My first biography blog was posted on January 11, 2016, a day after Fan Film Factor first launched. It described how I turned down a job working for MICHAEL OKUDA in the Star Trek Scenic Art Department at Paramount Studios back in 1993. A year and a half later, I published my second biography blog, describing how I came to work as a freelance “professional Trekkie” fan consultant for Viacom Consumer Products starting in 1997. It was a gig I’d have for another six years.
It’s now 2022, today is my birthday (January 17), and I am going to indulge myself by finally publishing my THIRD biography blog, explaining how I ended up writing the menu for QUARK’S BAR & RESTAURANT at Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton. And as a special treat, here is a high-quality PDF file of the original menu for you to read and enjoy…
It was the summer of 1997, and I’d been working with JULIET DUTTON of Viacom Consumer Products for about 8 months, reviewing submitted Star Trek CD-ROM game scripts for accuracy, since Juliet wasn’t a Trekkie and didn’t know an Andorian from a Tellarite. Another person in licensing, KIRSTI PAYNE, was assigned to PARAMOUNT PARKS, a licensee that was finishing construction on a new Star Trek attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton that was scheduled to open early the following year. It would have an immersive virtual reality motion simulator ride, a Star Trek prop and costume museum, a gift shop (of course!), and even Quark’s Bar and Restaurant.
There was just one problem: their proposed menu was a complete disaster.
It wasn’t the food that was the issue so much figuring out what to call the various items. Uninspired names like “Cosmic Burger” and “Galaxy Fries” were falling far short of being Star Trek enough, and the menu just sounded boring. They needed help—badly! During a weekly staff meeting, Kirsti asked her fellow licensing staffers if anyone knew a creative Star Trek fan with a good sense of humor who was also able to write well.
Juliet said, “I have just the person for you…!”
A week later, I was sitting in Kirsti’s cubicle office at Paramount, reading through the list of food and drink items, along with descriptions of each. Kirsti asked if I had any ideas off the top of my head for names. I didn’t realize at the time, but looking back, that might have been an informal “interview” question…although these folks were pretty desperate by then. It was already July, and the menu needed to be sent to the printer by the middle of September to be ready for the grand opening. This gave me about eight weeks to not only write the whole thing but to also get it approved!
Looking through the items, I commented that the burgers would obviously be Borgers, with the three variations of burger, cheeseburger, and bacon cheeseburger being one-of-three, two-of-three, and three-of-three. The chicken fajita wrap could easily become the Wrap of Khan. And the onion rings HAD to be the Holy Rings of Betazed.
I was hired on the spot.
Two months might seem like a lot of time, but I knew it would fly by. And while thinking up a few names on the spot wasn’t too tough, there were 41 food items (including appetizers, entrees, kids orders, and deserts) plus another three dozen mixed drinks, draft beers, and Trek-branded wines. I also had to come up with Trek-ish names for all of the categories like salads, sandwiches, pastas, etc.
Fortunately, I had an ace in the hole…or rather, about 15 of them! I belonged to (and still belong to) a local chapter of the STARFLEET International fan club called the U.S.S. Angeles. A couple of weeks after my meeting with Kirsti, the chapter was having a BBQ and pool party at a members’ home in Ventura, and I asked if I could reserve a half hour or so for “brainstorming.” The crew was more than happy to help me think of ideas—it was a lot of fun!—and we came up with some FANtastic names like A Pizza the Action, Isolinear Chips and Dips, Journey to Basil Pasta, and Glop on the Stick (corn dog) and a whole bunch of others.
We also concocted some wonderful names for many of the mixed drinks: the Patten Buffer, Orion’s Belt, the Red Shirt, Trill Chill, Risan Shine, and Wesley’s Crush. One of our drink names, the Warp Core Breach (a seven liquor blend with various fruit juices, served in a large fish bowl with multiple straws, and guaranteed to be too much alcohol for one person to handle alone) actually made it into the season six episode of Deep Space Nine “His Way.”
We didn’t think of names for everything, but that pool party gave me a very decent head start. My unofficial challenge for myself (because it wasn’t a requirement) was to come up with at least one name for each main character from each series—TOS, TNG, DS9, and Voyager (Enterprise was still a few years away)—and at least one name referencing each major alien race—Vulcan, Klingon, Romulan, Cardassian, Bajoran, Ferengi, and Borg. Check out the menu and let me know if I missed anything.
Not everything I submitted was approved on the first try. I recall a rejection of Melon of Troi as the name for a melon colada (still not sure what was wrong with that name). But after finding out that the drink would be blue in color, Andorian Colada seemed fit nicely and was quickly approved.
Another rejection—which actually disappointed me quite a bit—was the name I wanted to use for the chocolate-peanut butter pie: Kai Pie. But they wouldn’t approve it. They did eventually approve the name Pie of the Prophets, and I ended up slipping “also known as Kai Pie” into the description, which the powers that be were okay with.
As clever as the names were, the descriptions were even funnier, and I encourage you to take the time to read them all thoroughly. Those blurbs actually took me way longer to create from scratch than I ever imagined, but in the end, they’re some of the work I am most proud of in my writing career.
I still remember the very last food item that I named…two food items, actually. The restaurant was going to feature a fresh fish catch of the day, and for many weeks, that item was going to be called Odo’s Fresh Catch of the Day (’cause Odo catches crooks, get it?). Yeah, I was never all that thrilled with the name either, and neither was Kirsti, but we were running low on time. I was finishing up the project, only needing to name the desserts, and I realized that Odo was much better suited for ice cream: Changeling Chocolate, Vorta Vanilla, Shapeshifter Strawberry. If I “transferred” Odo from fresh fish to frozen treat, I’d finally have the dessert section finished. But what about the fresh catch of the day? It was now nameless!
Don’t ask me how or why, but I often do my best thinking in the shower. And that’s when it hit me like a phaser on stun. I was so excited that as soon as I turned off the water and grabbed a towel, I ran to my phone to leave a voice-mail for Kirsti to hear when she arrived at work. She knew I’d been struggling to find a new name for the fresh catch, and we only had two days left until our deadline. As I heard the beep through my phone, I left the following message: “Kirsti, it’s Jonathan. Are you ready? I hope you’re sitting down. The fresh catch of the day is now…drum roll please…Fisherman’s Worf.”
She loved it, and so did I.
Surprisingly, Worf hadn’t previously appeared anywhere else in the entire menu! We had a Bird of Prey chicken sandwich and the Salad of Kahless, so Klingons were represented. But no Worf…until now. So it was truly perfect timing. The menu names and full text were sent in the following morning for final approval by the folks at Paramount Parks and the Las Vegas Hilton.
Early the following week, I got a call from Kirsti. While the menu text had been approved, someone over there suddenly asked, “We have a work-for-hire agreement with this guy, right?” Actually, no, they didn’t. I’d never been asked to sign one. That meant that, technically, I still owned all the rights to what I’d written. And I’d since found out that Star Trek: The Experience was planning to sell the menu in the gift shop.
They had offered to pay me $500 for writing the menu…which wasn’t all that much considering that I’d probably put about 70-80 hours of time into the project. And now, with the menu text approved and needing to be sent to the printers, I kinda had them over a barrel. Should I ask for a percentage of sales revenue? After all, this was likely something that fans would want to have as a keepsake.
In the end, I opted to simply sign the work-for-hire agreement rather than making life difficult for the Experience and probably alienating the friends I was making in licensing. I really did enjoy working with these folks (I was actually getting PAID to talk about Star Trek…I mean, c’mon!), and good reviews about me were already spreading to others in the licensing department like HARRY LANG and a young new hire by the name of JOHN VANCITTERS. Best not to upset the Kaferian apple cart!
The punchline to that story is that I found out later from Kirsti that during the first six months, the Experience had sold only a very small number of menus (probably because they were priced at $10 each for the bar and food menu separately!), and I’d likely have made almost nothing in royalties had I demanded a percentage of sales. However, during that same period, several thousand menus were simply taken by diners who didn’t know that the menus weren’t giveaways. They were actually quite expensive to print, and the Experience was having to spend a fair amount replacing them! Eventually, the wait staff was told to be certain to collect the menus from the tables and make sure none of them were taken by the customers. And even then, many menus still found new homes far beyond Las Vegas.
As the years went on, the food the drink menus at Quark’s changed. Items were added, unpopular items were removed (prune juice—a warrior’s drink—didn’t last more than 10 months). And each change was done with no input from me, which made me a little sad, as the new iterations became progressively less funny, less creative, and increasingly generic.
But that’s okay. I still cherish having been even a small part of Star Trek: The Experience…a very special destination that I visited maybe a dozen times during its all-too-brief decade of existence. And as it happened, that wouldn’t be my only professional contribution to that wonderful place. A few years later, I’d be hired to create the 2D LCARS animations for the Borg Invasion 4D ride. But that’s a story for another blog…