American Rescue, Pastis PPP, Spurrier Gone, BA HBO, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, March 12th, 2021
This morning, I am going to operate under the assumption that if you are the kind of person who wants to read COVID anniversary pieces and retrospectives, you can probably find them on your own. And if you are the kind of person who wants to avoid them, it’s nice to have a place like this. Allow me to try to keep it extra light today.
Oh, and: Evergreen reminder that the Family Meal that went out to paying subscribers on Tuesday is copy/pasted below. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – Signed! We’ve been talking about the $1.9T American Rescue Plan (and the $28.6B RESTAURANTS Act within) for decades now, but President Joe Biden finally signed that baby into law last night. If you need a refresher on the details, Eater’s Ryan Sutton has a great breakdown here. Key point for now: “For the first 21 days, establishments owned by women, veterans, or economically and socially disadvantaged groups will be prioritized.” (Please let me know how your calls to bankers go!)
The Real Relief – ICYMI: In his speech last night, Biden said that America would soon be administering over 2 million vaccine shots per day, and “all adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1.” That means, according to Big Joey B: “If we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.”
But… On Clubhouse last night, Danny Meyer predicted full capacity in the industry wouldn’t return until… 2024, while José Andrés chimed in on Twitter with a more optimistic, “back to normal spring 2022 or few months before.”
“I’m not an expert.” Andrés says, “Just reading the stars and hoping for the best!”
Same. Lotta light pollution these days though.
The Audit – Headline in Eater NY: “Former Pastis Sous Chef Files Discrimination Complaint Against Starr Restaurants. The sous chef alleges he was wrongfully terminated for raising concerns about gender discrimination and the alleged misuse of Paycheck Protection Program funds.” Not sure the part of the complaint where head chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley allegedly asked the sous to go easy on female employees is going to fly(!), but it will be interesting to see how the PPP side of things (allegedly hiring dummy employees and lying to staff about the loans) is handled. The dispute could go through mediation, but if not dismissed or resolved quickly, presumably a discovery phase would involve some kind of audit of Starr’s PPP loan expenditures? TBD.
The Ghosts – Speaking of Starr… Much is being written about ghost kitchens right now, but an angle I think gets glossed over is that “started as a ghost kitchen” might be the new “started as a food truck.” Of his new bro-rrito™ ghost concept, Stephen Starr told Bloomberg’s Kate Krader this week: “‘I want Jackass Burrito to be precursor to brick-and-mortar places, to open on college campuses,’… He’s already started scouting property in Cambridge, Mass.; New Haven, Conn.; and around Penn State University.” Congrats, fellow kids!
The Festival Circuit – Back on her food festival beat, the Post and Courier’s Hanna Raskin has a longread on the future of Charleston Food + Wine this week. It covers everything from the local-showcase vs national-moneymaker tension to the right way to host Gospel brunch: “The format has issues. Namely, when rich White diners get drunk on mimosas and lustily cheer for praise songs that have spiritual and cultural significance to African American communities, the meal is racially fraught at best. But it’s also possible to respectfully celebrate a hallowed Black musical tradition while eating biscuits, so….” Plus, lots of numbers (Sample: The festival went from losing $100k in 2014 to ending 2019 with over $800k in assets).
For the Somm: Some Sad News – On Tuesday, SF Chronicle wine critic Esther Mobley tweeted: “If you read only one remembrance of Steven Spurrier, who died this morning, make it Jancis Robinson's. But if you want to read a second, here's the obituary I wrote for this legendary man who organized the 1976 Judgment of Paris.” Both are worth your time, but Robinson’s does go deeper into the full story of a man who nearly squandered his multi-million dollar inheritance (“I was an easy target for adventurers who needed backing for a nightclub or for making a movie”), before deciding to buy a wine shop, and the rest, as they say…
The VERY Good PR – My eyes rolled so hard when they read the headline on this Fast Company piece about Tock — “The startup that saved the restaurant industry in the nick of time” — they almost couldn’t manage to roll anymore at the arguments backing that up (comparing delivery company delivery fees to Tock’s takeout fees is some impressive pitch deck magic) or even the photo captions (“Alinea [photo courtesy of Tock]”).
BUT I did save some room for this golden preview of Nick Kokonas’s draft book / film script: “In it, a man wakes up from a coma and realizes his wife has been cheating on him with his best friend. He decides to leave everything and travel the world. One day, as he rests his head against the swirling marble pattern of some shower tiles in a Florence hotel, he wakes up in hospital and realizes . . . it was all a lucid coma dream. And having dreamed about the alternative life he could be living, he embarks upon it for real this time, leaving his wife and setting off. Some time later he ends up back in the shower in Florence, looking at the swirling marble pattern and it hits him: What if this was all a dream again?”
NB: This is a lighthearted jab. As someone who dabbles in creative writing, I would never be mean about someone putting themself out there with a passion project. And who am I kidding? As long as the man is slightly shlubby and the wife (and all other lovers) is super hot, I’d watch that movie. But, Nick, if a spinning top wobbles slightly just before the screen goes black at the end, I’m going to be so very angry.
The (content) Media – Says Stefanie Tuder on Twitter: “I'm hiring at OpenTable for an editorial writer to tell stories about restaurants. Can be located in NYC, SF, LA, Denver.” I’m told this is a replacement hire, but still looks like OpenTable is doubling down on content lately. Job posting here.
The PSA – “The application period for the second round of the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans will be open on Monday, March 15, 2021 from 12 P.M. ET to 6:00 P.M. ET.” Details on the official site here.
And last but not least: For TV Fans – Via Bryn Sandberg in The Hollywood Reporter: “Bon Appétit's unraveling is getting the scripted treatment. HBO Max is developing a new comedy series, Enjoy Your Meal, that satirically examines the toxic culture of the food media industry. Per the logline, the half-hour show will ‘draw inspiration from the multiple media scandals of summer 2020 and today, focusing on a cohort of young assistants of color who rise up to tear their cookie cutter corporate culture apart.’ Former Bon Appétit employee Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, who used to be former editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport's assistant and the only black woman on staff, will serve as a consultant on the series.”
It works in part because modern toxic work culture discourse is the perfect setup for a sitcom — every single episode can end on a high note of apparent big hopes and progress, and then the next week can start again as if nothing had actually changed.
And that’s it for today! Phew. Really feels like we’ve put a solid pin in all the key news and made our way closer to a bright, drama-free future. Roll credits.
I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday for next Family Meal, and everyone else on Friday. Last Tuesday’s FM is below ICYMI.
If you’re on Clubhouse, come hang out with Kristen Hawley and I on Monday at 10:30AM East Coast / 7:30AM Pacific as we talk through all the food news we’re following to start the week.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or the swirling marble pattern of some shower tiles in a Florence hotel 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 the copy/paste of the Family Meal that went out Tuesday, March 9th, to paying subscribers. If you’d also like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Relief passed, Jobs gained, Tariffs dropped, Willows settled, Whoppers suck, and more...
And hello to paying subscribers only!
A bit of a dry one today, but…
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – As promised last week, the Senate passed its pared down version of the House’s $1.9T stimulus package. And in a rundown of special interests that stand to benefit, I was surprised to learn that with $28.6B coming its way, “The restaurant industry emerged as the bill’s biggest private-sector winner,” according to Tory Newmyer in the Washington Post. (Take that, airlines.)
Besides that RESTAURANTS Act money and famous $1400 stimulus checks, the bill will also extend $300 unemployment benefits to early September, and keep up to $10k of that unemployment tax free. Per Newmyer’s colleagues Jeff Stein and Tony Romm, “House lawmakers are set to vote as soon as Tuesday (today) on [the relief package], putting President Biden on track to sign his first major legislative accomplishment into law by the end of the week.”
Meanwhile, at least some in the industry will no longer be using extended unemployment benefits. Eater’s Ryan Sutton reported Friday: “Bars and restaurants gained 286,000 jobs nationwide in February, following three straight months of losses or tepid growth... Those increases reflected the bulk of the 379,000 jobs that employers added throughout the U.S. economy last month. The unemployment rate for food service workers dropped to 12.2 percent.”
CNBC combined all that numbers news into one headline: “More restaurant jobs and the stimulus package foreshadow the industry’s coming recovery.” Fingers crossed!
What Guests Are Reading – Other sample headlines around the country this week: “Restaurant Dining Tied to Increase in COVID-19 Death Rates.” (LAT); “The Virus Spread Where Restaurants Reopened or Mask Mandates Were Absent.” (NYT); “Dining Out Linked to COVID-19 Spikes, According to New CDC Study.” (Eater); “Keeping Restaurants Open for On-Site Dining Increased COVID-19 Cases and Deaths, New CDC Study Finds.” (Food & Wine).
You get the point.
The gist, per Roni Caryn Rabin in the NYT piece: “The study does not prove cause and effect, but the findings square with other research showing that masks prevent infection and that indoor spaces foster the spread of the virus.... ‘You have decreases in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining,’ Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said on Friday. ‘And so we would advocate for policies, certainly while we’re at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.’”
The NRA pushed back on dubious-causality grounds: “‘If a positive correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks is found, that would not mean that ice cream causes shark attacks,’ the association said in a statement.” Which is fair and would be a very solid comms team talking point, if it didn’t put off such big Mayor-of-Amity-on-the-3rd-of-July-vibes…
The Guidance – Whatever your thoughts on in-person dining right now, the CDC’s long-awaited “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People” came out yesterday, and unfortunately they say, “For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing.” No “Get Out of Lockdown Free” cards just yet.
The COGs of (Trade) War – Also on Friday, WSJ’s Yuka Hayashi, Laurence Norman, and Doug Cameron report: “The U.S. and the European Union agreed to suspend tariffs on wine, luggage, produce and other goods related to a longstanding dispute over government subsidies to Boeing and Airbus in a sign of easing trade tensions. The decision results in the temporary removal of tariffs imposed on products worth $11.5 billion, including levies of 25% the U.S. imposed on $7.5 billion in imported European products, including wine, whiskey and food items like cheese and olives, as well as aircraft. In exchange, the EU will lift duties on $4 billion U.S. products including jetliners, wine, suitcases and produce including nuts and cherries. It will also remove tariffs on U.S.-made rum, brandy and vodka, but not on American bourbon and other whiskeys targeted in a separate trade dispute.”
That’s the only article that made the key bourbon distinction, but it may be behind a paywall, so here’s Ana Swanson’s take in the NYT, and Karen Ho in Quartz with helpful lists of tariffed items on both sides (cheese, olives, “boiled clams in immediate airtight containers, the contents of which do not exceed 680 g gross weight,” etc. etc.).
The Stages – The Willows Inn on Lummi Island is finally settling its years old class-action lawsuit for $600k in back wages. “The settlement, which is scheduled to be approved… on March 12, entitles back pay for the employees who worked at the Willows Inn from July 13, 2014 through Dec. 21, 2017, according to court documents.” The employees aren’t allowed to discuss the case, but chef/owner Blaine Wetzel denied the allegations (despite previously being dinged for hosting unpaid stages at the restaurant). Details via Tan Vinh in the Seattle Times.
And last and least: For Design Fans – The technology listed in this NYT article about “AI” in fast food is… boring. BUT, anyone who grew up during the early drive-through banking era will recognize that big Burger King architectural rendering, and I cannot help but get my hopes up that pneumatic tubes are back, baby! Elon Musk can have his hyperloop. I’ll take my Impossible Whoppers via vacuum, suckers.
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 boiled clams in immediate airtight containers, the contents of which do not exceed 680g gross weight 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!