Batali settles, Friedman stirs, Flyfish flounders, and more...
Family Meal – Friday, August 26th, 2022
And hello again from beautiful San Francisco, where our little family of five is finally, officially COVID-negative! But… Hong Kong travel restrictions being what they are (strict), we can’t go home quite yet.
If you see a bedraggled looking guy with an unruly mustache and unrulier kids in your Bay Area restaurant this week, please be kind. He is tired. He just wants to go home.
Oh, and as usual, the Family Meal that went out Tuesday to paid subscribers is copy / pasted below. If you can / want to chip in on this newsletter, you too can get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Let’s get to it…
The Saga – “Two months after a judge found him not guilty of charges of sexual misconduct, disgraced chef Mario Batali has settled lawsuits with two women who sued the chef for allegedly sexually assaulting them.” And per Amy McCarthy in Eater, “Unless any new victims come forward, or any additional lawsuits are filed, these settlements likely mean that the six-year-long legal saga that followed allegations from multiple women that they were assaulted by Batali is over.”
But does he think his career is over? (Scoff at your own risk.)
The Saga Too – Ken Friedman does not think his career is over. Eater LA’s Farley Elliott reports, “Friedman, the restaurateur behind a string of smash-hit restaurants [The Spotted Pig, et al.] that closed in the wake of widely reported #MeToo allegations, was a quietly influential participant in the creation and early days of Horses, one of the hottest restaurants to hit Los Angeles in years. Friedman helped to secure the initial lease for the property, walking chef-owner Liz Johnson through the building in September 2020, just months after he publicly settled harassment claims with 11 women for nearly a quarter of a million dollars. He also remained in communication with Johnson, partner Will Aghajanian, and investor Stephen Light through at least the restaurant’s opening in September 2021, pursuing what he believes to be an agreed-upon 20 percent stake in the profits from the restaurant.”
Elliott has texts showing Light ostensibly promising Friedman some kind of profit sharing agreement and assuring him: “You are a silent partner helping the owner as an ‘expert’ until this gets off the ground and finds its footing. Then [you] can be more active/out there as your previous baggage falls off.”
But Light says none of that was ever official, and while “Ken was involved in very early conversations of Horses… his behavior became extremely inappropriate and we cut all ties.” Johnson said Friedman was “someone that lived up to his reputation and for that, Will, Stephen, and myself removed him from our lives.”
I, for one, am shocked. (And, as the person responsible for bringing “Hold your horses!” back to street talk prominence in or around the late 2010s, I would like my finders-fee share of the profits too, please, Mr. Light.)
The Cloud – Headline in Business Insider: “Travis Kalanick's CloudKitchens sold restaurateurs a dream, but some say they got dirty kitchens in unsafe locations.” Reading the details from Meghan Morris, I got the impression that a lot of the problems CloudKitchens is facing (causing?) are natural consequences of a business model that offers low barrier to entry for inexperienced operators. There are many not nice things going on there, from classic high pressure sales tactics (“Only one kitchen space left, better sign now!”) to brutal no-refund clauses for entrepreneurs just scraping by, but a lot of it reads as not that different than painful brick and mortar openings (building delays, hardware issues, software issues, etc). That said, one of the main selling points of CloudKitchens is that it avoids a painful brick and mortar opening, so… not great.
Whatever the issues, the numbers are rough: “Three former salespeople said 70% of operators at their locations quit after less than one year; a fourth salesperson said 90% of his operators left within three months. Insider's analysis of five CloudKitchens locations found that 41 out of 71 restaurants that were open in May 2021 were no longer operating there a year later.”
Like butter! (Endless churn.)
The Flyfish – Meanwhile, on the experienced operators front, VCR Group, the Gary Vaynerchuk / David Rodolitz / Josh Capon team behind NFT-funded Flyfish Club, is still struggling to find a space for the restaurant they sold memberships to over 8 months ago. Apologizing to members (NFT owners) on their Discord, they site: “Unforeseen supply chain issues” causing delays in commercial real estate inventory; “volatility in the markets, inflation tensions, and other large global events/factors at hand” causing “some developers [to re-trade] on large business terms; and limited availability of “trophy assets in Class-A buildings.” (Screenshot here.)
It’s hard out there for a group that raised at least $14M in no-equity / no-strings-attached money from the general public. I wish them luck.
And last but not least: The… Podcast? – For a long time now, Kristen Hawley (of the excellent Expedite newsletter about restaurant tech) and I have been talking about recreating our old Clubhouse (remember Clubhouse?) sessions as a podcast. During those heady, early pandemic days, we talked every Monday about all the things we were reading and thinking about to start the week, with Hawley covering the restaurant tech side of things, and me discussing… whatever Family Meal talks about. It was fun! It was interesting! And… we’re trying it again!
The working title is… Restaurant Week? We have no idea. This first one is a very rough draft and we are open to suggestions on everything from hardware (I need a mic) to content (should we have guests?). A link to play should be right after this sentence, so if embedding it in this newsletter actually works…. Please let us know what you think!
And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s paid Family Meal, which is copy / pasted below as usual. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays too…
I’ll see San Franciscans on the street, 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 other large global events/factors at hand 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!
Here begins the Family Meal that went out to paying subscribers on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022:
Kinch, London, and Lovelace out; Burke, Adolfo, and Sato gone; Stewart subtle; and more...
And hello from San Francisco, where… I am not supposed to be.
We should be back in Hong Kong this week, out of quarantine by now and shuffling the kids off to a new school year. Unfortunately, COVID finally caught up to us, and we have spent the last week isolating and convalescing here in an apartment built for not-this-many-people. It has been… just OK.
Hong Kong won’t let us back in until a minimum of 14 days after first positive, and even then, it’s a bit of a dicey gamut of tests and a risk of being sent off to government isolation centers should things go re-positive. So… we’re here for at least another few days.
Fortunately, everyone is fine, and I am the first to be COVID-free starting today, so… What’s good, SF? Your guy is IN TOWN and he is ready to sigh into some drinks!
Let’s get to it…
Everyone’s Stepping Away – “David Kinch, the executive chef of three-Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, will retire from his position at the end of the year, leaving the future of his renowned 20-year-old restaurant uncertain.” The Chronicle’s Caleb Pershan reports Kinch wrote in a statement that, “After leaving Manresa, he hopes to find ‘a new equilibrium,’” which means a focus on his more casual restaurants and less time in the fine dining world of “back-breaking work that demands you show up at your fullest every day, no excuses.”
His last day at Manresa will be December 31st, and FYI, investors: “The chef is selling the restaurant property and business, which he owns, a representative confirmed. ‘Hopes are that the restaurant remains open,’ they said.”
And just north of Manresa…. “AL’s Place, one of San Francisco’s most lauded Michelin-starred restaurants and once named the best new restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit, is closing for good. The vegetable-focused restaurant’s final day in the Mission District, is Aug. 28, owner Aaron London confirmed.” London tells the Chronicle’s Elena Kadvany business is good and the lease isn’t up, he just wants to spend more time with family, maybe write a cookbook, maybe do some consulting or something. The dream.
And just north of AL’s Place… In Portland, OR, chef Maya Lovelace, who called out bad acting Portland industry types on Instagram before being called out for her own leadership at Yonder back in that wild summer of 2020, has decided to step away too. “‘We have made the decision to walk away from the restaurant industry and seek a more gentle, joyful, sustainable life and livelihood,’ a post on her restaurant’s Instagram reads.” Lovelace and her team had wanted their latest restaurant Hissyfit to be “a chance to intentionally do everything our ideal way and see if it worked.” It closed after one month. Details via Brooke Jackson-Glidden in Eater.
The Protest – In DC, “A former employee of Michelin-starred restaurant Kinship is staging an ongoing protest outside the Shaw dining room, alleging a racial incident involving chef/owner Eric Ziebold. Klyn Jones, a former server at the French/American spot, began protesting outside the establishment last week. She has held a sign alleging that Ziebold ‘said the words “Stupid N—” to me four times.’ In a passerby’s TikTok video, which has now gone viral, Jones says ‘The owner is racist and they [patrons] should not give their money to this establishment.’” A source tells the Washingtonian’s Anna Spiegel Ziebold did say the word as part of some kind of training-related hypothetical situation, which is… an own goal at best. But Jones keeps saying on Instagram that she has all kinds of (presumably secret) recordings, so I guess the truth will out…
Catching Up On Some Sad News – “Chef Jim Burke, 49, who with his wife [Kristina Burke] owned James, a celebrated South Philadelphia restaurant, and later taught in the culinary program at Drexel University before helping to repair another restaurant’s [Wm. Mulherin’s Sons] troubled work culture, died [earlier this month] after a two-year battle with a rare lung cancer.” Michael Klein has an obit in the Inquirer, and a follow-up on fundraising efforts here.
Meanwhile in New Orleans: “Through 25 years of change on Frenchmen Street, Adolfo’s Restaurant has remained a consistent presence... The restaurant will continue, but now without its founder. Adolfo Perez Palavicini died [two weeks ago] at age 63.” Obituary via Ian McNulty on nola.com.
And in Oregon: “Yohhei Sato, owner of celebrated Portland knife sharpening company Sato Sharpening, died of unknown causes Saturday, August 13. He was 37. Sato’s knife sharpening career and boisterously warm personality made him something of a Portland legend, both within the restaurant community and outside it.” Eater’s Brooke Jackson-Glidden has that obituary.
And Last But Not Least: The Stewart – The Washington Post sent Richard Morgan to do some freelance restaurant criticism at Martha Stewart’s new “The Bedford by Martha Stewart” in Las Vegas, and I’m still stuck on this line: “The ironic paradox of a Martha-themed restaurant is how little it’s about her and how much it’s about her guests.”
This, “despite drinks like the Martha-Tini and frozen pomegranate Martha-Rita,” food items like “Big Martha’s Pierogis,” “Martha’s Square Burger,” and “Martha’s Smashed Baked Potato” (smashed tableside), and asides like: “Sat beside some faux bois cabinets, I opened them to peek inside only to find rows upon rows of Stewart’s cookbooks” (cookbooks which are also “displayed in cases throughout” the restaurant).
Put that woman on the cover of a magazine and make it less about her, more about the reader!
And that’s it for today. Maybe we should grab a bite at AL’s Place tonight?
I’ll see you all here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or Big Martha’s Pierogis 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!