Michelin back, Relief "close," Surfaces absolved, Kurniawan deported, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, April 16th, 2021
Before we get started, a note of thanks to the folks at The Counter, the “nonprofit, independent, nonpartisan newsroom investigating the forces shaping how and what America eats.” They launched a newsletter this week called… Family Meal, and after many of you reached out (thank YOU) have decided to no longer use that name.
The Counter does a lot of great work(!), and I genuinely wish them luck finding a new title. It’s not easy! Perhaps most famously among indie rockers of a certain age, the best ever death metal band out of Denton never settled on a name (but the top three contenders — after weeks of debate — were Satan’s Fingers, and the Killers, and the Hospital Bombers).
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – If you missed the IRC and National Food Truck Assoc. talks with Small Business Administration officials this week, Joanna Fantozzi has a good summary in Restaurant Hospitality to share. Some key points: First, SBA admin Patrick Kelley says they’re on “the precipice of opening” Restaurant Revitalization Fund applications, but still haven’t started a 7-day beta period, so… the “precipice” is at least a week out from the actual drop. Second, the SBA again emphasized these funds will run out, and restaurateurs should apply on day one if possible. And lastly, “The SBA is publishing an application program interface for the application to be embedded in POS systems like Square, Clover, Aloha, and Toast, where operators will be able to use that to submit applications.” If you have issues with your software, best to sort those out ASAP? Though of course, “Applications will also be available telephonically.”
Michelin Season – Welp. “This Year's Michelin Star Revelation Is Coming!” The guide’s giddy announcement page decided not to go with my recommended subhed (“Whether You Like It or Not!”), but here we are whether you like it or not. WaPo’s Emily Heil quotes guide director Gwendal Poullennec as saying that in Chicago, DC, and NYC, “We have been quite benevolent without compromising on the methodology,” which is reassuring? He also told Heil, “We have been in close relations with the chef and restaurant community, asking, ‘What can we do for you?’… The answer was to ‘Do what you have always done — we need Michelin guides to be a link between the restaurant and the customer.’ Awarding stars is a real recognition to a team.” And I’m sure many said that! Some with more conviction than others…
The schedule is as follows (all Bibs on Tuesdays, stars on Thursdays):
D.C.: Bibs 4/20 (nice); stars 4/22.
Chicago: Bibs 4/27; stars 4/29.
NYC: Bibs 5/4; stars 5/6.
According to the official calendar of online events, sommelier awards will come out the day before the Bibs in each city, and full guides will be released the day after the stars. Good luck, all!
The Bulls – It’s not just US-based groups and restaurateurs shopping American real estate deals... Mexico City’s Grupo Hunan tells Eater LA’s Farley Elliott that they’re taking over Dominique Ansel’s old spot in the Grove because it’s “a once in a lifetime opportunity and location.” Elliott says the move represents the group’s first foray into the American market — but judging by their early ambitions it may not be the last…” LA was probably a natural expansion target for Hunan pandemic or not (and Ansel might have been forced to leave the Grove either way too), but hard to imagine the new numbers aren’t playing a role here.
The Heresy – “The CDC has finally said what scientists have been screaming for months: The coronavirus is overwhelmingly spread through the air, not via surfaces.” According to the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson: “In other words: You can put away the bleach, cancel your recurring Amazon subscription for disinfectant wipes, and stop punishing every square inch of classroom floor, restaurant table, and train seat with high-tech antimicrobial blasts. COVID-19 is airborne: It spreads through tiny aerosolized droplets that linger in the air in unventilated spaces. Touching stuff just doesn’t carry much risk, and more people should say so, very loudly.”
Summed up in one great line: “Unlike the coronavirus, hygiene theater is very much alive on surfaces across America.”
Definitely read through the science yourself first, but… No more “Closed for a Deep Cleaning”?
The Going Rate – Quick update to what I said on Tuesday (copy/pasted below as usual if you’re not a paying subscriber) re the industry labor shortage: There is definitely a growing public backlash against restaurateurs blaming lack of workers on unemployment benefits and stimulus money. Two sample examples: Adam Reiner in the Restaurant Manifesto this week (“[You’ve] made your fortunes at the expense of your staff, don’t be surprised when your help-wanted ads go unanswered.”), and Kelly Sullivan and Lillian Devane on the FOH podcast yesterday (an impassioned anti-scapegoat rant that begins with Point Break and ends with a question as to whether or not being a software engineer is a real job).
In the NYT, Tejal Rao blames guests — what they’re willing to pay / what they expect in return — as much as anyone, but says: “Prep cooks and dishwashers clock out of one restaurant job and head to a second, but still can’t piece together a living wage. Servers rely almost entirely on tips because the minimum wage is so low. Cooks put themselves at risk because their health care is tied to their employment. Diners recognize that workers in the kitchen may be undocumented, and use that to leverage power.
“It’s no wonder that, as restaurants try to staff up, there’s a national shortage of workers.”
But there is still good press to be had for restaurants that can / do bump up wages and benefits in this time of all-around need. Case in point: Philadelphia’s Marquis & Co. (HipCityVeg, Bar Bombón, Charlie Was a Sinner) announced it was raising base wages to $15/hr and got full write-ups in the Inquirer, Eater, NRN, and (good for their niche) VegNews.
If I were giving advice to management: Heavy as you can sustain on incentives. Light as hydrogen on blaming the people you need.
For the Somm – Headline in the NYT: “French Wine Production Ravaged by a Devastating Frost.” Details via Roger Cohen: “A sudden frost, the worst in decades, has ravaged a French wine industry already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and what is known among winegrowers as the ‘Trump tax.’… By the time the cold snap ended, destruction had spread across most of France’s winegrowing regions, including the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire. Jean-Marie Barillère, the head of a major wine industry association, told the French daily Le Figaro that the frost had hit ‘80 percent of French vineyards.’” France24’s Nicole Trian adds, “Though the government has pledged financial aid, many are staring down the barrel of financial ruin.”
For the Somm Too – Headline in the LAT: “Former L.A. wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan, of ‘Sour Grapes’ notoriety, is deported.” Details and a still wild-to-read recounting of Kurniawan’s crimes via the AP’s Robert Jablon: “The onetime darling of the L.A. wine scene who bilked collectors by selling cheaper, rebottled booze, has been deported to his native Indonesia.” Sour Grapes trailer here ICYMI.
For Design Fans – I… I think I love Lyle’s in DC? Maybe it’s the fact that the creative director for the hotel group apparently said, “Fuck it, I’ll make the art,” and the art… works? Hats off to Jacu Strauss for the funky homemade pottery entry sign and the abstract black and reds on the wall that I would’ve thought annoyingly repetitive in almost any other space. And hats off to the (hotel-money backed) team for the cork walls, 50s-era Herman Miller pendants (and the ceiling recesses that anchor them), and even that reedy look under the marble bar. And the lil white couch in the middle, of course. (Design fans, you can tell me I’m wrong, but please also tell Eater DC’s Tierney Plumb thank you from me for taking the time to actually write about the design features in Greg Powers’ (in house) pictures.)
And that’s it for today!
I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday for next Family Meal, and everyone else next Friday. If you’re on Clubhouse, don’t forget to join Expedite’s Kristen Hawley and I as we talk (with you!) through all the big food / restaurant / restaurant tech news we’re following to start the week on Monday at 10:30AM Eastern / 7:30AM Pacific.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or cheaper, rebottled booze 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!
P.S. – I don’t think anyone owns the words “Family Meal” in the restaurant world, but when this newsletter was getting started in DC, Bryan Voltaggio probably had the best claim on it, and I thank him for not trying to sue me. Bryan, if you read this, thank you.
Here begins the copy/paste of the Family Meal that went out Tuesday, April 13th, to paying subscribers. If you’d also like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Foppoli fallout, Del Posto out, RRF Resources, Red Robin Rates, and more...
Let’s get to it…
Quick note from this side of the globe before we get started: As US states hammer out details on potential vaccine passport plans, the Hong Kong government is floating some novel solutions here… “[Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam] gave as an example that once restaurant staff have all received their first dose of a Covid vaccine, up to six customers can be seated per table, while closing hours can be extended to midnight. But when staff and customers have received both doses, plus an extra 14 days for the antibodies to develop, restaurants could then set up special ‘clean zones’ where as many as 12 patrons can sit together, and wine and dine until 2am. Even banquets of up to 100 guests can resume in 'vaccine bubbles' once these conditions are met, Lam said.”
Got my second dose last week, so… See you in the clean zone?
Let’s get to it…
The Fallout – After a devastating story in the SF Chronicle last week exposed multiple allegations of sexual assault and rape, Esther Mobley reports the family winery of accused wine country mayor Dominic Foppoli is being expelled from the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association and Dominic’s brother Joe Foppoli has been forced off the board. Meanwhile, Mobley’s colleague Sarah Ravani says Joe has not only pushed Dominic out of the winery but also publicly called for him to step down as mayor. Dominic denies all allegations, but on Friday, the headline on an updated story from Alexandria Bordas and Cynthia Dizikes read: “Fifth woman accuses Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli of sexual assault.”
The Big Close – In NYC, Del Posto is officially done. The NYT’s Brett Anderson reports: “It has been purchased by Jeff Katz along with Melissa J. Rodriguez, Del Posto’s executive chef, and the chef James Kent, a former chef de cuisine at Eleven Madison Park, from Lidia Bastianich, Joe Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali. The sale includes the lease of Del Posto’s large space in Chelsea, which the new owners plan to use for three new businesses, following a renovation. There will be a cocktail bar, a casual restaurant with wood-burning pizza ovens and an ambitious, special-occasion Italian restaurant in the spirit of Del Posto.” One ring for alcohol margins, one ring for all-day potential, and a pricey dinner concept to rule them all… The Fellowship of The Hedge.
FYI, everything from Del Posto is up for auction today, although the new owners don’t exactly make the greatest secondhand sales pitch in their video about the closure, wherein someone walks through Mario Batali’s old restaurant burning sage and all but whispering: “This stuff is contaminated. Disgusting.”
The Going Rate – The staff crunch continues, and I’d love to hear what numbers / incentives look like in your area. Reading Laura Hayes in WCP yesterday, it looks like DC restaurateurs are offering signing bonuses up to $500 — and complaining about unemployment being better than that, which… is not the best look — while in Redwood City, DoorDash (DoorDash!) is offering part time line cooks $20/hour and a $250 bonus. But a quick scan of jobs on Indeed and Culinary Agents still shows a lot of minimum (and tipped minimum) wages out there. One wildcard I saw was Red Robin(!), which will pay out a $200 signing bonus (after 90 days) and is now “offering” all staff new medical benefits in a hiring pitch all about safety: “Red Robin has always been committed to keeping our Team Members safe, but we’re taking extra measures during this time… Our health policy ensures that Team Members can take the time they need to be well.” Emphasis theirs.
The Resources – Still no official word on how to apply for the $28.6B Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) included in the last stimulus package, but the Small Business Administration is making staff available for industry info sessions this week. First up: Today, at noon Eastern, the Independent Restaurant Coalition is hosting a Zoom panel with “SBA administrators Patrick Kelley and Julie Verratti, and IRC members Nya Marshall (IVY Kitchen, MI), and Caroline Styne (Lucques Group, CA).” Register for that here.
And at 6PM Eastern on Thursday, April 15, the National Food Truck Association will also host SBA Admins Kelley and Verratti alongside the IRC’s Erika Polmar and NFTA president Matt Geller. DC’s Che Ruddell-Tabisola tells me, “The info should be relevant for all kinds of friends in food and beverage, because the nature of [the food truck business] is doing business somewhere else (a brewery, winery, distillery, tavern, festival/event, you get the idea). We touch a lot of sectors within the industry.” Link here.
P.S. – Recently updated FAQs from the IRC say they expect RRF applications to open “mid-to-late April.” Dumping all my chips on late April, but I also didn’t think Bitcoin would go this far, so….?
The Media – Speaking with SF Chronicle Food editor Serena Dai on Clubhouse last night, I realized I forgot to mention that the Chronicle food section has made two new hires: Tanay Warerkar (Twitter profile here) was poached away from Eater NY to be an assistant editor in SF, while new food reporter Elena Kadvany will be familiar to the region as the former Peninsula Foodist at Palo Alto Weekly (she posted her farewell there on Friday, and, if not already on your host stand… her picture is all over her Twitter, Instagram, and personal website).
P.S. – For the media: Not sure if/when I missed this, but Eater Chicago is looking for a full-time deputy editor.
And last but not least – The pandemic has wrought many a strange dynamic, but my new favorite might be an NYC restaurant critic (Adam Platt of NY Mag) going to Miami to eat at Carbone and feeling the need to remind everyone that New York is still the coolest: “Even the most vociferous South Beach fresser probably wouldn’t argue with the assertion that the list of various and notable New York restaurants that have closed forever during the great plague year is longer than the list of notable restaurants that have ever opened in Miami.”
Yeah, Platt. Let’s hit the Dresden. This place is dead anyway.
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 even the most vociferous South Beach fresser 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!
Oh, and PS! I’m going to pause the Family Meal Store at some point soon, because the print on demand margins don’t quite make up for all the fees that go along with hosting it. It will be back, but if you know a Food Media Darling, right this way…