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Harvard ‘Supportive’ of Spicy Chicken Prof

Harvard Business School professor Benjamin Edelman - Harvard photo

Harvard Business School professor Benjamin Edelman – Harvard photo

After becoming the object of a global outpouring of scorn over his $4 Chinese-takeout spat, Harvard Business School professor Benjamin Edelman says he’s feeling some love from people at the school.

Edelman was mocked and vilified world-wide after his email exchange with a man from a Chinese restaurant was published, went viral, and received coverage in the press as far away as Australia.

Unsatisfied with the restaurant’s response to his complaint that they had raised per-dish prices a dollar while failing to update the prices on their website, Edelman, in emails to Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden, had escalated his compensation demand from triple the overcharged amount to half the price of his spicy chicken, chili-and-garlic prawns, stir-fried chicken, and braised fish filets.

Now, Edelman says the response within the Harvard community has buoyed him.

“Harvard folks are supportive – they recognize that I’m different from other faculty, but they seem to appreciate what I do,” Edelman says in an email to Poets&Quants.  “I very much value their support and am glad to have it.”

HBS declined to provide official comment on the Edelman affair.

Meanwhile, a Boston software engineer tells Poets&Quants that he had a similar experience at Sichuan Garden, and he appreciates Edelman’s action on the issue. Feizhi Li describes himself as somewhat of a regular take-out customer at Sichuan Garden, and says he’d been noticing for some time that he seemed to be paying more at the counter than the online prices would indicate. A few weeks ago, he says, he calculated the price before he went to pick up his order, and sure enough, the bill was higher. “I told them it happened a few times already. The guy said, ‘Oh, I know this, but I can’t do anything, you know, it’s the boss.'”

Li, 44, didn’t make an issue of the price difference, but he’s glad Edelman, whom he says he doesn’t know, did. “Without Ben’s revelation about the error, I can imagine it would stay in there. How long has this error been in there?

“It’s not the $4, the $12 that’s at stake – it’s how they should do honest business.”

Earlier, Edelman issued an abject apology for his behavior in the Sichuan Garden dispute – but he didn’t back down from his deceptive-advertising allegation.

And a trio of HBS students embarrassed by the controversy decided to counter “negative stereotypes of Harvard and HBS” and, by the morning of Friday, Dec. 12, had raised more than $5,000 for a food bank after setting up a campaign requesting $4 donations.

Boston Globe website Boston.com, which published the Sichuan Garden email chain Tuesday, on Wednesday put up emails it said Edelman had sent earlier to a Japanese restaurant in Boston. In correspondence the website said it had verified with one of the now-defunct Osushi’s then-owners, Edelman took issue with the restaurant’s refusal to allow him to use Groupon certificates for prix fixe meals, and threatened that if they didn’t give in, he’d demand to Boston city authorities that Osushi’s food-service and liquor licenses not be renewed.

The restaurant owner contended that the Groupon voucher said it wasn’t valid with “other offers” and that the prix fixe menu fell into that category. “You should be ashamed of yourself and the business practices you exhibit,” the owner wrote, after no resolution had been achieved via several back-and-forth emails, “in effect, trying to make a business lose money and trying tro (sic) make someone bend to ridiculous claims you seem to feel strongly about. No one in retail should have to deal with someone who’s (sic) ego is as large as yours.

‘YOU ARE NOT WELCOMED BACK…EVER’

“None of your requests will be met under any circumstance. You are NOT welcomed back . . . ever. We will in fact call the Boston Police department and have you escorted out for trespassing.”