FM Digest, Aldea out, Tartine united, Of ghosts and vessels, and more...
Family Meal - Tuesday, February 11th, 2020
Greetings from NYC, and many, many apologies for the sporadic publishing schedule of late! Our young family of five should have been on a Cathay flight back to Hong Kong yesterday, but instead we no-showed, and officially joined the ranks of coronavirus-displaced people around the world. We’re in the relatively lucky and comfortable ranks of those ranks (and fine), but our welcome at this AirBnB expires tomorrow, and our next stop is uncertain. Greatly appreciate your patience.
On the bright side, since I’m in New York, Eater’s Amanda Kludt and Daniel Geneen allowed me into the Vox offices and onto the Eater Digest podcast last week to talk HK. Ever wonder what your beloved narrator sounds like? Now you know. Congrats.
OK. Let’s get to it…
The Ends of Eras – Here in NYC, Grubstreet’s Nikita Richardson reported “sad news out of Flatiron [yesterday] morning as chef George Mendes has announced he will close his pioneering restaurant, Aldea, on February 22. In a message to diners, Mendes writes that after nearly 11 years in business, he’s ready to take a break.” And per Eater’s Erika Adams, “Restaurateur Stephen Starr’s more than 15-year-old upscale Japanese restaurant Morimoto — led by ‘Iron Chef’ Masaharu Morimoto — will be shutting its doors on its New York City location… later this year due to lease expiration… May will be its last month in Chelsea.”
The Union – Big news from Janelle Bitker in the SF Chronicle: “Employees at San Francisco’s famed bakery Tartine sent a letter to management Thursday requesting management immediately recognize their right to join a union.” First shot fired! But, “On Monday, management finally responded: No. At least, not yet…. Tartine co-founders Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson and chief operating officer Christopher Jordan… explained that declining the union’s request would ensure Tartine employees have the chance to become more informed about the union and potentially change their minds about joining it after hearing from Prueitt, Robertson and other employees.”
According to Bitker’s original piece about the pro-union push: “[Organizers] want better pay and a voice in a company that they say is becoming increasingly corporate. Though Tartine began as a standalone bakery in the Mission District in 2002, it now has 10 cafes and restaurants across the Bay Area, Los Angeles and South Korea and recently moved its headquarters to Los Angeles…. Workers pointed to the hiring of a Los Angeles team of executives as a sign of Tartine’s evolution into a global brand. Those executives include Chief Operating Officer Christopher Jordan, who hails from Starbucks and Verve Coffee Roasters, and managing partner Bill Chait, who has operated dozens of restaurants in Los Angeles.”
Tartine’s growth story sounds pretty standard across almost every nationally expanding (chain-ish) restaurant group ever, so… if these organizers win, who’s next?
The Ghosts in the Cloud – Our ghost (or cloud or whatever) kitchen future is becoming clearer, with both Wired and the SF Chronicle poking around Reef Technologies’ collection of trailer-kitchens around the Bay Area. Key explainer from Shwanika Narayan and Bitker in the Chronicle: “Reef does not deliver food from any local restaurants; instead, it has filled rented trailers with virtual restaurants of its own devising. In addition to Burger Bytes, they include concepts like American Eclectic Burger, Breakfast All Day Everyday, Burn Burger, Fork and Ladle, Rebel Wings and Wings & Things, each with its own stylized food photos, logos and menus. The food is prepped at Reef’s main kitchen under the Highway 101 and Interstate 280 overpasses at 1760 Cesar Chavez St. From there it heads to Reef Kitchens — its Vessel pickup spots, some of which are the white trailers in parking lots — where final preparation and delivery take place.” Check out that picture of their Happy Khao Thai pickup spot in the Wired piece… If I wanted to start an anti-ghost kitchen SuperPac, that’d be my “Do you know where your food came from?” money shot.
The Critics – ICYMI: Cara Strickland has a roundup of “Women food critics dishing on dining out for a living” in Salon this month. You probably already know and cringe at the service problems in the piece, but worth circulating around front of house in case the obviously bad (“The server would not let me order a certain pork chop because it was too big… He said, 'No, women don't eat that.'”) isn’t as obvious as you think.
And last but not least: For Design Fans – In Australia, NYT critic Besha Rodell wrote about the d’Arenberg winery’s “Cube” tasting room / restaurant / gallery, but somehow her photo editors opted for a slideshow of relatively bland decor shots and missed all the wonderful things Rodell included in a separate Twitter thread: “An upended cow holding a vintage polygraph machine!” “Disturbing penis art!” and “Oh! How could I forget… the urinals.” You’re welcome.
And that’s it for today. Now back to figuring out where we’re going to sleep tomorrow night… Next stop TBD. Got a spare room or three?
I’ll see you here soon for next Family Meal.
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