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Harvard Prof Apologizes for $4 Chinese ‘Food Fight’

Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline, Mass. Google Maps

He couldn't take the heat from his ridiculous fight with a Chinese kitchen, so now he's out saying he's sorry.

A Harvard Business School associate professor, whose over-the-top email tussle over a $4 overcharge on a food take-out bill went viral, has apologized via Twitter for the bizarre electronic wrestling match.

Benjamin Edelman, the teacher who had threatened legal action against a Massachusetts Chinese eatery and asked for triple the amount he was overcharged. At first, he doubled-down on his erudite and obsessive tactics when the media caught wind of them.

Now, he's digested the situation, and he's ready to make amends.

"I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so."

"Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline," Edelman said in a statement he tweeted Wednesday. "Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it's clear that I was very much out of line."

"I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future," Edelman wrote. "I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well."

The abject apology came a day after the Edelman's email antics were revealed by the Boston Globe, on its site, Boston.com.

The Harvard academic had seen crimson and emailed Duan that he had notified "the applicable authorities" after getting overcharged $4 on a $53.35 order of shredded chicken with spicy garlic sauce, stir fried chicken and other dishes.

"I understand that fines are common for price advertising violations," Edelman wrote in the email.

Irked at pricing

Edelman, who teaches in the Negotiation, Organizations & Market unit of the school, was apparently irked to learn that the restaurant's menu on its website hadn't been updated to reflect the prices he was charged.

The professor, whom the Globe notes has a consulting practice that lists Microsoft, the NFL, and The New York Times as clients, quickly deployed his negotiating skills in his email exchange Duan, whose family owns the restaurant.

"I suggest that Sichuan Garden refund me three times the amount of the overcharge," Edelman helpfully wrote Duan, according to the Globe.

"The tripling reflects the approach provided under the Massachusetts consumer protection statute, MGL 93a, wherein consumers broadly receive triple damages for certain intentional violations," Edelman wrote in one of several lengthy, detailed emails to Duan published by the Globe.

"Please refund the $12 to my credit card. Or you could mail a check for $12 to my home."

Duan was very polite with Edelman as he explained in his own emails that the website hadn't been updated with new prices, and as he offered to refund him the four bucks the professor was overcharged. Duan said he would wait for authorities to determine any penalty and whether he actually owes Edelman treble damages.

Duan told the Globe that the email exchange "just broke my heart."

"I have worked so hard to make my family proud and to elevate our business."

Edelman, who told the Globe the food "was delicious," also said he plans on taking "a few days" to weigh his legal options.

Concerned about cuisine costs

In an email to CNBC.com on Wednesday morning, hours before he issued his apology, Edelman elaborated on his concern about cuisine costs.

"The Boston.com piece totally misses the benefit that all diligent consumers provide in looking for overcharges and other errors," Edelman wrote. "We all rely on trust in our daily lives -that when sales tax is added, it actually applies and equals the specified amount; that the meter in a taxi shows the correct amount provided by law and correctly measures the actual distance; that when you order takeout, the price you see online matches the amount you pay in the restaurant. We all take most of this for granted. It would be a lot of trouble to all have to check these things day in and day out. That's exactly why we should be concerned when folks fall short - because hardly anyone ever checks, so these problems can go unnoticed and can affect ,in aggregate, large amounts. "

"If you look at my other work, e.g., http://www.benedelman.org/airfare-advertising/, you'll see I've been pretty diligent in holding large companies accountable for their false statements of price and other attempts to overcharge passengers. Should all small businesses get a free pass? Some people seem to think so, i wonder if that really makes sense," Edelman wrote.

And, he said, "Notably, though not emphasized in the Boston.com piece,the restaurant at issue knew the website prices had been "out of date for quite some time." On Yelp,consumers were complaining about this in 2010. At what point should they do something about it? I'm pleased to have at least gotten the problem fixed for the benefit of others. But by all indications there are thousands of customers affected, thousands or more likely tens of thousands of dollars of overcharges."

Read the full, bizarre exchange at Boston.com.