Beard's judges, Tartine's CIM, Oceana's interruption, Wells's stars, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, June 24th, 2022
First, an apology to paying subscribers: I forgot to mention last time that there would be no Family Meal Tuesday on account of the long holiday weekend in the US. (Which is also why non-paying subscribers will not see a Tuesday edition copy / pasted below as usual.)
And second, a heads up to all: There may be some schedule disruptions over the next month and a half. Calculating in the past 2.5 years without travel, and the sunk cost of cross-earth flights, my family is embarking on what might otherwise be an ill-advised, all-in-one-go, several week-long tour of American friends and family that will involve taking three young kids around the states as described at the bottom of this email. If you have summertime recommendations for San Francisco, DC, Baltimore, NYC, or STL — places I should go, people I should meet, whatever — please send them my way!
Let’s get to it…
Beard Season – is not quite over… We’ve still got some James Beard Awards debriefing to do.
I’m not exactly sure what to, or how to, or even if I should quote at all from this wild John Tesar rant on Facebook, but think it’s safe to say it is the extreme, quiet-part-out-loud (“forced inclusion”) version of a conversation that is going on in some parts of the Beard watching world right now. (Including parts where straight-faced people yell at each other about “a world of shopping mall restaurants, stoner food, hipster attitudes and frankly a world of mediocrity!” like a Bluth at a Klimpy’s.)
Through / underneath it all, Tesar has one, very pointed question: Who the hell are these judges, and what gives them the right? He knows at least one judge, because the rant is in response to Dallas critic Brian Reinhart’s recent article, in which Reinhart outs himself as a Texas region voter and goes through his own ballot thinking for readers. Reinhart also writes: “My role as a judge is set to be disclosed by the [James Beard Foundation] with the final results.”
That I hadn’t heard before, but after three judges and an awards committee member confirmed it for me, the Beard Foundation’s Tamar Simpson replied to an emailed question to say: “Per the Awards audit recommendations, the 2022 James Beard Award judges will be made public after the Awards cycle concludes in the coming weeks. Their names will be published, not the program they judged.”
Looking forward to it! But condolences in advance to the judges from cities that didn’t get Beards. Going to be rough going at home. Maybe you can start a Substack or something.
The Real Estate Game – In the New Yorker this month, Anna Weiner follows the rise and stumble of SF’s Tartine, its founders Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, and its unionizing staff. The story begins in a mythical-sounding “pre-Yelp, pre-iPhone, pre-cronut era,” when the dot com bubble had just burst and SF’s “median rent for a two-bedroom apartment had fallen from three thousand dollars a month to just under two thousand.” Weiner then brings us from there to this: “During the past two decades, other businesses associated with the same era had taken on private investment and morphed into national brands. Roberta’s, the punkish pizzeria that opened in Bushwick, in 2008, now has a supermarket line of frozen pies and upscaled locations in the U.S. and Singapore; Stumptown Coffee… is now owned by JAB Holding Company, the German conglomerate behind Panera and Krispy Kreme…. An investment vehicle co-founded by Stephen Ross, the chairman of the real-estate firm Related Companies, has a minority stake in David Chang’s Momofuku Holdings.” Etc.
Tartine’s own “Coffee Manufactory’s production and packaging is now under the purview of J. Gursey, a wholesale roaster headquartered in Las Vegas that partners with casinos, hotels, and the band Korn.”
It’s a familiar ride (minus Korn), and an easy one for knee-jerk “Sell out!” reactions from some, but the sheer scale of CIM, the developer Tartine has gotten involved with, and the scope of CIM’s corporate / cultural invasion into company leadership are impressive. “For a few months, Gary Schweikert, an executive at CIM, was the company’s interim CEO. (Dar Vasseghi, the former CEO of Yoshinoya USA, a Japanese fast-food chain, recently took over.) [CIM founder] Richard Ressler’s daughter Jillian, a former CIM employee, is now Tartine’s vice-president of brand.”
It feels like such a total takeover that even though the piece talks about the usual deals where developers provide favorable leases for concepts that might bring cache to their projects, reading it permanently changed my general perspective from: “Commercial real estate types desperately need cool F&B vibes for their buildings!” to “Commercial real estate types own the vibes.” Maybe I’m late to that party, but still a bit of a “shifting of the vibes” for me, to coin a phrase.
The Numbers – The Washington Post’s Tim Carman tried to sift through the doomsayers, propagandists, and data mavericks to come up with an actual number of restaurants that closed specifically because of COVID-19. His tally: “based on numbers crunched by The Post… in 2020, about 72,700 more restaurants and bars than normal closed, apparently due to the pandemic, a 95 percent jump over the average annual [closure] rate.” That’s not close to what some predicted, and it’s still complicated. Carman also said on Twitter that they debated whether to include openings too, “but it sort of muddies the effect of the pandemic. For example: there are more bars and restaurants now in the US vs pre-pandemic, which makes it sound like the pandemic had little effect. Which no one believes.”
And of course none of that accounts for everyone drowning in debt. Tom Colicchio tells Carman “he owes ‘close to a million dollars’ to one landlord alone.” He also owes me three nickels. He knows why.
The Suits – In a first, “A New Orleans restaurant prevailed against Underwriters at Lloyd’s for insurance coverage of pandemic-related losses, after a Louisiana appellate court found that the coronavirus physically contaminated the eatery’s property.” Bloomberg’s Daphne Zhang reports Oceana Grill’s policy with Lloyd’s did not include a virus exclusion clause. And NB: Chief judge Terri Love said that the many “other federal and state court rulings in favor of insurance companies are not binding to the Louisiana court,” which sounds sort of hopeful, but presumably cuts both ways if you’re trying to cite this one as precedence?
For TV Fans – There’s a new scripted restaurant show on Hulu that I will definitely watch if you send me your login. It’s based in Chicago, where Chicago Magazine’s Pearse Anderson says: “Billed as a half-hour comedy, this new series about young fine-dining chef Carmen Berzatto (played by Shameless’s Jeremy Allen White) inheriting his family’s beef place can feel more like a tense, grimy race: quick shots, a rush of pissed-off characters, and the constant bleed of money that owning a restaurant can entail. Call it the Uncut Gems of the food world and you’re not off to a bad start.” Hulu calls it: “The Bear. A hot kitchen, family, Chicago, and the occasional searing burn.” Trailer here.
And last but not least: The Critics – After temporary banishment during the pandemic, star ratings have officially returned to the NYT in the form of Pete Wells handing three stars to La Piraña, a one man show of a Puerto Rican style lechonera in a small trailer “supported by its tires and two pilings of boards and cinder blocks” in a parking lot in the Bronx. A quick look at the comments section says people reading it so far are some version of A) Hell yeah! Fine dining is not the be all end all! B) John Tesar shouting, “Stars for a trailer? Come on!” or C) Vegetarian.
Me, I’m just over here enjoying the quiet precision of the Noise Level note: “The salsa music is never loud enough to inhibit anybody from taking part in three conversations at once.”
And that’s it for today!
I’ll see paying subscribers on Tuesday, and everyone else here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or shopping mall restaurants, stoner food, hipster attitudes and frankly a world of mediocrity 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!