NYC mandates, Yelp patrols, Waxman gone, 50 Best MENA, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, August 6th, 2021

Hello Friday,

After one blood draw, nine COVID tests, and a week straight in a hotel room, I’m Just sitting here on pins and needles waiting for the final COVID test of my quarantine / self-monitoring regime. How are you?

Tuesday’s Family Meal is copy / pasted below as usual.

Let’s get to it…

The Relief – Just after I hit send on the last one… “New York City will become the first U.S. city to require proof of at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine for a variety of activities for workers and customers — indoor dining, gyms and performances — to put pressure on people to get vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday morning.” Details in the NYT via Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Sharon Otterman, and Joseph Goldstein. “The program… will start on Aug. 16, and after a transition period, enforcement will begin on Sept. 13, when schools are expected to reopen… To enter indoor venues, patrons must use the city’s new app, the state’s Excelsior app or a paper card to show proof of vaccination. The mayor did not say how the city will handle vaccinations like AstraZeneca or Sinovac that may be common among international tourists.”

The Zeitgeist – Even the NY Post’s Steve Cuozzo, generally in a cranky mood from being tricked by billy goats, wrote a relatively positive piece on the city’s move: “Famed New York chefs sweet on de Blasio’s vaccination rules.” And the headlines in Eater: “Just Mandate the Vaccine for Indoor Dining Nationwide” (Elazar Sontag); and the SF Chronicle: “Editorial: Make vaccination the price of admission to society” (Editorial Board) echoed a rising chorus (though shockingly not a national harmony) around parts of the country.

The Lookout – Yesterday, Yelp introduced a new feature allowing restaurants to add two new filters to their listings: “Proof of vaccination required,” and “All staff fully vaccinated.” Seems like it’s partly to help attract / repel the right customers, and partly to prevent spam on site. Per the official blog post, “We are proactively monitoring Yelp pages of businesses that activate these attributes.” My heroes. Like I always say, “Whenever you’re in trouble, just Yelp for help!”

The Big Short – The nation’s number one podcast covered the restaurant labor shortage this week, so I dialed back my 2x speed setting (the only sane way to listen to Michael Barbaro) and settled in. But The Daily doesn’t do a transcript, and I’m late to this, so all I have is my first impression: In the first half, the main interviewed owner is not a sympathetic figure at all, and if I’m a restaurateur I’m annoyed he was the chosen one. In the second half, interviewed workers are very sympathetic, but they do not refute the idea that extra federal unemployment is “to blame” for the shortage. They say the unemployment is why they didn’t go back, but not because they’re lazy, more because they’ve seen the light of other things they can do.

Today’s episode: “Voices of the Unvaccinated

Your impressions?

The Media – “Some personal news,” from Bettina Makalintal on Twitter Wednesday: She is leaving Vice’s Munchies section and “joining Bon Appétit next week as an associate editor.” If you missed her at Vice, here’s her personal website to catch you up. General impression: A good get.

Some Sad News – In NYC, “Nach Waxman, Founder of the Legendary Kitchen Arts & Letters Cookbook Store, Dies at 84.” There will almost certainly be several more obits over the coming days, but Eater NY’s Bao Ong has the first one I’ve seen so far. Tributes are coming in too. Chicago’s John Shields (Smyth; The Loyalist) wrote on his Instagram stories  yesterday (may disappear), “Imagine a world pre-social / pre-blog. [Kitchen Arts & Letters] was food social media. Nach helped change the culinary landscape, with myself included. I sincerely thank you for changing my life.”

Awards Season: International Edition – On Tuesday, 50 Best announced it’s expanding again with a new list for the “Middle East and North Africa” in 2022. The press release says that includes Algeria; Bahrain; Egypt; Israel; Iran; Iraq; Jordan; Kuwait; Lebanon; Libya; Morocco; Oman; Palestine; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Syria; Tunisia; United Arab Emirates; and Yemen, which will make for… an interesting list. And yes, there will be a Best Female Chef Award there. (Pía León just won their global version, in case you somehow missed it.)

And last but not least: Festival Season – An update on my Tuesday notes below re COVID procedures at the upcoming Food & Wine Family Reunion in Middleburg, VA two weeks from today: I reached out to Matt Owens, the VP of Comms for host The Salamander Resort & Spa, to ask what the plan was. He told me, “The event’s COVID-19 regulations, policies and protocols remain under constant review, and the safety of our attendees, staff and community are of the highest priority.”

In practice, that means that after my questions, Salamander updated almost all the language on their COVID protocols page, removing specifics about table maximums (was 6), exact distances between tables (was 6ft), and a ban on self-serve buffets, in favor of “event by event” considerations and clear descriptions of how now-approved buffets will be run. Also new: unvaccinated staff “must” wear masks; unvaccinated guests “should.” (Website before and after here.)

To be fair, this is probably less a step backward than an overdue edit, but the question I asked that didn’t get answered (directly), and the question I think everyone running an event or restaurant should be prepared to answer (because journalists should be asking) is:

“If you have decided against asking that all guests and staff be vaccinated in order to attend / dine in / whatever, why did you make that choice?”

There will be fair answers (especially for business not ticketed months in advance like festivals and big tasting menus)! But to paraphrase Canadian philosopher Geddy Lee: If you choose not to decide, you still have to answer the question because it’s a fair question.

And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s Family Meal, which is copy / pasted below as usual. If you’d like to get Tuesday’s on Tuesday next time…

I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday, and everyone else here in one week for next Family Meal.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine for a variety of activities to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, become a paying subscriber! If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Here begins Family Meal for Tuesday, August 6th, 2021

Vaccination required, CLEAR priorities, Festival deltas, and more...

Hello Tuesday,

Let’s get to it…

The Pass – Danny Meyer and USHG did not lead the mandatory vaccine way* but they certainly caught a swelling wave… Lists of restaurants and bars requiring proof of vaccination are standard food section / blog stuff around the country right now. A random sample: “With COVID numbers rising again, these 60 Seattle bars and restaurants now require proof of vaccination for entry.” (Seattle Times); “You’ll need to show proof of COVID vaccination at these Kansas City bars, restaurants” (KC Star); “A running list of Boston-area restaurants and bars requiring proof of vaccination” (Boston Magazine); “The D.C. Cafes, Bars, and Restaurants Requiring Proof of Vaccination” (WCP); “Sonoma Restaurants That Require Proof of Vaccination” (Sonoma Mag); and many, many more (including regularly updated rundowns all around the Eater universe, like this one in NY: “A Running List of NYC Restaurants and Bars Requiring Proof of Vaccination.”)

And why not? Some other headlines I’m seeing: “Yes, it's legal for restaurants and bars to require proof of vaccination for customers.” (SF Chronicle) and “Yes, restaurant workers can ask if you're vaccinated” (AZ Central).

And in the SF Chronicle, this time from critic Soleil Ho: “What's it like to go to an S.F. bar that requires proof of vaccine? Totally fine.”

Plus, there’s this big news yesterday via Azi Paybarah in the NYT: “The United States on Monday finally reached President Biden’s goal of having 70 percent of eligible adults at least partly vaccinated.” So… not counting kids menu types, seven out of ten potential guests should be able to get through the door no problem soon (depending on second shot uptake, of course)!

This is not to say there aren’t other issues to consider for staff and businesses here, but does feel like some risks of going full-on pro-vaccine have already been mitigated post early-adopter-stage.

Now, it’s…

Festival Season – Many have already cancelled, some maybe less out of pure COVID concern than financial risk management (both Savannah Food and Wine and Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine cited difficulty planning amid this uncertainty when they nixed their respective November and October dates), but there are big food events that will have to make serious choices soon.

First up is Food & Wine magazine’s first-ever Family Reunion, hosted by Kwame Onwuachi. The launch announcement back in February says, “The event will adhere to COVID-19 health and safety measures in conjunction with CDC and state guidelines,” but there’s nothing on the official website about COVID (as far as I could see). The Salamander Inn, where the festival is taking place, says on its site: “Restaurants and bars feature reduced seating capacities to allow for a minimum of six feet between each seated group/party of guests. Maximum of 6 people per table.” And “Meeting and banquet set-up arrangements allow for physical distancing between guests in all meetings and events, based on CDC recommendations. Self-serve buffet-style food service is suspended and replaced by alternative service styles.”

OK, cool, but… The Family Reunion schedule still promises multiple family-style meals, “a dance floor,” wine tastings, musical performances, a “block party,” and “restaurant takeovers” of several restaurants in the small town of Middleburg, VA.

Lots of big names headlining, including chefs and food media. T-minus sixteen days till showtime…

After that, Food & Wine has their sold out Classic in Aspen in September, which has a five-page pdf up that tries to lay out some specifics in advance (no family-style or buffet, 60-70% max capacity indoors, increased social distancing, and 75% of events outdoors), and in October, Hawaii Food and Wine (unrelated to magazine) is saying they’ll make COVID restrictions calls closer to the event, but are already warning ticket buyers they “may be required to show proof of full vaccination or provide a negative COVID-19 test result (taken 48-hours prior to event) to attend.”

And a bit further down the road, San Diego Bay Wine and Food is looking pretty confident for November 11-14 (though there are no chefs listed under talent yet), but Austin Food and Wine’s website is still in “Sign up for updates!” mode for its November 5-7 dates.

CDC. TBD. We shall see.

The Media – Heads up, LA. At the end of Bill Addison’s newsletter in the LAT this week: “A big welcome to Stephanie Breijo, our new Food reporter! She joins us full-time after freelancing for the section over much of the first half of 2021. She’ll be taking over NewsFeed (and much more). If you have leads on restaurant openings, closings or other dining-related news, email her at stephanie.breijo@latimes.com.”

In Chicago, Eater’s Naomi Waxman reports, “Steve Dolinsky, formerly known as the Hungry Hound, will soon return to the dining beat, signing on as a food reporter at NBC’s WMAQ-Channel 5… now rebranded as ‘the Food Guy.’” (Also in Waxman’s local news roundup: “Annual neighborhood food festival Taste of River North is canceled for 2021 due to pandemic fallout.”)

The Media Opportunity – Work with famous pizza photographer and author of the politely subversive Food is Stupid Substack, Dennis Lee! He says: “The Takeout is hiring an Assoc. Editor and Staff Writer (both coworker positions of mine!), and it was my exit from being a line cook, in case people have overlapping skillsets.”

Imagine ditching your restaurant job and getting to show up every day to work with the man whose top performing post on Substack is titled “Beef Fizz and Clam Sweat.” A dream.

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 Beef Fizz and Clam Sweat to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, become a paying subscriber! If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

P.S. – *Couldn’t fit this in by the time I’d remembered it, but on Twitter, Devita Davison brought up a key qualifier on Danny Meyer’s stance re: proof of vaccination in restaurants: His Enlightened Hospitality Investments was a key player in a $100M investment round for CLEAR, a company which… facilitates proof of vaccination.