PPP grifted, HVAC accused, Shake Shack fine printed, Sirio gone, and more...

Family Meal - Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

Hello Tuesday,

Shout out to everyone working from home this week! Today’s Family Meal is brought to you by an email failure that deleted all the important articles I sent myself this weekend, and by the wonderful little three-year-old girl who is currently wiping her nose on my pants and screaming, “Now you won’t look pretty!” because I wouldn’t let her take a fragile doll outside.

Let’s get to it…

The Relief – Headline in the LA Times this morning: “Publicly traded firms get $300 million in small-business rescue loans.” Full story from the AP: “The Paycheck Protection Program was supposed to infuse small businesses, which typically have less access to quick cash and credit, with $349 billion in emergency loans that could help keep workers on the job and bills paid on time. But at least 75 companies that received the aid were publicly traded firms, the AP found, and some had market values well over $100 million…. By combing through thousands of regulatory filings, the AP identified the 75 companies as recipients of a combined $300 million in low-interest, taxpayer-backed loans.” Neat!

The Pressure – Headline from Danny Meyer and Randy Garutti: “Shake Shack is returning its PPP Loan. Here’s why.” Full post on LinkedIn (could they be any cooler?): “Shake Shack was fortunate last Friday to be able to access the additional capital we needed to ensure our long term stability through an equity transaction in the public markets.  We’re thankful for that and we’ve decided to immediately return the entire $10 million PPP loan we received last week to the SBA so that those restaurants who need it most can get it now.” Apparently, Meyer and Garutti were scandalized to learn that their massive burger chain taking the maximum allowable amount out of a limited program aimed at supporting small businesses might mean actual small businesses would be boxed out. “There was no fine print, anywhere, that suggested: ‘Apply now, or we will run out of money by the time you finally get in line.’” There was also no fine print that read, “If Shake Shack takes this money people are gonna be pissed.” But whadda you know…

P.S. As far as you know, when I asked Meyer if this move was really about a lucky stock trade and not the pressure he and Shake Shack were feeling from independent restaurant folks and the media, he responded with a crescendo of emotion. “Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves,” he sang, adding cryptically, “This is our last dance. This is our last dance.” Dun dun dun dundundundun.

The AC – Key read this week: “How Coronavirus Infected Some, but Not All, in a Restaurant. A limited study by Chinese researchers suggests the role played by air currents in spreading the illness in enclosed spaces.” In the NYT, Kenneth Chang breaks down the results of an admittedly very small, uncontrolled study: “In January, at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, one diner infected with the novel coronavirus but not yet feeling sick appeared to have spread the disease to nine other people. One of the restaurant’s air-conditioners apparently blew the virus particles around the dining room… That outbreak illustrates some of the challenges that restaurants will face when they try to reopen. Ventilation systems can create complex patterns of airflow and keep viruses aloft, so simply spacing tables six feet apart — the minimum distance that the C.D.C. advises you keep from other people — may not be sufficient to safeguard restaurant patrons.”

A quick look at the diagrams in the article show there could definitely be more at play here (seems likely the layout forced infected guests to walk by each other’s tables, for instance), but maybe worth considering your own HVAC systems while you can...

Some Sad News – “Sirio Maccioni, a Manhattan restaurateur who made Le Cirque a headquarters for Manhattan’s rich and powerful in the 1980s and ’90s, and put dishes like pasta primavera and crème brûlée on the culinary map, died on Monday in the town where he was born, Montecatini, in Tuscany, Italy. He was 88.” Full obituary from William Grimes in the NYT.

The Commitment – Per Tim Carman in the Washington Post: “World Central Kitchen and its high-profile founder, José Andrés, have launched a pilot program that will feed vulnerable communities across the country while also helping hundreds of restaurants by reopening their kitchens. Part of its Chefs for America relief operation, World Central Kitchen’s new program promises to pay the costs to prepare 1 million meals at more than 400 restaurants nationwide, which are among the hundreds of thousands of independent eateries that have been devastated by the coronavirus outbreak.”

NB: At reimbursement rates averaging $10 a meal, the program will only be viable in some kitchens, but wanted to highlight this article in part because of what Tom Colicchio says near the bottom: “Asked whether he might eventually join the WCK program, Colicchio said: ‘Right now, if I knew that 10 of my cooks had COVID, had a mild case and now they are over it and they have antibodies, that the science says they’re not going to get reinfected, I would have them in tomorrow doing this. ‘I actually had this conversation with my chefs yesterday, saying, “Start reaching out to people. See if anybody was sick.”’”

On that note, highly recommend everyone in the industry listen to Monday’s The Daily podcast, where reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. discusses, among other things, two key concepts: First, “the hammer and the dance,” a reference to this Medium post by Tomas Pueyo, which envisions a future where restaurants may be allowed to open and then forced to close repeatedly in the years it takes to get to treatment or vaccine. (Fun fact: The record for fastest time from zero to vaccine in human history is… 4 years.) And second, the immunity class, wherein Colicchio’s theoretical team of previously infected / now immune super staffers are among a privileged few allowed to roam and work.

Brave New World.

And that’s it for today. Thanks again to my sponsors, Email Glitch and Runny Nosed Girl, for all their support! But for the record, I still look pretty.

I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal.

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