Family Meal - Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
Greetings from beautiful Washington, DC, where my thoughts are drifting back toward Hong Kong, and the restaurant industry there getting hit by coronavirus fears just as protest news was starting to lighten up a bit. I wrote about the effects of those protests in Eater this week — “In Hong Kong, Many Restaurants Are Literally on the Front Lines” — and am biting my nails over what this health scare is going to do to already struggling businesses. (Please read and share my piece uncritically, full of only praise and wonder, as you know I would.)
Let’s get to it…
The End of an Era – In NYC, the Spotted Pig has finally closed. Julia Moskin and Kim Severson report: “The closing came less than a month after Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, announced that Ken Friedman, the principal owner, had agreed to settle claims of sexual harassment, retaliation and gender discrimination by 11 former employees in a deal that included a share of the restaurant’s profits for a decade… How the closing will affect the settlement is not clear. According to the agreement, the employees were to divide a lump payment of $240,000 from Mr. Friedman, then 20 percent of his profits from the Spotted Pig for 10 years. That 20 percent share would include any profits from a sale of the restaurant within that period.”
In the piece, Moskin and Severson confirm, “[April Bloomfield] still owns 24 percent of the Spotted Pig.” And as for Friedman, he says: ““I’ve spent all my family’s savings to keep the Pig open. Sadly, it wasn’t enough… Its closing is the saddest thing I’ve had to face in my professional life.”
Somebody buy that man a mirror.
The Split – Also out of NYC, “Chef Daniel Humm and the NoMad Hotel group are officially splitting, according to announcements sent to staffs of the various restaurants this afternoon. Sydell Group, which owns the NoMad Hotel, the Line, and various other hotel brands, will take over ownership of the restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. The groups are still negotiating the final deal for the forthcoming London restaurant, but insiders say everyone expects Make It Nice to exit that partnership as well. The full transition will take place on January 30.” Details and those notes to staff via Amanda Kludt in Eater.
The Scam – On Sunday, Pim Techamuanvivit tweeted, “If you want to hear another story about how Seamless, Grubhub, and Yelp are defrauding us restaurants and their customers, pull up a chair. I have a story to tell.” That classic tale involves her SF restaurants Nari and Kin Khao being listed not only without permission, but also with wildly inaccurate menus for locations that don’t even do takeout. Says Techamuanvivit: “Don’t worry, my very first call come Monday is to my lawyer. We are suing their arses.”
The Critics – Continuing the conversation about the disappearance / diminishing relevance / overall contributions of local restaurant critics, freelance writer Keia Mastrianni summed up the current scene in Charlotte last week, where (as in much of the county), influencers have taken over, and “are as transparent in their motives and funding as the ocean at night, and sifting through the army of voices can feel like picking your way through the dollar bin at a thrift store: There may be some gems in the box, but good luck finding them.” She looks at ethical compromises across the non-newspaper board, from a new subscription-based publication that currently depend on events and ads (and therefor the chefs and restaurants it ostensibly covers neutrally) to full-time Bojangle’s social media manager Allie Papajohn, who, when asked about the “ethical responsibility to disclose her motivations,” says, “I don’t worry about it as much as maybe I should because I trust myself.”
More hard looks into this are great and necessary! But I always cringe when “traditional media” — and especially newspapers — are held up as if conflicts don’t arise there. You can have a deep, abiding respect for journalism, and still understand that “I trust myself” is a story editors / reporters / newsrooms tell themselves all the time.
Meanwhile, in Dallas: The Dallas Morning News’ Erin Booke says that paper is searching for a new restaurant critic. The job description: “You will be The Dallas Morning News’ chief critical voice providing thoughtful perspective, insight, context and analysis of the North Texas dining scene. Your writing will be sophisticated, authoritative and provocative, and you will approach your storytelling with a digital-first mindset.”
The Lists – Nation’s Restaurant News is out with their big 2020 Power List of “50 men and women bringing game-changing solutions and unrivaled creativity to the biggest issues facing restaurants today.” Looks like mostly chains and tech (plus Amanda Cohen, Anthony Myint, and a few others), but worth a scroll through the photos for a quick who’s who in that world.
Some Sad News – “Orhan Yegen, the Kenny Shopsin of Turkish cuisine, died [last] week at the age of 65 rom a surprise heart attack. If you ate at any of the nearly two dozen restaurants he’s run in New York since the 1990s” — think: Spisak, Deniz, Sea Salt, Bi Lokma, Dervish, Efendi, Francela, et al. — “you know that we haven’t just lost a talented chef, but also America’s most passionate and outspoken Turkish culinary ambassador.” Max Falkowitz has the full obit in Grubstreet.
And last but not least – The NYT’s Kim Severson has a big profile of Iliana Regan and her Milkweed Inn project in Michigan’s UP. Not a lot of new ground broken if you’ve read one of the many other looks at this place, but if you want to understand the power of the New York Times spotlight, note that almost immediately after the piece came out, Regan and her wife / partner Anna Hamlin posted on Instagram: “If you can plan far enough ahead we’ve opened some accommodations for summer 2021.” Today, the Milkweed Inn bio reads: “A Cabin, Forest, River and Inn. 2020 sold. June and July 2021 sold. August 2021 accommodations available on our site.” Obviously space is very limited and it’s only open summers, but a year and a half out is… somethin!
And that’s it for today. Anyone free in August 2021 lmk. My calendar’s filling up around then, but maybe we could go camping or whatever?
I’ll see you here soon for next Family Meal.
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P.S. - Thanks so much to all for bearing with me as we take three small kids around the East Coast. If I haven’t covered the right stories, answered your email, or been in touch, I’m working to catch up fast as I can! Greatly, greatly appreciate all the understanding you give and all the tips you continue to send!