Somms accused, Chiang gone, Insurance interrupted, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, October 30th, 2020

Hello Friday,

As usual, Tuesday’s paid edition is copy/pasted below. If you prefer to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…

Before we get started: I have always called the night before Halloween “Mischief Night,” but today I saw Food & Wine editor Kat Kinsman call it Cabbage Night on Twitter, and that sent me down a rabbit hole to this 1984 NYT article detailing the rationale behind more localized names like Devil's Night, Moving Night, and Goosie Night.

“In nearby Rockland County in New York, ‘Gate Night’ is a common usage dating to before the turn of the century. Impish youths annoyed residents by unfastening wrought iron gates from Victorian- style fences and depositing them on homeowners' front porches.”

Opens front door. Looks down at Victorian-style wrought iron gate. Shakes fist at sky. “Impish yooooooouuuuuuths!”

Let’s get to it…

The Court – Headline in the New York Times: “The Wine World’s Most Elite Circle Has a Sexual Harassment Problem.” Story from Julia Moskin: “The Court of Master Sommeliers confers high honors, but many women candidates say they’ve paid a high price.” That headline about harassment may be downplaying things a bit... “Twenty-one women told The New York Times that they have been sexually harassed, manipulated or assaulted by male master sommeliers. They, and other current and former members of the court, say the abuse is a continuing problem of which its leadership has long been aware. One master sommelier, according to these accounts, propositioned at least 15 candidates, sometimes promising professional favors in return for sex. Another shut the door to a classroom full of students in the face of a woman who had refused his advances. One student said a master sommelier in Texas asked her for a pair of her underwear ‘to snuggle with.’ Several said the slur ‘sommsucker’ is used for women who have relationships with members of the court. And one woman said she was raped by a prominent master sommelier in New York City after meeting him at a wine event.”

Names are named, screenshots are shared, several brave people are on the record, and on top of everything else, there’s this note on the CMS cheating scandal of 2018: “The subsequent investigation brought to light that the board’s vice chairman, Matt Stamp, had sexual relationships with two women who took the exam that day, and failed to disclose them to the board.”

A well-connected, US somm who has been telling me to expect this story since early summer writes: “Well it’s way worse than I even thought and at the same time, there’s more that wasn’t included. I think the most problematic part is that everyone knew. For decades.”

The Suits – On Tuesday (below), I noted a recent win for restaurants suing insurance companies over business interruption claims due to COVID. Those more well-versed in the law (and/or more currently immersed in the courts), may want to check out a deep dive on similar cases so far from The National Law Review this week: “Of cases where courts have ruled, the nationwide trend is in favor of insurers. Nearly 75% of cases have resulted in dismissals of the policyholder’s claims. However, two opinions within the last several weeks, one in New Jersey and one in North Carolina, have found in favor of the policyholder. In Optical Services USA/JCI v. Franklin Mutual Insurance Co…. the court ruled that physical loss or physical damage was not required under New Jersey law. Similarly, in North State Deli LLC et al. v. The Cincinnati Insurance Co. et al… the court granted summary judgment in favor of the policyholder restaurants, concluding that physical damage to the building was not required under the policy at issue.

“These two decisions have the potential to shape plaintiffs’ strategies in jurisdictions across the country.” Good luck, all!

P.S. – Here’s a shutdown refund angle I missed earlier: According to the AP, “California’s financially battered restaurants filed government claims Monday to recover more than $100 million in fees for liquor and health permits and tourism charges that they say were assessed even though their businesses were shuttered or only partially operating under long-running coronavirus restrictions.” Why pay fees to operate in a state that won’t let you operate?

The Suits Too, déjà vu – Headline in the SF Chronicle: “Bay Area restaurant claims Grubhub listed it without permission, new suit says.” Familiar details via Janelle Bitker.

That Ghost $$$ – Per Jonathan Shieber in TechCrunch on Tuesday: “‘We’re building a decentralized ghost kitchen,’ is a sentence that could launch a thousand investor calls, and Alex Canter, the chief executive officer behind Ordermark, knows it. The 29-year-old CEO has, indeed, built a decentralized ghost kitchen — and managed to convince SoftBank’s latest Vision Fund to invest in a $120 million round the company announced today.”

In totally unrelated news, I’m building a decentralized ghost kitchen. Bank transfer info available upon request.

Michelin Season – In lieu of a star ceremony this year, Michelin CA held a “virtual Family Meal” (dumb name) to announce both the winners of new “green star” sustainability classifications (not yet searchable in the online guide), and a list of 25 “inspector discoveries.” I think the term “Columbusing” is a bit overused at this point, but overused call-outs are also usually easily avoided… Anyway, congrats to Spoon by H, et al. on being found!

Some Sad News – “Cecilia Chiang, the mother of Chinese food in America and one of the most influential figures in Bay Area culinary history, died early Wednesday. She was 100 years old…. Chiang died at home in San Francisco of natural causes, her granddaughter said.” Paolo Lucchesi and Tara Duggan have the hometown paper obituary in the SF Chronicle. (I haven’t asked, but assume Lucchesi’s byline here means this was a partially pre-written obit, which speaks to Chiang’s “legend” status in the food world.)

Cecilia Chiang obituaries also out now from Eve Batey in Eater SF, Neda Ulaby on NPR (audio available), Tim Carman in the Washington Post, and more, including the New York Times, where William Grimes’s version is available in both simplified and traditional Chinese.

A tribute for our times from Omnivore Books owner Celia Sack on Twitter: “I did get the inside skinny today that she was able to vote before her passing. A champ up to the end, and a legend her entire life.”

And last but not least: For Design Fans – Here’s Barry Brecheisen’s photospread on Adorn, a new restaurant in Chicago’s Michigan Ave Four Seasons (led by chef Jonathon Sawyer). The description says this space has “a more contemporary feel,” which… Yes. If mid-century modern and art deco got together at a 1980s leveraged buyout conference to have a lovechild which has just now come of age, we’re at (this version of) contemporary.

And that’s it for today!

I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday for next Family Meal! Everyone else, until Friday, unless you…

Happy Halloween!

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a sentence that could launch a thousand investor calls to If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Here begins the copy/paste of the Family Meal that went out Tuesday to paying subscribers. If you’d also like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…

Family Meal - Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

Senate out, IACP wins, P&C guides, DoorDash invests, and more...

Hello Tuesday,

And hello paying subscribers only!

One week.

Let’s get to it…

The Relief – After confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the Senate has adjourned till November 9th without passing a new stimulus package. Appropriations Committee chair Richard Shelby told a pool reporter (quoted in Playbook) yesterday: “[W]e’re leaving this afternoon -- later tonight, whenever --- and we’ll come back in November. The question might be, will there be something then?”

Yeah, man. That’s what we want to know.

The Suits – Missed this last week, but chalk up at least one win for restaurants on the business interruption insurance front! Per Law360’s Mike Curley, “A North Carolina judge has ruled that The Cincinnati Insurance Co. owes a group of restaurants coverage for their losses stemming from state-mandated COVID-19 shutdowns, a move that the group's attorneys say is the first decision to hold that shutdown orders to contain the virus caused a ‘physical loss.’ Superior Court Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. said that the plain definition of the term ‘direct physical loss’ includes an ‘inability to utilize … something in the real, material or bodily world, resulting from a given cause,’ and does not need physical alteration to trigger coverage.”

The insurance company plans to appeal (of course), but an insurance litigator tells Curley “that Judge Hudson's decision lends credence to similar arguments that have been made in other cases, saying while it might not mark the turn of a tide, it shows that different judges in different jurisdictions can have varying interpretations of the policy language.”

Future 6-3 decision?

The Platform – In Eater NY, Tony Lin has a look at what rumblings of a ban on WeChat might mean for Chinese restaurants. If you’re still unfamiliar with the platform, this is a useful primer, but long story short re the central question: Life goes on. “[Linda Chen], August Gatherings’ WeChat administrator, says she has faith in the loyal customers will find them if the app is banned…. [and] students… have discussed the possibility of using VPNs for WeChat, like how people in China circumvent the country’s internet firewall to access Facebook and Instagram.” Black mirror.

Awards Season – The IACP awards were announced on Saturday, with Evan Funke and Katie Parla taking home the Chefs & Restaurants cookbook award for American Sfoglino, and the Tartine book winning for Food Photography & Styling (photos by Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers).

On the media side, LAT critic Patricia Escárcega won for criticism, and Newspaper Food Section of the Year goes to… Los Angeles Times Food, so congrats to whoever’s in charge over there?

And congrats, all!

The Opportunity – FYI, supply-side: The NYT Food section has put out a call for stories from “farmers, meatpackers, grocers and other essential workers who have kept the country fed throughout the pandemic.” Use this link (or pass it on).

The Votes – Shout out to critic Hanna Raskin and the Charleston Post & Courier food section for their thorough, local, restaurant-focused election guide. Questions for candidates start with “Have you ever worked in a restaurant?” and move on quickly to very clear, specific asks like, “Do you support giving tax breaks to landlords who work out recovery leases for their restaurant tenants?” Sample answer on the softball side, from a candidate by the name of Jim Clyburn: “First-ever favorite restaurant: Clyburn Café… Because the first woman I loved was the owner. My mother.” Aw, shucks. Someone oughtta tell Joe Biden about this guy. Might have a real future in democratic politics!

For Design Fans – There is something both confusing and wonderful about watching a build-out video right now, but if you see good ones, please send my way. This one is about two weeks old on Instagram from Franciein Brooklyn, and if you can keep up with the speed of it all, you’ll see tile, and murals, and framed recessed lighting around a coffered ceiling, oh my!

And last but not least: The Investor – “For the first time in the company’s history, food delivery app DoorDash has invested in a restaurant. The new venture for DoorDash is a stake in Oakland’s Burma Bites, a spin-off of Burma Superstar that will open on Oct. 28 for takeout and delivery service.” Details via Justin Phillips in the SF Chronicle, though neither party is saying much, and, “DoorDash declined to specify how much money it is investing.”

Asked what good the investment would do for DoorDash, a rep who gave his name as Mephistopheles replied only, “Enlarge its kingdom.”

And that’s it for today.

I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or something in the real, material or bodily world resulting from a ‘given cause’ to If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

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