PPP freed, IRC drafted, Food Media furloughed, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, May 22nd, 2020
Quick housekeeping note: There’s a good chance that as all of American food media pivots to last minute grilling tips this weekend, there will be no Family Meal Tuesday. TBD, but you can always follow me on Twitter if you want non-stop brilliant takes on Wednesday’s James Beard Media Awards or whatever else may pop up in the memetime.
A relatively light one for you this morning.
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – Looks like the House of Representatives will take up a bill to adjust the terms of the Paycheck Protection Program next week. Per Zachary Warmbrodt and Heather Caygle in Politico, the new legislation would do two things: First, it would extend the grant-not-loan spending deadline to 24 weeks from the current eight. And second, “It would also eliminate a requirement imposed by the Trump administration that forced businesses to spend at least 75 percent of the funds on payroll if they want the full amount of the loans to be forgiven.”
That sound you hear is landlords across the country clicking their heels together in mid air as they realize a lot of you are about to get unrestricted free government money and can now pay full rent on empty restaurants. Congrats!
The Relief Too – Also possibly coming to a floor vote near you: Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer is planning to introduce “The Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act of 2020.” NEAT! (Not Everything hAs Tobeanacronym!) In an email to subscribers, the Independent Restaurant Coalition called this, “The Independent Restaurant Stabilization Fund we’ve been fighting for.”
Some key features of the proposed $120B fund, according to Blumenauer’s summary paper: “The program will be administered by the Department of the Treasury and available to food service or drinking establishments that are not publicly traded or part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name; Grant values will cover the difference between revenues from 2019 and projected revenues through 2020, with a maximum grant of $10 million; If the grant award exceeds the actual end-of-year revenues the grant is converted to a loan with a 10- year term at 1% interest; The first 14 days of funds will only be made available to restaurants with annual revenues of $1.5 million or less to target local small restaurants, particularly those that are owned or operated by women or people of color; and $60 million [will be] set-aside for outreach to traditionally marginalized and underrepresented communities.”
What guests are reading – Headline in the Boston Globe: “I’m a restaurant critic — and I’m not ready to eat in a restaurant right now.” Story from Devra First, who — after laying out the practical (Mass. is still seeing over a thousand new infections a day; public indoor spaces are most dangerous for contagion) and moral (safety of staff) reasons — reminds readers: “ I am not alone: A poll earlier this month by Suffolk University, The Boston Globe, and WGBH News found that only 42 percent of respondents would feel comfortable eating out once allowed. (That goes up to 64 percent if there were an effective treatment, and 85 percent with a vaccine.)”
The Media – Eater Chicago’s Ashok Selvam and Naomi Waxman have an outside look at their rivals in the Chicago Tribune’s Food section, which is not faring so well under private equity ownership these days. “Most staff at the Tribune will have to take furloughs three out of the next 10 weeks, and that includes food critic Phil Vettel… Vettel’s been with the paper for 31 years and announced on May 15 that he wouldn’t be writing stories until June 8… Most of the paper’s writers are [being furloughed] including Grace Wong, Nick Kindelsperger, and Adam Lukach [and beer writer Josh Noel.]” Ugh.
And last but not least, a reality check / (sort of) hopeful note – I don’t have time to go back for the exact quotes, but during a few Dave Chang Show podcasts in the early days after shutdowns began, Chang spent a lot of time talking about how restaurants may never exist again, or they’d all be Taco Bells, or whatever, and we all needed to brace for serious, long-term changes. Then, he’d turn to his co-host and say something like, “I mean, look at Hong Kong. You go out to a restaurant there, and they’ve got one set of chopsticks just for serving. That wasn’t there before SARS! You never had serving chopsticks before. That’s new.”
And I thought…. Exactly. This time is brutal. It’s awful. It’s absolutely terrible and a lot of people will be personally and/or financially scarred for life after this, not to mention those who won’t live through it. BUT (yeah, I hear myself), it may be that in terms of big changes for the future of restaurants, the long-term differences will be no greater than an extra pair of chopsticks on the table. All the masks, all the dividers, all the 47 page SOPs, and all the fear, will probably fade. Even the business model, broken thought it may be, will probably come back exactly the same for most operators.
And on that note, I recommend this Yascha Mounk piece in the Atlantic yesterday: Prepare for the Roaring Twenties. “COVID-19 will undoubtedly cause some important shifts. But the sensationalist predictions that now dominate the world’s opinion pages are likely to be highly inaccurate. That the pandemic will radically alter the course of globalization is far from certain. And it almost certainly won’t stop people from enjoying an active social life—even at bars, parties, and restaurants. In the last months of World War I, a novel virus sped around the world, infecting hundreds of millions of people… At the time, it must have seemed as though life could never go back to normal. Why would anyone ever again risk contracting a disease just to share a drink with friends or listen to some music?
“But the devastation of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic was quickly followed by a manic flight into sociability. The Roaring Twenties saw a flowering of parties and concerts. The 1918 virus killed more people than the deadliest war humanity had hitherto experienced, but it did not reduce humanity’s determination to socialize.”
And that’s it for today.
I’ll see you here soon for next Family Meal.
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