An ENTRÉE Act, a Bezos check, a Ssäm 360, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, July 23rd, 2021

Hello Friday,

A very special quarantine edition of Family Meal today! Your dear narrator is coming to you live from a well-worn Hong Kong Ramada, with this cheery little sign on my door:

“Leaving outside the room will be deemed breaching of the quarantine order. Offenders will be referred to the police without prior warning. Offenders are subject to a maximum fine of $25,000 and imprisonment for six months.”

Day 4 of 7.

Tuesday’s Family Meal is copy/pasted at bottom as usual.

Let’s get to it….

The Sweet Birthday Baby – As cities across the U.S. begin encouraging masks indoors again, “in the Bay Area, more restaurants and bars are requiring or planning to require proof of vaccination to enter.” Janelle Bitker is keeping a growing list in the Chronicle, but I had to double check the date on the article when I read the first sentence of this paragraph: “Health experts say indoor dining is one of the riskiest activities because diners must remove their masks to eat and drink. While these experts say the risk of getting seriously ill from dining inside a restaurant for fully vaccinated individuals is relatively low, the level of risk is rising because of the prevalence of the delta variant.” Oof.

The Relief – Folks, we have an acronym! Headline in Restaurant Hospitality: “Congress introduces ENTRÉE Act to add $60 billion to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.” Details via Joanna Fantozzi: “Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) introduced the Entrepreneurs Need Timely Replenishment for Eating Establishments Act on Wednesday.” Obviously, there is already an RRF replenishment bill out there (as Fantozzi reported in early June), but that first bill simply hopes to add $60B to the original RRF, keeping all previous strings attached.

This new ENTRÉE Act would “eliminate the original three-week prioritization period of women and socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals, which led to several lawsuits and the rescinding of thousands of previously approved applications. Instead, the Congressman said, this round of funding would be distributed on a ‘first-come, first-serve’ basis and would require increased oversight and audits on the part of the U.S. Small Business Administration to prevent future issues.”

The Relief Too? – Asked about the industry’s staffing shortage at a CNN town hall event this week, President Big Joey B told restaurateur John Lanni, “I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things, and there is a shortage of employees, people are looking to make more money and to bargain.” Lanni, a Republican, told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Sharon Coolidge he felt like Biden didn’t answer his question, and that the vast majority of his team makes over $15/hour, but… I’m not sure what he was looking for in an answer? Ohio already began blocking the oft-blamed additional $300 unemployment benefit last month, so — and this is an honest question — what else do restaurateurs want government to do about lack of labor?

The Critics – Knives out. About a month ago, Soleil Ho said she couldn’t wait to get back to writing negative reviews, arguing in part that they help restaurants get better. Eater NY’s Ryan Sutton appears to have taken that to heart and is out with what I think is the first big negative review-as-consultancy of the post-lockdown(?) era (maybe not surprising since he was kicking a dead TAK Room mid-pandemic last summer). Headline in Eater NY: “Why You Shouldn’t Eat at the New Momofuku Ssäm Bar Just Yet. The Seaport District restaurant seems to have culinary DNA that puts it more in line with expensive mall food than Momofuku food.” It’s a mix of tough lines (“the tartare, for the most part, is like eating nothing wrapped in herbs for $29”) wrapped in hopeful hedges (“Team Momofuku tells me most of [Ssäm’s classic dishes] will return as the restaurant finds its sea legs and hires more folks”) that ends in a second chance (“I’ll be back… as the venue revamps itself”). Cool?

The Check – Headline in Washington Post: “Jeff Bezos awards José Andrés $100 million for ‘Courage and Civility.’” Details via Emily Heil: “Bezos noted that the recipients can distribute the $100 million however they like, noting they could give it ‘all to their own charity, or they can share the wealth.’ In his acceptance speech, Andrés indicated he would use the money to advance the work of his World Central Kitchen.” Full disclosure: Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and could definitely buy Family Meal if he wanted to.

The Plaintiff – Headline in the NYT: “The Man Who Filed More Than 180 Disability Lawsuits.Is it profiteering — or justice?” There have been a bunch of pieces like this over the years, but I highly recommend this one for restaurant owners. The protagonist, Albert Dycht isn’t even the most litigious person in the piece (though he’s prolific enough that a defense lawyer buys Adwords tied to his name), and he says he’s still struggling to decide whether to start suing restaurants again now that lockdowns have subsided. Key quote on the dual rationale behind his suits: “The law is subsidizing me to correct things… Then I earn money to defray the exorbitant costs of being disabled.”

Plus, I learned something. Writer Lauren Markham says the judiciary has basically given litigants like Dycht its blessing when it comes to the A.D.A: “In 2007, in response to a lawsuit claiming vexatious disability litigation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion [saying]: ‘For the A.D.A. to yield its promise of equal access for the disabled, it may indeed be necessary and desirable for committed individuals to bring serial litigation advancing the time when public accommodations will be compliant with the A.D.A.’”

For the Bar Per Robert Simonson: “For the first time in its history, an American will run the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London. Shannon Tebay, who was the head bartender at Death & Co., the celebrated cocktail bar in Manhattan, has been chosen to be head bartender.”

And last but not least – My new favorite line that would have made no sense pre-pandemic is: “No, I’m not anti-shed. I’m pro-public space.” It’s from David L. Doctoroff’s NYT op-ed “Tear Down the Restaurant Sheds Before It’s Too Late,” which is NYC-focused but could be about anywhere with pandemic-era outdoor dining setups. Doctoroff argues that outdoor dining was constructed hastily, will start to rot, and should be replaced with a more long-term, tech-forward plan: “We could reconfigure street spaces in ways that change depending on the day, season or year. What’s more, we now have technology like availability sensors, embedded pavement lights and digital signage that can change in real time, signaling what uses are acceptable when.”

I get what he’s saying! And anyway, nothing says street cafe, Parisian charm quite like LED lights telling guests that sidewalk sensors have informed The Algorithm that lunch is over and it’s time for their table space to “serve as dynamically priced loading zones for trucks, ride-hail services and delivery vehicles.” Cheers, to the future!

And that’s it for today. Except of course for Tuesday’s paid Family Meal, which is copy / pasted below as usual.

I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or expensive mall food to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, become a paying subscriber! If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Here begins Family Meal from Tuesday, July 20th, 2021. If you’d like to get Tuesday Family Meals on Tuesdays…

McNally's pot, Delivery's suit, Conlon's comeback, Union's brag, and more...

Hello Tuesday,

And hello to paying subscribers only!

After a final round of takeout from ChiKo in DC, one last US drink at newly reopened Silver Lyan (where Mr. Ryan Chetiyawardana himself was holding court), and about 29 hours of airplanes and airports, today’s Family Meal is coming to you from lucky room 1313 of the beautiful Ramada Grand View Hotel in North Point, Hong Kong.

The hotel has seen better days, but so have I. And I’m only on day 2 of a 7 day quarantine stint here, so…

Let’s get to it…

The Profile Treatment – Headline in NYT’s Style section: “Keith McNally Stirs
the Pot
.” Treatment via Jacob Bernstein: “[McNally] has staved off the humiliation of being a straight white goliath in decline by heaping it on everyone in his way. A Howard Beale for the Instagram era, he’s here lashing out on behalf of boomerish power lunchers who believe in a woman’s right to a safe abortion and oppose police brutality but are too scared to admit how enraged they are by a generation of absolutist woke whiners. One minute, he’s uploading sumptuous shellfish shots. The next, he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.” Mostly about cancel culture?

Not much new here on the McNally backstory (Anna Wintour and Jay McInerney both say hello), and some stuff missed or omitted (initial anger over McNally’s defense of Woody Allen had at least a little to do with the fact that he invokedEmmet Till for comparison!), but for me the key quote was this: “[McNally] wants to live in a world where some distinction exists between a boss flirting with an employee and a boss harassing one. ‘When I was single, I’d of course, occasionally ask a waitress out,’ he said. ‘But if she said no, which she invariably did, I wouldn’t dream of badgering her. I would rather promote a server who had the sense to reject me.’”

Not all bosses!

P.S. – Whether you treat that profile as hate read or welcome balance, we can all laugh a bit that the journalist who threw in a “Paging Dr. Freud!” parenthetical and wrote about the time McNally got taken to task for calling a woman “a hooker” on Instagram is the son of two of the most famous journalists / writers in America and once had to publicly apologize for calling Melania Trump a hooker. Bright lights, small world.

The Suits – “San Francisco’s permanent cap on third-party delivery fees, the first in the nation, is headed to court.” Per Elena Kadvany in the SF Chronicle, “DoorDash and Grubhub sued the City of San Francisco on Friday, firing back at the cap as an ‘irrational law, driven by naked animosity and ill-conceived economic protectionism.’” Supporters of the cap are projecting a lot of confidence, but I bet those tech companies can afford some pretty pretty pretty pretty good lawyers...

The Skin and The Bone – The unions are coming? “The past year and a half has been a watershed for labor organizing,” according to Priya Krishna in the NYT, and “one of the most surprising places those campaigns have surfaced is independent restaurants, bars and bakeries, where unions are rare.” The piece cites a handful of anecdotes (including some union drives that failed, but forced owners to the table anyway), but I’m not entirely convinced it’s a sweeping trend.

Still, One Fair Wage’s Saru Jayaraman tells the Times, “‘Honestly, in my 20 years of organizing, I have never seen such a willingness’ to organize among restaurant workers” (exactly what I’d say if I were an organizer!), and per Krishna, “To help coalesce workers across many restaurants, citywide groups have formed recently in places like Detroit, Memphis and New York. The Restaurant Workers’ Council in New York, founded by 12 restaurant employees in March 2020, aims to force the creation of a multi-employer bargaining unit. They plan to picket several employers one by one, creating an incentive for the owners to bargain together.”

The Comeback? – “Fat Rice, the award-winning restaurant that helped make the Logan Square neighborhood a dining destination in Chicago but closed under a cloud of controversy last year, will reopen as NoodleBird. Owners Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo… closed the business in June 2020 after employees accused them of racism and creating a hostile work environment.” Conlon and Lo say they’re working with both HR and diversity, equity, and inclusion partners to turn things around. Louisa Chu has details in the Tribune.

We shall see if Conlon and Lo can convince their fans to come back, but getting called out during the pandemic may have been great timing for them finance-wise. Chu says Fat Rice took just over $900k in PPP loans, to which Eater’s Ashok Selvam adds: “According to federal records Fat Rice received $1.8 million from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.”

The Media – Feels like The Counter has been minting fellows left and right lately, but most have been focused on agriculture and food supply. Yesterday, writer Matthew Sedacca announced on Twitter that he’d be working the restaurant side of things too: “Some personal news: It's my first day as a fellow at The Counter! I'm excited to be joining such an incredible and smart team to track the winding Covid-19 recovery efforts in restaurants and agriculture. Holler at matthew.sedacca@thecounter.org.”

And that’s it for today.

If we missed each other on my brief, wild whirlwind of a stateside tour, I hope we see each other next time, here or there.

But before that, I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal, still in quarantine. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see Lloyd about a drink.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or sumptuous shellfish shots to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, become a paying subscriber! If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!