Copenhagen staged, NFT explosion, Carbone's Carbone, Minimal Matheson, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, June 3rd, 2022
And happy Dragon Boat Festival to all who celebrate!
The US holiday weekend meant there was no paid Family Meal on Tuesday, but I’ll be back at it next week, so if you’re not yet paying and would like to start getting Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
We have an unusually large spike of new subscribers today, and I have been told I need to do a better job of explaining who I am and what this is from time to time. Unfortunately, there’s no time.
Let’s get to it….
The Dark Truths – Headline yesterday in the Financial Times: “Fine Dining Faces Its Dark Truths in Copenhagen.” What reporter Imogen West-Knights means there is that Copenhagen finally has its very own accusation aggregator on Instagram. Lisa Lind Dunbar has taken on that lonely role, documenting industry “abuse of all forms: One person wrote in about a chef who used to throw his staff’s phones in the deep-fat fryer, another about her experience of being sexually assaulted by a prominent sommelier, another about a chef who kept a gun in his drawer at work to shoot rats in the restaurant elevator, reams and reams of accusations...”
But despite some mentions of Noma as an original sinner in stage abuse, not many accusers have felt comfortable naming more names. West-Knights does note that court docs might point more public fingers soon: “A famous Danish chef that one source asked me not to identify because he wants to bring legal proceedings against him, kneed student chefs ‘in the dick’ in his kitchen.” But for now, it looks like this’ll stay mostly anonymous on all sides, which might give bad actors a chance to change! Or might not change much. (The piece includes some depressing fatalism around Willows Inn and Blaine Wetzel apparently surviving their NYT exposé.)
That said, some baby steps: “As I was reporting this story, Noma announced that this year’s stagiaires would be paid for the first time.”
The NFTs – Weird that this seems to be becoming a regular item, but… Restaurant NFT adoption continues apace! I’ll try to round up some worth noting quick:
At the high end, Eater’s Lauren Saria reports there’s a new, big money NFT-based membership club headed to SF, this time via what the Shō Group’s website calls “a dynamic synergy” between “Chef Shotaro ‘Sho’ Kamio [and] entrepreneur and food and technology industry veteran, Josh Sigel.” They seem to be doing basically the same thing Gary Vaynerchuk, David Rodolitz, and Josh Capon’s FlyFish Club is doing in NYC — the NFTs are the membership cards — except that Shō has a space and design renderings, while FlyFish Club still hasn’t announced a location (but promised token holders they’d sign a lease somewhere before the end of the month).
Meanwhile, Flyfish Club, which, again, still doesn’t have a space, is selling $80 hoodies to the people who presumably already paid thousands of dollars for memberships, and just sold out of a 100 pair run of Flyfish-logo-covered Air Jordans at $500 a pop. Add that to the $14M they raised when they sold their first batch of NFTs, plus the 10% cut they’re getting of the over $500k in turnover those tokens have been doing on NFT market OpenSea each month, and… If I’m a landlord and the FlyFish guys walk in, my terms just got rich.
On the slightly more affordable end of the spectrum, a new restaurant NFT shop called FOH just launched its first collections this week, with initial offerings from NYC restaurants Wildair and Dame. Dame is keeping it pretty simple with just twenty NFTs available, each of which gives the holder the ability to book a held table at the restaurant once a week through the end of 2022 (if another NFT holder doesn’t get the time slot first!). Those are priced at $1k a pop. Wildair has gone the now classic NFT route and created “Donut Friends” with pictures of sentient donuts in various flavors — shoutout to whoever bought “plain hole” — that give holders a somewhat vague promise of “Early access to limited drops, merch and IRL donut-related events.”
Neither appear to be flying off the shelves yet, but we shall see. Early days and still a lot of fair skepticism about these projects (including from me), but one person involved in this stuff told me they were mostly just “Trying to steer some of this Internet money to some restaurants,” and as long as that’s all above board… Why not? Recent crypto headlines not withstanding, there is still a lot of Internet money.
The Suits – NYC’s Major Food Group is being sued down south. “The owner of Carbone’s Fine Food and Wine in Dallas has filed a 34-page lawsuit… against new restaurant Carbone, saying Carbone’s trademark has been infringed upon, and that their similar-sounding names are confusing North Texas diners.” Trademark details, relevant opening dates, histories, etc. all reported by Sarah Blaskovich in the Dallas Morning News. Sounds to me like Carbone’s FF&W has a case, but in a kind of sad twist, the confusion being caused doesn’t seem to be resulting in lost business for Carbone’s, so much as it’s annoying them because the new Carbone is so popular. MFG wouldn’t say what, if anything was happening on their end, but at Carbone’s:
“The company has received more than 1,400 phone calls from people asking about Carbone…. ‘It takes up our staff’s time,’ [owner Julian Barsotti] says. At least 20 people have walked into Carbone’s thinking it’s Carbone... Carbone’s also has received bills from the city of Dallas and shipments of food from their produce vendor that were supposed to go to the other restaurant.” And maybe worst of all, a grocery store used the Carbone’s logo to promote a shelf full of Carbone red sauce. “Barsotti learned of the error when an investor contacted him, seemingly thrilled that Carbone’s had bottled its sauce and made a deal with Central Market [which is owned by massive Texas grocery chain H-E-B]. They hadn’t.”
For the Bar: Awards Season – The Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Spirited Awards nominations are out. With ten nominees per category, there are way too many names to include in this newsletter, but here who’s up for “Best U.S. Restaurant Bar” this year, as a taste: Café La Trova, Miami; Cleaver, Las Vegas; Crown Shy, NYC; Gramercy Tavern, NYC; Jewel of the South, New Orleans; Kimball House, Decatur, GA; Kumiko, Chicago; L’Oursin, Seattle; Republique, LA; and Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis.
Winners will be announced “during the Tales of the Cocktail conference, which is returning for an in-person celebration in New Orleans from July 25-29, 2022.”
Good luck, all!
The Opportunity – Applications for the Beard Foundation’s latest Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) program — an “advanced educational, training, and networking program for business owners in all areas of the hospitality industry” — are now open. Details here. Women or non-binary people who own at least one F&B business are welcome to apply. FYI from JBF: “This application should take no longer than one (1) hour to complete.... You will need up to two (2) professional references. We also ask for revenue and net profit numbers for 2022, 2021, 2020, and 2019 and total number of full-time and part-time staff. We may request to see a copy of your P&Ls for verification.”
The Media – Tough times in some corners of food media this week. While employees at Vox (Eater) are bargaining for their next union contract, Food52 editor Margaret Eby says her company laid off another 21 people this week, while also cutting editorial staff hours and pay. And over at The Infatuation / Zagat, editor Chris Mohney has been emailing freelancers to let them know that he will “be leaving Zagat/Infatuation as of Monday June 6, and [restaurant content site] Zagat Stories will be winding down publication.”
On a brighter note, new LA Times Food editor Daniel Hernandez tweeted a “JOBS ALERT” thread on Tuesday, with openings for a Deputy Editor, an Assistant Editor / Writer / Food guide mapmaker, a food Photo Editor, and an Audience Engagement Editor.
For Design Fans – Picture Matty Matheson. Big guy. Big personality. Covered in tattoos. You might describe his sartorial style as job site casual. Now gaze upon his new Toronto restaurant Prime Seafood Palace in this Architectural Digest feature from Rachel Davies and Adrian Ozimek. It’s… not at all what I pictured when I read writer Jason Diamond tweet: “I follow two kinds of people: people obsessed with Matty Matheson’s restaurant and those that haven’t seen pictures of it yet.”
I think I’m going with: Minimalist, millennial light-pink, arched lobster trap with a bathroom from Severance 2? Which is fine!
Bonus for design fans: There’s also a video walk-through with Matheson and designer Omar Gandhi, who Matheson says he chose because he didn’t want someone who designs restaurants. “I wanted to work with someone who doesn’t know where the booths go, [or] exactly how service stations work.” Good luck, staff!
And Last But Not Least: The Menu – I assume most of you have seen it, but if you haven’t, here’s the trailer for what Deadline’s Matt Grobar calls the new “darkly comic horror film” The Menu, starring Ralph Feinnes (and John Leguizamo!). “The film… sees a couple travel to a coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant [Hawthorne] where Chef Slowik (Fiennes) has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises… While it’s not been explicitly stated what ‘shocking surprises’ await… it seems probable that cannibalism plays some role in this tale.”
With absolutely no insider knowledge on this movie whatsoever, I’m going to lay my marker down here: It’s not cannibalism. It’s monsters. Or maybe Michael Pollan consulted and it’s Vespertine on mushrooms and all a hallucination plot?
Dominique Crenn said on Instagram that she helped on the film somehow? Someone please ask her if it’s mushrooms and let me know.
I hope it’s mushrooms.
And that’s it for today!
I’ll see paying subscribers here on Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal. If you’d like to be back here with us on Tuesday too…
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