Escárcega out, Tock sold, Offices back, Shag in, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, April 2nd, 2021
UPDATE: After Family Meal went out to paying subscribers on Tuesday, the Small Business Administration reversed course and told restaurants they no longer need to register with the DUNS or SAM systems to be eligible for RESTAURANTS Act funding. IRC’s resources page says stay tuned for updates, so…. stay tuned.
And FYI: Monday and Tuesday are holidays here in Hong Kong, so there will be no Clubhouse chat on Monday and I’m going to take Tuesday off to spend some extra time with my nuclear family. Hope you understand / Thanks for understanding!
Let’s get to it…
The Critics – “LA Times Restaurant Co-Critic Patricia Escárcega Has Left the Paper” and Farley Elliott has background details here. In a long thread back in November, Escárcega tweeted that despite ostensibly being “co-critics” with Bill Addison, the LAT had actually classified her as the “junior critic” without her knowledge, and was paying her two-third’s of Addison’s salary. It was lost on no one that Addison is not mentioned in her lengthy goodbye note (in which the “Cali critic squad” includes only NYT’s Tejal Rao and SF Chronicle’s Soleil Ho), but several other big names from the LAT Food are also missing, so…. read into that what you will. (And then send me what you’re reading into it!)
In any case, I echo the many well-wishers in the farewell thread’s comments who say they hope Escárcega winds up somewhere great and that this is a big loss for LAT Food, which sounds like a mess and has been without a permanent lead editor since Peter Meehan resigned nine months ago!
P.S. - Speaking of needing an editor… TimeOut NY is hiring someone to lead the Food & Drink section. Details here.
The Return – Big news for corporate lunch and happy hour checks from Gabe Guarente in Eater Seattle: “On Tuesday, March 30, Amazon revealed a few new details about its return to office plan. After extending its initial work from home policy until June 30, the company has told all employees it expects to eventually phase out the guidelines on remote work, with the aim of bringing most people back to the office later in 2021.” Amazon has never been a fun and funky innovator when it comes to work culture, but it is also wildly successful (did you know?), so not hard to imagine other big companies around the country following this example. Downtown foot traffic may yet return.
The Ticketmasters – Headline in Bloomberg: “Squarespace Buys Tech Startup Tock for $400 Million Plus.” Reporter Katie Roof says the deal is a mix of cash and stock. Nick Kokonas says he’ll remain CEO of Tock. No big insights yet, but one neat thing here is that Squarespace is supposed to be going public sometime soon(ish), so now any pre-listing filings will presumably include data on Tock’s operations too. Or maybe Kokonas will just do a Medium post for the SEC. TBD.
The Close – Haven’t been including many pandemic closings here because... there are a lot. But did want to mention NYC’s Momofuku Kāwi shuttering for two reasons: First, their Hudson Yards landlord is Related Companies, whose Chairman Stephen Ross is a major Momofuku investor. Related’s CEO told CNBC a year ago that the company would work with restaurants on “a payment plan or ‘whatever needs to get done’” to keep them afloat during the pandemic, but “those companies that have capability, have liquidity, have a strong balance sheet… they need to pay the rent.” So, I assume either Momofuku wanted out of that space / restaurant anyway, or the cozy landlord relationship couldn’t overcome it’s-just-business.
And second: Tanay Warerkar reports in Eater NY that Momofuku’s Hudson Yards retail concept Peach Mart has also closed permanently. I know it was basically the Kāwi gift shop and also sold food, but Dave Chang and Marguerite Mariscal have both spent the pandemic talking a ton about of the need for restaurants to diversify long-term with things like consumer packaged goods (spices, sauces, noodles, dad hats), and it will be very interesting to see if they still want to be in the business of brick and mortar retail after this dust (virus) settles.
NB: Warerkar says chef Eunjo Park is sticking with the company and will move over to the new Ssäm Bar space.
The Relief – Restaurants that opened during the pandemic are apparently being told that despite the intentions of the bill’s authors they are ineligible for RESTAURANTS Act money, but there is hope according to Tim Carman in the Washington Post: “After days of saying nothing over the apparent mistake, the SBA acknowledged it in a voice mail to The Post…. ‘I can confirm that the SBA is aware of the problem in the formula, and we will be addressing that error in the statute,’ said Shannon Giles, a spokeswoman for the agency.”
The Relief Too –In Restaurant Hospitality this week, Arif Virji says a lot of businesses aren’t taking advantage of the CARES Act’s Employee Retention Credit because they think they don’t qualify? Not an expert on this, but you might want to double-check that even if you took PPP or never shut down. Per Virji, “A business that has $10,000 in qualified wages per employee in the first two quarters of 2021, would be looking at a maximum ERC of $14,000 per employee. A 20-employee restaurant could reap a $240,000 ERC.”
For Readers – Judges Sara Jenkins, Edward Lee, Maricel Presilla, Helen Rosner, Frank Stitt, David Tanis, and Nicole Taylor are out with the longlist for this year’s Art of Eating prize. Too many titles and names to include here, so better you go to Stained Page News for Paula Forbes’ take: “This year’s longlist, no surprise, is full of absolute bangers. Will Caroline Eden pull a repeat win? Will a region-spanning odyssey like Chaat, Aegean, or In Bibi’s Kitchen take the prize? How do you even compare Bill Buford’s narrative about cooking his way through Lyon or Marcia Chatelain’s history of Black fast food franchise owners with, say, Nik Sharma’s exploration of the science of flavor? Will Michelle Polzine’s many-layered baking book take this particular cake? Much to ponder.”
For the Somm – A good one to share on social media from Esther Mobley in the SF Chronicle this week: “Restaurant wining and dining is back in the Bay Area. But please don't BYOB.” In which Mobley makes the case that corkage won’t make up for margins right now, and it’s time for guests to buy list bottles.
And last but not least: For Design Fans – “Austin Powers Would Approve of the Shagadelic New Lounge at Virgin Hotels” according to Eater Las Vegas. OK! Well, outside of dry counties I’ve never really understood the appeal of being a non-celebrity and hanging out in a curtained off booth, but I absolutely understand the appeal of being a cleaning crew in a place whose entire aesthetic says, “Bet you can’t tell what’s a stain!”
And that’s it for today!
Last Tuesday’s paid edition is copy / pasted below as usual.
And one last reminder that due to the holidays, there will be no newsletter this coming Tuesday. I’ll see everyone here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a payment plan or ‘whatever needs to get done’ 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, March 30th, to paying subscribers. If you’d also like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Excelsior Pass, DUNS and SAM, Midler v Guidara, and more...
Let’s get to it…
The Vaccine Rules – Somehow after all the time spent developing vaccines and preparing for their rollout, it feels like we’re sort of winging it on the rules about what happens once we get them. But the future is here. Per NBC NY: “A new, first-of-its-kind digital passport has launched in New York's ongoing effort to fast-track the reopening of businesses and major sports and entertainment venues across the state. The online program is designed to securely display New Yorkers' COVID-related information and help authenticate a person's vaccination or proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. The Excelsior Pass, the so-called ‘vaccine passport,’ officially launched Friday after several pilot programs and beta testing.”
Obviously, the right thing to do is immediately begin dunking on the dumb name that is going to have drunk bros yelling “Excelsior!” at host stands across the state, but CNN’s Kent Sepkowitz has other concerns as well: A smartphone-only app is classist, personal health data could be compromised, and allowing a “pass” at all could downplay the still present threat of COVID.
Still, right now the major limiting factors are that the pass only works with big venues and even then only with NY State health data, so it’s unclear how the rest of the tri-state (or 50-state +) area gets into Citi Field.
Meanwhile in Chicago, (missed this last week, but) per Ashok Selvam in Eater: “Fully vaccinated customers — with proof — won’t count against COVID-19 capacity rules [in Illinois]. Under current Phase 4 rules, Chicago’s restaurants and bars are allowed a maximum of 50 customers per indoor dining space or 50 percent of full capacity, whichever is fewer. According to the state’s website: ‘individuals with proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (PCR) 1-3 days prior to an event or outing do not count against capacity limits.’”
Not sure how that works with a seating plan? “Sorry, are you vaccinated? Do you think we could move you one table over so I can seat this party of Pfizer between you and the other unpricked? Greeeaaaaaat.”
The Relief – PSA: New guides / resources for helping restaurants apply for the next round of federal funding (RESTAURANTS Act $$$) are available on the IRC site now, and Nom Wah’s Barb Leung put together a fantastic rundown for her newsletter too. The consensus: Get your DUNS and SAM paperwork out of the way ASAP so you’re ready to go as soon as applications go live. This money will get gone. [PLEASE NOTE THE CORRECTION AT START OF NEWSLETTER.]
The Data – Some interesting numbers in Bret Thorn’s summary of an analysis by a foodservice research group in NRN yesterday: “According to [Datassential], 79,438 restaurants in the United States have closed, which is 10.2% of the total of 778,807 restaurants that were in operation at the outset of the public health crises. That includes full-service and limited-service restaurants as well as food trucks.” Per Thorn, food trucks were hit hardest, while big chains (501 locations and up) fared best, and “independent restaurants actually did better than chains of 500 or fewer units.” Also: French restaurants had the highest closure rate by concept?
Cooks’ Country – Remember cook shortages before the pandemic? A few days ago, Jeffrey Stoneberger of 2 Nixons in Charleston tweeted: “Anyone gonna talk about restaurant wages going up to $30/hr for cooks? Or are we gonna pretend that didn’t happen.” I asked if he was serious and he assured me he was (he’s hiring). Amethyst Ganaway says she’s not seeing those rates at all in SC, but “Every restaurant possible is hiring right now.” At Husk in Nashville, Katie Juban says: “It's the chains and hotels…. Since ‘it's over’, the whole market opened up. Corporate is paying line cooks 22+ ... I'm struggling to staff my 300-seater with 17-18 as a starting wage.” Xandre Borghetti told me trying to staff up has “been HORRENDOUS. I know tons of operators in LA and NY experiencing the same problem. Even very well known spots saying it’s the worst they’ve ever seen.” In NYC, Barb Leung said she hasn’t noticed much staffing difference at Nom Wah, but Tom Colicchio says 80-85% of his staff has left NYC. David McCabe of Analog Hospitality in Philadelphia twote: “It’s a problem. The biggest problem we are facing. We are short multiple people in all FOH and BOh positions in all restaurants.”
On the With Warm Welcome clubhouse chat this morning, an early career pastry chef (whose name I can’t find, sorry!) summed it up: “Now is a good time to be starting out in the industry. It’s a cook’s market out there.”
The Media (Opportunity) – That Eater SF editor job left open by Luke Tsai’s departure is now online: “Eater’s ideal candidate will have extensive editing and reporting experience, along with a clear strategy for defining who and what matters in the Bay Area food world. They will be obsessed with the idiosyncrasies of the Bay Area’s food culture, restaurants, and neighborhoods, and they will tell stories that acknowledge the complexities of the restaurant scene across San Francisco and the East Bay.” Application here. As usual, this newsletter serves as my cover letter, CV, and abstract head shot.
Some Sad News – In Las Vegas, “Bobby Silva, who just joined Chinatown’s Sparrow + Wolf as chef de cuisine in November, died on March 23. He was 39.” Susan Stapleton has his story in Eater.
For Design Fans – Here’s a “First Look Inside Wolfgang Puck’s Pair of New Restaurants at Pendry West Hollywood” with photos from Wonho Frank Lee in Eater LA. The chandeliers aren’t my thing; those sconces look like space heaters; and part of me wonders if someone on the design team is dating a surplus tile dealer, but then again… all of it together might actually be a kooky kind of fun in person! Either way, after endless exposed rafters and vents, I think I’m officially the world’s biggest fan of draped ceilings? RIP Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
And last and least – Feels like it’s impossible not to take this personally, but none of you told me that Jean-Georges Vongeritchen collaborated on a mouthwash with dentist-to-the-stars Chris Perez. “When asked about the flavor profile, Chef Jean-Georges noted, ‘I was intrigued by the idea that a mouthwash could have a wonderful taste…’” Yeah, man. You’re late. It’s called Fernet.
Oh, and Bette Midler is NIMBYing Will Guidara’s castle resort plans in Millbrook, NY, which is neat (from a distance).
And 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 up to $30/hr for cooks 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!