier, or more out-of-this-world delicious than it actually is," Feingold said. "Second, we consider all customers equal and will extend the same service to influential diners and retirees on fixed incomes who stop by just for the salad bar. Third, we will offer full, voluntary disclosure on the ingredients of all our dishes, including our world-famous secret pancake recipe, as our customers have the right to know exactly what makes them so darn fluffy."
Other menu items at Russ & John's include the "All You Can, In Good Conscience, Eat" buffet; Grandma's Favorite Mashed Potatoes, which comes with gravy, coleslaw, and a signed affidavit from Irene Feingold, the senator's paternal grandmother, confirming that they are, in fact, her favorite mashed potatoes; and John's Hot & Spicy Jalapeño Poppers.
In an effort to avoid the "thinly veiled bribery" found in the majority of restaurants, Russ & John's prohibit tips, disparaging them as "the worst kind of soft money," according to the "Message From The Founders" on the restaurant's menu. Instead, management will distribute company-issued "server grants," intended to prevent undue influence on the waitstaff's performance and ensure that every customer receives the same quality service.
McCain said the staff has been trained to deliver "straight talk" to customers.
"Our servers are not there to just tell you what you want to hear," McCain said. "If a customer asks how the Zesty Three-Cheese Ranch Chicken Platter is, and if it's not particularly good, they're going to be up-front with you and say, 'Frankly, the chicken is not that good.'"
"Same goes for the Lasagna Rollups, which, to be perfectly honest, are terrible," McCain added.
A series of TV commercials for the chain focus on the positive aspects of the dining experience and carefully avoid personal attacks on its competitors.
"Russ and John are reaching across party lines to bring both sides to the dinner table," says R.J. McUpright, the chain's pin-striped, suspender-wearing spokesmoose, in one ad. "Whether you're a meat-and-potatoes person or a strict vegetarian, there's something for everyone—from our sizzling steak fajitas to our tangy apple-walnut salad. So next time you've got a hunger for honesty, accountability, and a good meal at a fair price, just take out your moral compass and follow it all the way to the nearest Russ & John's, where everyone gets a bigger slice of the pie."
At the end of the ad, both McCain and Feingold appear on camera to say they approved this message.
While Russ & John's has garnered much media attention, early business has been sluggish, especially in the D.C.-metro area.
"Their heart is in the right place, but I don't ever see myself eating there, especially when there's a McConnell's Pork Barrel right across the street," said Sen. George Allen (R-VA), referring to the barbecue-style eatery owned and operated by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, known for its controversial "lawmakers-and-campaign-donors-eat-free" policy.
"Who wants to eat at a place that bans complimentary soda refills on ethical grounds?" Allen added.