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$120B by Zoom, Ripert's HVAC, Wells's but, Postmates's debt, and more...
Family Meal - Tuesday, October 6th, 2020
Welp. I wanted to get Family Meal out last Friday, but as an old boss used to tell me: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” In this case, the enemy was three children under six years old and the Mid-Autumn holiday weekend. It was a very cute, festive enemy, but still.
Anyway, Tuesday Family Meal is usually only for paying subscribers, but I’m sending this to everyone to help us all catch up. If you want to keep getting Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – The COVID spread in the White House affects lots of things in different ways(!), but one direct impact on the restaurant industry may be a delay (at best) in passing a new relief package (with or without the $120B for restaurants currently in the House bill). CNN’s Dana Bash reported last night that Nancy Pelosi has told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin she doesn’t trust the White House COVID protocols and won’t allow in person meetings to discuss a deal. “The way they treat people — I don’t want them here.”
Ah well, all the best deals get hashed out over Zoom, right? Right.
The Air Itself – For Eater, photojournalist Gary He went deep into the exciting world of unproven HVAC technology last week: “High-End NYC Restaurants Install Pricey Tech In the Hopes of Bringing Diners Back Indoors… Le Bernardin… advertises on its Resy page that it has installed a Needlepoint Bi-Polar Ionization system, which they say is ‘proven to eradicate 99.4% of airborne COVID-19 particles within 30 minutes.’ The technology sounds like the stuff of science fiction: Charged particles are released into the air to hunt for dust and viruses, deactivating them upon contact. While UV lamps rely on air that’s been sucked into the HVAC unit to be sanitized, bi-polar ionization systems are, in theory, proactive. Their efficacy is still up for debate, since there have been few peer-reviewed studies on the technology… The cost of these units is high... The team at Crown Shy in the Financial District is operating at just 10 percent of their pre-pandemic revenue, but spent $40,000 adding a bi-polar ionization system to the HVAC units.”
NB: I say these technologies are unproven, but according to the painfully dense 14 minute promotional video I skipped around on YouTube, one company has installed some variation of these units at big name hospitals across the country, and at one point appears to take partial credit for their HVAC systems helping the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup…
Meanwhile, in the NYT, Pete Wells spoke with some optimistic HVAC engineers who advocated lower-cost solutions like open windows and doors, free-standing air filters and barriers between tables. Sounded great: “Cleaner air, faster meals, smarter rules that avoid other cities’ mistakes — when I talked to the optimists, I am just about ready to book an indoor table.” Turned out it was a half-article headfake: “But when I talked to scientists, my fears came back…. I can’t believe we’re going to risk another outbreak in New York so restaurants can have dining rooms that are three-quarters empty. I can’t believe restaurants and the people who work in them have been failed so badly by Washington that many will have no choice but to go along with it.”
The Suits – If any of you were still holding out hope for help from business interruption insurance coverage, I’m sorry to say it looks like case law continues to build against that possibility. Per Law360’s Mike Curley, “A California judge has thrown out a Los Angeles eatery's suit seeking coverage from The Travelers Indemnity Co. of Connecticut for business losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, finding that the virus hasn't caused physical loss — and even if it had, the restaurant's policy has a virus exclusion that bars coverage. In an order filed Friday, U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. rejected arguments from Mark's Engine Co. No. 28Restaurant that the virus had physically damaged its property, saying that because its employees still had access to the site, the company suffered no permanent loss or loss of use… ‘The only individuals who could potentially claim “direct physical loss of” access to the premises would be patrons who were no longer allowed to dine in,’ Judge Birotte said. ‘And even then, the policy is between plaintiff and defendant, not restaurant goers and defendant.’" Makes sense?
Those Delivery $$$ – Despite almost everything going their way right now (minus those fee cap laws they failed to head off), all is still not black in the world of delivery apps. According to a recent filing, “Postmates had an accumulated deficit of $929.3 million as of June 30. Compared with the previously reported deficit as of March 31, that means Postmates lost more than $32 million in the second quarter at the height of the pandemic, despite Uber reporting that Postmates saw an implied $1 billion in gross bookings in the period.” Details via Laura Forman in the WSJ.
Some Sad News – Headline in the NYT: “Paris Chef Commits Suicide After Assault Allegations, Family Says. Taku Sekine, 39, famous for his restaurants, Dersou and Cheval d’Or, had faced recent accusations of sexual violence.” Back story from Norimitsu Onishi, with links to both a statement from the family, which has denied the allegations, on Twitter (in French), and an article by writer Franck Pinay-Rabaroust on France’s Atabula website, in which Pinay-Rabaroust defends his reporting on the allegations against Sekine (also in French, but my browser translated easily).
And in LA, “Sid Weiser, founder of L.A. chef favorite Weiser Family Farms, dies at 95…. The Weiser Family Farms name appears on menus at the most lauded restaurants in Los Angeles, influencing dishes at Providence, Mélisse, Birdie G’s and Orsa & Winston.” Obituary from Jenn Harris in the LAT.
Some Hopeful News – In Chicago, “After 35 days in the hospital where doctors treated him for COVID-19, Claudio Velez is heading home. The 55-year-old, known for trotting around Chicago with a red cooler full of tamales, will require home care, but is feeling much better after spending much of his time at Rush University Medical Center hooked up to a ventilator.” Details via Ashok Selvam in Eater.
And last and least – SF Chronicle critic Soleil Ho’s latest piece will be a bit of a Rorschach test for everyone suffering through… all this. Is now the time for critics to write absurdist humor columns making light of the power of their profession? You tell me. “SECRETS REVEALED: How S.F. restaurant critic Soleil Ho really decides where to eat.”
And that’s it for today…. Sort of. ICYMI: Last Tuesday’s Family Meal is copy / pasted below for non-paying subscribers.
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 SECRETS REVEALED to email@example.com. 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 a copy/paste of Family Meal from Tuesday, October 29th:
And hello to paying subscribers only! If you’re getting this as a forward, maybe you should:
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – IRC press release headline yesterday: “The Independent Restaurant Coalition’s RESTAURANTS Act Included in New COVID-19 Relief Legislation Days After Bill Crosses Key 200 Cosponsor Threshold, Would Provide $120 Billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund.”
Details from Emily Cochrane in the NYT: “Negotiators resumed talks on Monday over a coronavirus relief package in a final bid to revive stalled negotiations as House Democrats unveiled a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill… The new plan’s price tag is significantly less than the House’s $3.4 trillion measure from May… but Democrats maintained a provision that would revive a lapsed $600 enhanced federal unemployment benefit and another provision that would send another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to Americans. And some measures they either added or expanded … [including] the creation of a $120 billion program to bolster restaurants, which have been among the hardest-hit industries in the pandemic’s economic carnage.”
NB: “At roughly $1 trillion more than what [Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin] has signaled the White House is willing to consider, the package is likely just a starting point, all but guaranteed to be rejected by the Republican majority in the Senate should the House pass it in its current form.”
And quick reminder from the IRC release: If passed, the plan would allow eligible establishments (“including restaurants, food stands, food trucks, food carts, caterers, saloons, inns, taverns, and bars”) to use grants for “costs such as payroll, rent, supplies, and PPE…. In its first two weeks of operation, grants would be prioritized for establishments owned by members of marginalized and underrepresented communities, with a focus on women and minority-owned and operated entities. Priority would also be given to establishments with annual revenues of less than $1,500,000.”
The Consent – In CA, “Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law Thursday that requires delivery companies to have an agreement in place with a restaurant before they can take their food to customers.” Justin Phillips has the background and some dissent in the SF Chronicle, where a rep for Postmates called the new regulations, “a classic example of how well-intentioned lawmaking can go terribly wrong.” Best intentions go into effect January 1st, 2021.
The Permanence – “It’s time for a new tradition,” according to America’s number one most favorite mayor, Bill de Blasio, who announced on Friday that the outdoor dining program allowing restaurants to set up tables on sidewalks and some streets would become a permanent feature of New York City going forward. Story from Winnie Hu and Amanda Rosa in the NYT. One of many issues to keep an eye on: Restaurants are now allowed to expand sidewalk seating beyond their own building frontage as long as their neighbors agree. Neighbors aren’t supposed to charge, but… Are lateral rights the new air rights?
The Impermanence – “In the foothills east of St. Helena, a dozen fire crews fought through the day to save Meadowood Napa Valley, a luxury hotel and resort. Most of the large buildings were standing. But the hotel, ordinarily frequented by wine buffs, had been turned into a disaster zone. Fences around the tennis courts burned, along with the tennis pro shop. Firefighters drained the turquoise pool to fill their engine tanks. Monday afternoon, the resort’s restaurant building, which holds the Grill and the triple-Michelin star Restaurant at Meadowood, was engulfed in flames.” That’s from a big team of reporters at the SF Chronicle (Esther Mobley, J.K. Dineen, Chase DiFeliciantonio, Dustin Gardiner and Megan Cassidy) covering just one of the many stories coming out of wine country right now.
The main Meadowood photo circulating on Twitter (via Adam Housley) shows a firefighter looking back at the building they couldn’t save, while on Instagram, Christopher Kostow wrote, “A Eulogy is deserved, and will be given in due time... for now, I want to thank all of the TRAMily that have ever graced this magical space.”
With so many hospitality people and places in harms way, and so many details in flux, I highly recommend keeping up via the SF Chronicle, where Mobley is filing lots of stories and keeping a running list of Napa Valley wineries that have been damaged or destroyed. Plus, their fire tracker provides a detailed map of current burns. At time of writing, the “Glass Fire” that destroyed Meadowood and others is listed as: “Containment: 0%.”
Good luck, all.
Beard Season – I was unable to watch the James Beard Awards on Friday, and if you also need a recap, Eater’s Monica Burton has one here (along with a separate rundown on some home meal kits JBF apparently sent to each of the nominees). You can, of course, still watch the full two hour ceremony on the Foundation’s Twitter page here as well. If that’s your thing.
Some Sad News – Per an obituary from Matthew Kang in Eater, “Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was the owner of America’s first ramen restaurant, Kouraku, in LA’s Little Tokyo, has died at the age of 67 from cancer.”
For TV Fans – Bravo announced yesterday that season 18 of Top Chef is currently in production in Portland, Oregon, and this year “the culinary competition will feature an elite rotating judging and dining panel made up of All Star winners and finalists, including Richard Blais, Carrie Baird, Nina Compton, Tiffany Derry, Gregory Gourdet, Melissa King, Kristen Kish, Edward Lee, Kwame Onwuachi, Amar Santana, Dale Talde, and Brooke Williamson.” Congrats, all!
For Design Fans – I assume the draped ceiling in this rendering of a new Wolfgang Puck restaurant in West Hollywood is part of a sound mitigation design necessitated by those tile floors and big windows? And I assume they need that, uh, utilitarian tile because the restaurant is poolside in a hotel? Whatever. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that looking at this restaurant sent me down an internet rabbit hole and I wound up on Barabara Lazaroff’s “Exuberant Living!” website and I love it.
There are photo galleries and brief write-ups on the designs behind all the Wolfgang restaurants, including Spago Beverley Hills (“The vision for the design was drawn from The Flame of Life, the 1996 poem Barbara wrote about inner spirit); Chinois on Main (“Barbara infused Chinois in a sublime fuchsia, celadon, and black”), and, oh boy, the early 90s chaos of those Wolfgang Puck Cafes! Plus you can poke around old Spago celeb shots (including one of a goofy, young Drew Barrymore baking on quite a countertop at the Puck residence). Have fun, folks!
And that’s it for today.
Friday is a mid-autumn holiday here in Hong Kong, but I’m going to do my best to see you here anyway for next Family Meal. If you don’t hear from me, too many mooncakes.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a sublime fuchsia to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!