For a few #blessed days, Lura Cafe was the hottest new restaurant in Providence. The bright, cozy farm-to-table joint hid in plain sight next to a downtown parking lot, steps away from the Rhode Island Convention Center. Lura would be a refuge for diners in the know, serving modern takes on cafe classics—all local, all organic, all certified GMO-free. It was upscale and casual, timeless and avant-garde. It had a vaguely Nordic air of refinement.
It announced itself—as all similarly accoutred restaurants must—with a social media blitz, featuring sans serif lettering, sunny high-angle shots of brunch dishes, even a breathless write-up in the New York Times.
It was also totally fake.
When Lura Cafe “opened” on October 18, visitors were greeted not with avocado toast and bruleed carrots but with a manifesto: “’Lura’ is a statement project targeting the rising phenomenon of the elitist subculture of foodies.” Beside it, a translation of “Lura”—“Swedish for fool, trick, deceive, lure, cheat, befool”—and a call to arms: #stopfoodies2015.
The satire wasn’t exactly subtle. In the days leading up to Lura’s grand opening, the restaurant’s Facebook page taunted followers with a surreal menu of “home-cut potatoes … wrapped in authentic New York Times newspaper,” “cold brew coffee served … over mineralized water rocks,” and “10x washed quinoa salad.” The quote attributed to Pontus Wikner, “POTS SEIDOOF,” is “FOODIES STOP” backwards.
And according to the creators of Lura, who spoke to CityLab on condition of anonymity, most people got the joke. “Well played,” and “This is HILARIOUS,” read the comments on Lura’s manicured Instagram feed. Two critically-acclaimed local restaurants, North and Birch, even joined in the fun, self-consciously ribbing each other over a posted description of Lura’s chef as “some hip dude with a mustache and tattoos” who “rides a bicycle” and is “probably friends with David Chang.”
But some took offense at the parody. One Instagram user commented, “Not amusing, making satire of those who care about what goes in [their] bodies. This actually made me sad. … Who spends money on a space to make fun of people?”
The artists say Lura was not intended as a criticism of foodies per se. “It’s just about how easy it is to feed into hype, the need to belong in a community, and the elitist aspect of it,” they told CityLab. “People are so into this foodie culture because it does give you a sense of belonging [and] social hierarchy. It's a niche.”
Watching the storefront on opening day, they noted a consistent profile in the passersby who paused at the installation: Beards. Glasses. Tattoos. Flannels. Hipsters—for lack of a better word. “We could tell who came specifically for the event,” the artists said. And, peering past Lura’s clean, minimalist window dressing, these curious foodies found overturned chairs, gaping refrigerators, a beat-up cash register, dust on the floors. The doors were locked.
“People didn’t come for the food,” the artists observed. They came to “discover” the next big restaurant, to stake their claim to future Instagram glory. “Foodie culture,” for Lura’s creators, is the transformation of dining into social climbing. “It’s food no longer just being something to sustain a life,” Lura’s creators said. “It's looking for the most exclusive, unique dishes, and then telling everybody that you had this thing online.” And the makers of Lura readily admit that they’re guilty of this too; some members of the group even self-identify as foodies. (One artist said with a laugh, “It's like looking in the mirror and making fun of yourself. It hurts a little.”)
How easy I got fooled by a cute Instagram -- probably fake lol https://t.co/MvWYJ0JQHr— Hillary Dixler (@hillarydixler) October 16, 2015
Foodies are an easy—and frequent—target of this line of cultural criticism, but Lura’s message hit particularly hard last week, coinciding with a public debate between editors of the New York Times and New York magazine over the ethics of restaurant hype. But that conversation, unfolding primarily online, was itself a form of media navel-gazing—food insiders talking to each other and wringing their hands over the existential purpose of their work. It didn’t touch on the socioeconomic consequences of the pursuit of “good” food—which Lura’s location points up in a very real way.
Lura was installed on the facade of a shuttered business called Coffee King, a “little shed with two tables and a handful of window seats,” according to Yelp reviews, where “the owner knew everyone who came into the store.” The no-frills breakfast spot closed months ago and remains vacant to this day; that’s why it was available to the artists. It was a neighborhood place—“like Monk’s for Seinfeld,” wrote one Yelper—that didn’t fit the mold of third-wave coffee shops, wood-fired pizzerias, and luxury apartments cropping up in Providence’s Downcity. (The Providence Journal building, directly across from Lura, will soon house more than 10,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space.) And while the Lura installation is gone now—the window text was torn down just a few days after it went up—the royal blue “COFFEE KING” awning remains, hovering like the ghost of the city’s working-class past.