Delivery vittles, Gram plates, A pitmaster farewell, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, January 29th, 2021
As per usual, Tuesday’s Family Meal is copy/pasted at bottom. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Had no intention of turning this into a scattershot delivery discussion today, but there is so much being written about that world right now, so… sorry?
Let’s get to it…
The Delivery Wars – There are countless “I worked as a delivery app driver for a week” stories out there, but not many like this (very) longread from Vittles newsletterer Jonathan Nunn in the Economist this week. Nunn weaves in and out of history and his other (actual) bike lane, describing not only the obvious pros and cons, but little things like his growing resentment of restaurant staff from a driver’s perspective (“Customers usually greeted me with an apologetic thanks, tacitly acknowledging the indulgence of a meal taxied to their door, but restaurant staff could be curt to the point of rudeness. I felt I was regarded as an inconvenience rather than the conduit between restaurant and customer.”).
Still, no matter how many times I read any angle on that world, the numbers are what blows my mind: “For one indication of the lottery’s outcome, follow the bets. In July, KarmaKitchen, a British firm that rents out dark kitchens, attempted to raise £3m to fund its expansion. It ended up with £250m…. In America DoorDash was valued at $15bn in June 2020, and is now worth at least triple that. Deliveroo’s much anticipated flotation on the stock market in London is imminent.”
In a separate NYT piece about ghost kitchens in hotels, Debra Kamin reports: “Euromonitor, a market research firm in London, predicts ghost kitchens will be a $1 trillion industry in the next 10 years.”
One trillion? In this economy? Yes. In this economy in particular.
And then there are the upstarts. Kristen Hawley’s Expedite newsletter features Lunchbox this week, a supposedly non-profit website which promotes itself via notgrubhub.org, and whose CEO responds to questions of the future with, “no goals! Just increase consumer awareness! #godswork.” In Bon Appetit, Flora Tsapovsky has a rundown of multiple “community” delivery services like Traiilo, Black and Mobile, and Chowbus. And that’s not to mention flat, monthly-fee strategies like ChowNow in NYC.
These guys are all trying to be NOT the big delivery companies for obvious reasons — Eater Chicago meta tag Tuesday: “Delivery Apps Are Destroying Restaurants” — but there are some restaurant people who think the big delivery companies are getting unfairly piled on by the media. In a tech+restaurants conversation with Hawley and co-host Maggie Spicer (who is ringing the bell to get tech companies involved in saving Bay Area restaurants via the 86’d Fund) on Clubhouse last night, Ottawa restaurateur Joelle Parenteau said her plan has been to charge Uber Eats customers 20% extra (which was apparently against Uber Eats rules originally, but now fine), and business is going gangbusters. She’s written entire Medium posts defending the apps. Of course, her fast casual place was built to scale and is funded in part by Shopify, so…. maybe an imperfect messenger?
Who among you independent restaurateurs will step up to shout: “I love DoorDash!”?
Meanwhile, I love (and feel) the media exasperation from NRN editor Bret Thorn’s voice in this interview with the Counter’s Karen Stabiner: “I expect to be covering virtual kitchens and delivery in 2021, which I’m tired of but we have to.”
Gotta do it, folks. Gotta do it. But we’re done here. For now.
The Gram – Same day headlines in Eater: “Instagram Really Isn’t Optional for Restaurants Anymore.” And the NYT: “Cooks Turned Instagram Into the World’s Greatest Takeout Menu.” The Eater piece (by Becky Duffett) focuses on the restaurant world, while in the NYT, Tejal Rao emphasizes plate culture (home cook operations). The twain shall meet.
Some Sad News – “Ernest McKnight, the pitmaster and executive chef who helped grow Red Hot & Blue from a Rosslyn, Virginia, barbecue joint to an international chain in the 90s, died of lung cancer January 17. He was 74.” Full obit in Eater DC via Rick Snider. Fun bit of the history: “McKnight became the pit master and the principal force behind the restaurant…. Within two months, the Rosslyn, Virginia, restaurant received major recommendations by the Washington Post and Washingtonian magazine food critics. Two-hour lines formed on Monday nights for the 86-seat Rosslyn restaurant for McKnight’s ribs and late-night blues led by touring legends like B.B. King, Isaac Hayes, Joe Cocker, Ronnie Wood, Rufus Thomas, and Lee Atwater, an investor in the restaurant better known as a Republican strategist and campaign manager for George H.W. Bush.” NoVa, baby.
And last but not least – Sorry, sorry, back to delivery. Excited to see that DoorDash is using its first ever Super Bowl ad to raise money for a good cause! Is it a restaurant fund? A hunger charity? An immigrant worker advocate thingy? No! It’s Sesame Street. Which is fine, I say, as I lower myself back down into this trashcan.
And that’s it for today!
Keep scrolling if you missed Tuesday’s! 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 touring legends like Lee Atwater 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, January 26th, to paying subscribers. If you’d also like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Virus v Shutdown, BOH risks, Delivery M&A, and more...
Let’s get to it…
The Data – Big Q: Which came first the slowdown or the shutdowns? WaPo’s Andrew Van Dam looked through the studies included in a new meta study, and found that the evidence shows that early last year, business was almost always way down before it was mandated shut down:
“In one such study, economists Chad Syverson and Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business used anonymized cellphone tracking data to compare traffic at businesses in shutdown areas with similar businesses in the same metro area that weren’t shut down. Business fell by more than half (53 percent) regardless of whether a place shut down, as people everywhere were trying not to leave their homes. In shutdown areas, activity fell another 7 percent, meaning shutdowns caused less than an eighth of the drop in business.”
The takeaway tagline appears to be: It’s the virus, not the shutdowns.
If that seems like an unimportant distinction at this point (fair), note this key point for those looking forward to rapid normalization once we’re told it’s “safe” outside: “If the shutdowns had been the major obstacle to business activity, consumer spending built up during the shutdown period would have been unleashed in a torrent of pent-up demand when the shutdown was lifted. Instead, Goolsbee and Syverson found, economic activity returned about 5 percent faster in places that lifted their shutdowns compared with those areas not shut down.”
The Data Too – In the SF Chronicle, Michael Cabanatuan and Jill Tucker report that a new UCSF study “examined death rates of Californians ages 18 to 65 — a group that accounts for a third of COVID-19 deaths — from March through October, and compared them with pre-pandemic statistics to determine which occupations experienced the biggest increases in deaths.” According to one of the study’s charts shared on Twitter, cooks have the highest “risk ratio for mortality” (bad) of any occupation. Also making the top 25 were bakers, “chefs and head cooks,” housekeeping staff, and bartenders. The bad news: This obviously begs a lot of questions about safety back of house in a time of takeout. The good news: “The authors suggest the employees be moved up in line for [vaccines].”
NB: “The study also found that Latino workers had a 36% increase in deaths during the pandemic and Black workers had a 28% increase compared to a 6% increase for white workers.”
The Data Three – Forgot to include this on Friday, but Eric Ting got a scientist to backup something a lot of people have been thinking in SF Gate last week: “Despite the ban [on outdoor dining], California has had one of the worst winter COVID-19 surges in the country, which begs the following question: Is it possible that shutting down outdoor dining made the state's surge even worse? Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at UCSF, believes it's highly likely.” The idea is that shutting down public places forces people to hide bad behavior, making outbreaks worse, so Gandhi argues for “harm reduction” instead of lockdowns, creating policies that take into account “the human condition and the need to be with people.”
The Acqui-fire – Headline in the NYT: “Uber, After Buying Postmates, Lays Off More Than 180 Employees. The departures include most of the executive team at Postmates, the food delivery app that Uber bought last year.” Details via Mike Isaac.
The Media – FYI: “Eater is looking for an experienced reporter and editor to oversee its Detroit city site... This is a part-time, union position.” Job post here. The announcement adds, “Former city editor Brenna Houck has taken a new role as cities manager for Eater.” Good luck, all!
And P.S. – I’ve seen a handful of Eater cities posting pitch guidelines lately (including Atlanta last week), so maybe the iron is hot for that thing you’ve been thinking about writing…
And last but not least: The Reopening – I am sure each of you is acutely aware of the local reopening situation where you are, but watching from Hong Kong, I find the whirlwind of new regulations across the US this week is best summed up in Matt Grippi’s perfect tiktok (via Twitter) delivery of the obvious joke: “If you go to the mall, don’t, but you can, but you shouldn’t, but you won’t. But if you work at the mall, go there, it’s open, you’re still in business, but no one’s there because they should stay at home because they’re here, but they’re out….”
Aaaaand I’m out. 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 a torrent of pent-up demand 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!
P.S. - I’m on Clubhouse as @familymeal now! Still have no idea what that means, but if you’re on there, please find me and let’s figure it out together…