Panisse at 50, Sutton's stars, Luc out, Robinson (sell?) out, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, September 3rd, 2021

Hello Friday,

Welp. My intro on Tuesday was about disasters everywhere, and things have only gotten worse. Sending outrageously good thoughts to everyone affected by hurricanes, flooding, drought, fire, Talibs, The Nine, et al. Unfortunately, according to a close reading of Twitter, all of these issues are both predictable and predictably your fault. Your demographic did this to us. Look in the mirror, everyone else!

And please let me know if I can help spread the word on anything useful where you are.

And speaking of spreading the word (fantastic transition), You may notice that there is a sponsored post in Tuesday's edition (copy / pasted below for non-paying subscribers as usual). The Local Tongue is looking for editors, folks! And I just wanted to put it out there that I am entertaining sponsorship ideas, so if you're looking to reach a smart, niche audience of people in and around the restaurant industry, hit me up!

Let’s get to it…

The Critics – On Wednesday, Eater NY critic Ryan Sutton said, “We’re Getting Rid of Starred Restaurant Reviews at Eater.” And we all said, “Cool. Got it.” And then he said (as far as I can tell), “But don’t you want to know why?” And three thousand one hundred ninety three words later, I hope he feels he’s made his case. Students of criticism will probably enjoy it! For everyone else, there’s a quick, easily digested summary of what’s going on around the world of restaurant points systems somewhere in the middle (links are Eater’s):

“All told, most (but not all) West Coast reviewers have been publishing critiques without stars for years… The Infatuation, which publishes listicle reviews of restaurants, permanently ditched their own 0 to 10 rating scale last summer, while our friends at New York magazine, also owned by Vox Media, haven’t announced when they’ll bring back their numerical scale (though I’m told they plan to). Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier in July that stars will be back, but that he doesn’t know when, while the Boston Globe’s Devra First said in that same column that she doesn’t see herself returning to stars in the near future; the Inquirer’s Craig LaBan, in turn, is holding off on his own star-like ‘bell’ ratings. The New York Times hasn’t announced its own intentions yet. Critic Pete Wells… told me he has ‘no idea’ when he might use stars again.”

But Sutton’s essay isn’t as nationwide as it wants to seem, and these nods to coastal critics feel less like smart acts of representation, and more like window dressing or homogenization in a world where criticism between (and beyond) the coasts barely registers.

The Critics Too – I cribbed that last paragraph from Sutton’s big, unstarred, negative review of Eleven Madison Park’s vegan reboot on Wednesday, in which he says Daniel Humm “doesn’t yet appear to fully possess the palate, acumen, or cultural awareness to successfully manipulate vegetables or, when necessary, to let them speak for themselves.” Some hits: “A small cup of broken rice porridge… recalls a congee from a college grad who learned how to make the dish from an Instant Pot cookbook,” and a “beet cooked 18-ways tasted like pretty much any other beet, a reality that’s tough to digest when you have to put down a massive non-refundable deposit to find that out,” and “in the post-Will Guidara era… [FOH] seemed less like that cool guy you wanted to talk with at a party, and more like professional waiters at any good restaurant.” (The latter turned out to be a positive for Sutton.)

That came after last week’s glowing review of Andrew Carmellini’s new Manhattan steakhouse, so my advice to Humm: If you see Sutton on the street with butcher paper sticking out the side of his bike shorts, you should definitely shout: “Hey, Ryan! Is that big meat in your pocket, or are you in the pocket of big meat?” (I wouldn’t. But you could.)

The Revolving Door – Two wildly different restaurant lobbying emails in my inbox this week. First, the Independent Restaurant Coalition is still asking anyone and everyone to call their congressman and push for a Restaurant Revitalization Fund refill (which, let’s be honest, is probably dropping another notch down the priority list with every passing day / new crisis).

And second, per Lisa Jennings in Restaurant Hospitality: “After 15 months at the helm, Tom Bené is stepping down as president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association to join a beverage distribution company, the organization announced Tuesday… Bené has been named president and CEO of the alcohol distribution company Breakthru Beverage Group, effective Oct. 4. The move is a return to the supply side for Bené, who served previously as CEO of Sysco Corp. before joining the restaurant association on June 1, 2020.”

Hope someone ordered a “Mission Accomplished” banner for his last day!

The End of an Era – In Seattle Met, Allecia Vermillion has “A Farewell to Thierry Rautureau’s Luc… On Saturday, August 28, Luc served its final burrata salad and beef bourguignon to a full house. And, once the lights went down, Seattle found itself without a Thierry Rautureau restaurant for the first time since 1987.” The piece is a tribute to the “Chef in the Hat’s” influence on the city, and on Twitter, Seattle’s own Rebekah Denn added: “In addition to everything listed here, [Rautureau] was a seriously early adopter for crowdfunding restaurants, way before there was a road map.”

The Marking of an EraChez Panisse celebrated 50 years last Saturday, and to mark that occasion, hometown paper the LA Times is going all in(!) with an original 30 minute documentary (hagiography) focused on Alice Waters and farmer Bob Cannard. This is the second big CP / AW feature the LAT has run over the past couple weeks, the other being this essay from Bill Addison.

For the Somm: The Media – “Jancis Robinson, arguably the world’s most influential wine writer, has sold her eponymous digital publication to a company with offices in San Francisco. Miami-based Recurrent Ventures, a fast-growing and venture capital-backed media conglomerate, announced its acquisition of JancisRobinson.com on Tuesday. [The website] joins a portfolio of 17 other digital media properties, including [Saveur]... Terms of the deal were not disclosed.” Details via Esther Mobley in the Chronicle.

And last and least: The Bad PR Free Family Meal PR Pro Tip: Shouting, “IT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE FAT!” at a nation where nearly 650k people have died of a brand new, highly contagious coronavirus, is not going to get you great press. This advice is too late for Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman, who was on LinkedIn this week to selflessly suggest that using tax penalties and incentives to get people to eat more salad might be the key to living with COVID “for the forseeable future.” The blowback has come from all sides (his suggestion of using both new taxes and a “health mandate” will probably not win Republican hearts), with Hillary Dixler Canavan going blunt in Eater — “Shutting up is literally free” — and the New Yorker’s Helen Rosner going just a bit more blunt on Twitter: “Perhaps instead of eating a salad he could eat my dick.”

And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s paid subscriber Family Meal, which is copy / pasted below as usual. If you’d like to start getting Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…

I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday for next Family Meal, and everyone else on Friday.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a fast-growing and venture capital-backed media conglomerate 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 from Tuesday, August 31st, 2021:

Delivery apps sued, Best New Chefs noms, Toast IPOs, and more...

Hello Tuesday,

American troops — well, the ones they tell us about — have left Afghanistan in Taliban hands. A big chunk of Louisiana is without power or worse. Fires are burning across the American West. SF Chronicle critic Soleil Ho says her mom’s entire restaurant was “leveled” by a hurricane in Mexico. Disasters, disasters, everywhere. And, you know, COVID.

Sending all my best thoughts to all of you! And also this newsletter.

Let’s get to it…

The Suits – Headline in Business Insider: “DoorDash and Grubhub are being sued by the city of Chicago, which accused them of using deceptive tactics and overcharging customers.” In a barrage of shots at both companies, reporter Kevin Shalvey says the city alleges that one or both: Hid the fact that in-app delivery prices were more expensive than in-restaurant (both); created fake websites and numbers for restaurants (Grubhub), added restaurants without their consent (both), misled consumers about where “tips” went (both); violated the pandemic-era fee cap (Grubhub); and that DoorDash named a surcharge — which it claimed was needed to offset effects of said fee cap — the “Chicago Fee,” leading consumers to think it went to the city instead of DoorDash (you guessed it: DoorDash).

The companies vigorously, strenuously, fervently deny all allegations.

But in an update Monday, Eater’s Ashok Selvam reports: “Now, the city is looking for anecdotes about restaurants and third-party couriers. The city has launched an online survey that asks hospitality workers ”about your experiences with meal delivery companies, including but not limited to: DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber EatsPostmates, and their affiliates.”

So… Penny for your thoughts, Chicago! (Actual payment-for-thoughts after processing fees is .312 cents. These fees help people in ways I can’t explain and create jobs I can’t tell you about.)

The Good PR – Food & Wine is asking for recommendations for their next big Best New Chefs list. From EIC Hunter Lewis in the F&W Pro newsletter this weekend (bold his): “Your nominations matter. They are an integral part of our scouting process as Restaurant Editor Khushbu Shah begins the search for the 34th class of Best New Chefs. Please fill out this Google form or simply email meno later than September 10 with the names of chefs who you think could be a BNC. Each candidate must have less than five years’ total experience leading a restaurant kitchen, regardless of age. They can work as an executive chef or executive pastry chef (or the equivalent, in terms of creative and overall leadership in the kitchen) and be located anywhere in the United States.”

Good luck, all!

The Media (Sponsored Opportunity)– The Local Tongue, a global guide to eating and drinking like a local, is looking for regional editors across America to join its growing team. The digital platform publishes guides to where the world’s best chefs and food writers love to eat and drink in their home city. The site already has a few impressive US guides available: chef Grant Achatz shares his favourite restaurants in Chicago, chef Nina Compton offers a local’s guide to New Orleans and in Upstate New York food writer Jeff Gordinier directs readers to the region’s most loved casual eats. The Local Tongue is looking for three regional editors to help expand its coverage of the states. You can read more about the role here on their website or to apply, contact Editor-in-Chief Jessica Rigg at jessica@thelocaltongue.com

That Delivery $$$ – Some fun facts and numbers in Kristen Hawley’s SF Chronicle piece this week about DoorDash getting into actual cooking. A reminder, ICYMI: In a San Jose kitchen space pop-up, the delivery company is “underwriting a few beloved restaurant brands’ expansion efforts. Restaurants bring their brands and recipes, and DoorDash handles the rest, sourcing ingredients, cooking food, taking online orders and delivering them to customers.” Key points:

Brands on board: “Curry Up Now is one of six restaurant brands, including Canter’s Deli from Los Angeles and New York-based dessert darling Milk Bar, that share one kitchen at DoorDash’s new space.” (The latter of which somewhat belies DoorDash’s marketing focus around this helping small operators expand…)

Staff in-house: DoorDash says it is “building an in-house culinary team staffed by fine dining, casual dining and corporate food-service veterans. The team’s leader previously led culinary development at chain restaurant Ruby Tuesday.”

How we got here: “If anyone won at restaurants during the pandemic, it’s DoorDash… In the three months ending June 30, customers placed 345 million orders worth a total $10.5 billion. In the same three months, 3 million people delivered these orders, including more first-time couriers than in any previous quarter.”

And last and least: That Payments $$$ – Headline in Bloomberg: “Restaurants Payments Firm Toast Files for U.S. IPO.” Matthew Monks reports, “The Boston-based company plans to raise $100 million, a placeholder amount likely to change, according to a filing Friday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.” Investors could value the company at $20B, and…

I did not know: “The company… has more than 2,200 employees, which it refers to as Toasters.”

“You can’t talk to me like that anymore, dad. I have a grown-up job. I’m a toaster!”

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 your experiences with meal delivery companies, including but not limited to: DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates, and their affiliates 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!