The StaphMeal Saga
THE DOUR GRANITE WALLS of Eastern State Penitentiary were designed to induce fear among the citizenry. At a sidewalk-cafe table across the street from this Fairmount Avenue landmark sits Joshua Scott Albert, the self-styled Internet outlaw who has inspired enough fear and loathing to fill a Hunter Thompson novel.
As fellow customers nibble on Billy Club salads and Machine Gun Kelly sandwiches, Albert alternately puffs on a Pall Mall, sips coffee, and chews over his next online character assassination. “I like to piss off people in positions of power,” says the 25-year-old blogger, an unemployed bistro worker gone rogue. Late last summer, Albert pissed off the city’s most prominent chefs and restaurateurs by launching a website: StaphMeal, a bitter brew of venom and snarky kitchen gossip, initially written anonymously, that advocated fiercely on behalf of local kitchen workers and waitstaffs.
“I wanted to stand up for the masses of voiceless, unvalued employees,” says Albert. “In my industry, powerful people often treat them like shit and get away with it. Sometimes I provoke the powerful to embarrass them, and sometimes I provoke them purely for the entertainment value.”
From the very first ambushes in early September, StaphMeal raged against the fine-dining machine, alleging wage theft and miserable working conditions. Citing unnamed sources, it called out Philadelphia’s culinary elite one by one and branded them “dicks,” “pricks,” “douchebags,” “scum,” “cheaters,” “racists,” “drunks,” “fascists” and “fucktards.” Albert’s hyperventilated posts quickly became must-reads for Philly’s foodie community.
“Josh is of the mind that to get someone’s attention, you need to stick them in the eye once in a while,” says Chris Moraff, his friend and sometime benefactor. “It worked, that’s for sure. He got a lot of people’s attention.”
At what seemed the speed of a mouse-click, the nastiness prompted legal action by high-profile chefs Georges Perrier and Shola Olunloyo, which prompted the mystery blogger to unmask himself, which prompted many of his readers to lose interest. “In mid-September, the site was Topic A of the foodie community,” says a Center City server. “By the end of the month, nobody cared.” A mere 22 days after flaming into being, StaphMeal had effectively burned out.
At the very least, the tempest that was Hurricane Albert scarred the region’s gastronomic landscape. At the very most, a homeless drifter’s virtual rage raised serious questions about the ease of setting off a fire on the Web, free speech, the rights of the targets of cyber attacks, and the ethics of dishing bile under the cover of an alias or avatar.