Insidefortlauderdale.com: Here's What Happens When an Internet Troll Starts a Website (Updated)
|Dennis Baasch at a recent restaurant opening.|
But beyond that failed argument, the article also went out of its way to criticize the Gab Group, the public relations firm that had publicized Philippe. The unsigned piece continued: "Frankly I blamed the Gab Group, because exaggeration is something they do well."
It's a claim that Michelle Soudry, owner of Gab Group, didn't appreciate. "I started this company eight years ago out of my garage after having my first child, and my goal has always been integrity," Soudry said. She now has 13 employees, is among South Florida's largest public relations firms, and is known among the media for sending straightforward news releases that do not embellish. "This guy doesn't have the guts to put his name or face out there with what he's writing. He's obviously a coward."
The article, and all of the Inside Fort Lauderdale website, has been written for years by a man who simply went by Dennis. Or sometimes Max or a half dozen other aliases when he writes nasty comments on blogs.
But his real name, New Times has learned, is Dennis Baasch.
Baasch is 51 and moved to Florida from Melville, New York, where he was registered as a
Republican, according to records. He bought a $1.2 million condo in Las Olas Grand in 2006 that's now worth about $775,000. He owns several companies, including Inside Marketing Inc., Bandwidth Management Corp., and Emerging Technologies, which registered insidefortlauderdale.com.
Baasch didn't return phone calls seeking comment. He did respond to an email I sent him last year and, in a quick phone call, said his goal was to supplant traditional media outlets like New Times when it comes to food coverage. He spurned my offer to meet for a beer, saying he preferred his anonymity.
It appears the first published piece Baasch penned was published in the letters section of the Sun-Sentinel on October 11, 2008. He complained about what he called an Obama "handout plan," although he didn't specify what he was referring to. "Successful people give tons of money to charity, because we know the money will get to people in hardship," Baasch wrote. "When we pay higher taxes and the government writes checks, the money goes to lots of undeserving people, including drug addicts, the lazy and those who spent their youths partying instead of studying."
That vitriol became his calling card when he began Inside Fort Lauderdale about a year and a half ago. He writes constantly about the restaurant scene in Fort Lauderdale, penning unsigned previews of soon-to-come restaurants, reviews of media receptions, and then full-length reviews, often the day a restaurant opens. Almost always, they are negative if not outright pans. Some of the most successful, longest-running restaurants in town have gotten unfavorable reviews. The overall tone of the site is made clear under the "Contact Us" heading, where he mainly dissuades feedback: "Please don't post a complaint if you're unwilling to provide a real email so we can respond. It's just a waste of time."
That lack of transparency and feedback has irked restaurant owners and public relations people who say that Baasch often gets articles wrong. Try to contact him for a correction, they say, and you'll get no response.
While Baasch doesn't want feedback on his own site, he has been quick to offer it on Clean Plate Charlie and the rest of the New Times website. "This would have been a good idea for an article if you did it right," he wrote on an item about buying breakfast at Aldi's. "A caption on the lead picture would be useful," he wrote nearly immediately after an item about the top sports bars went live. "Boo, hiss, jeer on this. If trout with lima beans is better than La Cigale's Dover Sole Meuniere I'll eat my hat," he sneered on an item about the terrific Trout Amandine from Rack's.
On our October 20, 2011, review of Philippe Chow, he used the alias "Klaus" to crack on the Gab Group and Philippe Chow, using the same argument from his site. Writing about our new (and terrific) restaurant critic, Melissa McCart, Baasch wrote: "I think it's time to strike the gong on the new girl. Is this serious?"
His diatribe earned a response from Stratis Morfogen, CEO of Philippe Chow. Morfogen says public relations types would have told him to ignore the snark, but he couldn't let someone make up stories using an alias. "I'm not going to hide behind a tree as someone makes up facts. My name is Stratis Morfogen, and I'm the CEO of Philippe Chow, and I'm not going to hide and take this nonsense."
Such a reaction has been common around town, with restaurants and public relations firms nearly spitting when they mention the name Dennis. They loathe his usually negative reviews, even though few people have read them. According to the leading website tracking service, Alexa, insidefortlauderdale.com is the 982,646th most read site, with 25 other sites linking to it (for comparison, New Times' site is 32,577th, with 2,766 sites linking).
One of the regular targets for Baasch's hatred has been Ted Inserra, a Fort Lauderdale native who has worked at some of the best South Florida restaurants. Inserra now cooks at OB House and M-Bar, and Baasch has often been quick to criticize Inserra anytime New Times reports on him. "I've never met the gentleman, and I wouldn't know if he was sitting next to me at the bar right now," Inserra said. "He doesn't like anything. He's just a negative person, and it's mind-boggling why he would be like that."
What has confused those who have been burned by Baasch's website is his motivation. Spots for advertisements have long been held open with gray boxes declaring "Your Ad Here." He has been known to send emails to restaurants asking them to advertise. One that declined was met with a harsh reply that threatened a harsh review could be published instead. That email was later sent to New Times, although the restaurant asked that it not be named.
Baasch's recent review of YOLO seems like it might have come out of such a place. "This will be the most comprehensive review of YOLO ever written; the good, the bad and the ugly," he wrote. "I will preface this by saying that based on pure fundamentals; I don't like YOLO." The bar looks "cheap," the lunch menu is "no bargain," and the wineglasses hanging at the bar are "filthy."
It was a review, like most written by Baasch, full of hate. Which, come to think of it, may be the main motivation of Dennis Baasch, Fort Lauderdale's most prolific internet troll.
Update: Baasch called New Times to say that he wants this article taken down. His argument: "Personal attacks aren't cool. You want to attack my website or say my reviews suck? That's fine. But don't put up personal attacks."
When asked about the fact that his website and his comments on this site often amount to personal attacks -- including suggesting food writers and chefs should be fired -- Baasch said those kind of personal attacks are different.
He said he wouldn't be able to do his job if people knew his name. That's not true for credible food critics, who publish under their real names. When asked about this, Baasch said the reason he needs anonymity is so people don't know his personal information, like where he lives. Asked if he feared people hunting him down, he said: "Of course not."
It seemed clear Baasch either hadn't thought out why he deserves anonymity or was keeping the reason to himself. In response, he said: "You don't think the way I think, and you don't stand a chance of understanding it anyway."
There's also the question of Baasch's motivation. I mentioned that several people who commented for this article called him an asshole. I asked if he was, in fact, an asshole. Baasch paused, a long five seconds of silence, before launching into a long-winded explanation. "Why do people think I'm an asshole? Because I tell the truth?" He argued that he's a food critic and has to be tough, so therefore some people have made the jump to thinking he's an asshole.
Perhaps he doesn't want his name associated with the site because his "Dennis" persona is more of an asshole than Baasch is in real life, I suggested.
"I'm not afraid to have my name associated with this," he said.
So, there you go. The man behind insidefortlauderdale.com, who some say is an asshole, is Dennis Baasch.
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