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Prune returning, Fuku flipping, Europe grafting, Media merging, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, December 17th, 2021
A quick note programming / personal note before we get started (skip down to “Let’s get to it…” to get to it):
There will almost certainly be no Family Meal next week, and maybe none the week after that. May try to sneak one in on the 28th, but still unclear. This was yet another hard year for most of us, and I need to spend some extra time with my kids and take a quick break. I know the vast majority of you are in the industry and probably won’t be able to get — or catch — a break for a while yet, but I hope you won’t begrudge me taking what I can get while there’s a (probable) lull in news over the holidays.
I’ve written and deleted several very earnest notes for this section, but just want to say: Thanks so much for reading and writing back and being part of Family Meal over this past year. Even when everything hasn’t been a blast, this has been a blast. Thank you!
Your friend, enemy, confidant, mark, guru, clown, and narrator,
Let’s get to it…
Return of the Prune – Baby, listen carefully, while I play my comeback song. Which is about Stone Soup. Twenty-one months after Gabrielle Hamilton wrote probably the single most read article about a restaurant closure in the COVID era, she’s out with a long metaphor about a children’s story in the NYT, ending it: “I’m leaving this column, this is my last, as I go back to [Prune] and start to clean and move the furniture around and finally, in the coming months, take down the paper from the windows all over again.”
Congrats to some (guests! staff?); sorry to others (readers!); and ho hum to me, who feels it’s only fair to know, after the piece about the closing made lots of hay out of numbers and challenges and certitudes: How did Prune survive all those months? And how will it be different now?
If you’re looking for a re-opening story with at least a little more detail on financials and landlord politics (“our landlord was finally willing to speak with us after our appearance in the Democratic National Convention video in August 2020”), here’s a first-person Eater piece from Lien Ta on her struggle to resurrect Here’s Looking At You in LA.
Meanwhile… Out this week: Back to back articles first from Eater NY (“NYC Restaurants Temporarily Close in Droves Due to COVID-19 Exposures”) then the NYT (“Several New York City Restaurants Close as Covid Cases Rise”) to balance out the hopeful reopening stories. Wouldn’t want anyone to get too hopeful!
The Ghost Wars – Headline in Business Insider: “David Chang's fried chicken restaurant Fuku cuts ties with ghost kitchen Reef in favor of competitor Kitchen United.” Details via Nancy Luna: “Last week, Insider obtained [and paywalled] leaked emails and photos showing a pattern of customer complaints of raw and undercooked food coming out of Reef mobile kitchens across the US. A majority of the complaints reviewed by Insider were categorized as ‘undercooked food’ from brands such as Fuku. That same week, Fuku said it was no longer working with Reef.”
Someone please invent a time machine so I can go back to 2013 and tell young Dave that by his mid-40s, he would be hosting a podcast on a sports network, publishing a microwave cookbook, and negotiating deals with the parking lot trailer company that manages the reheating contract for his fried chicken fast food concept.
That NFT $$$ – Still not quite sure what to do with this, but that CHFTY Pizzas NFT thing (pronounced “Shifty” in my head) that Tom Colicchio and Spike Mendelsohn are launching now involves Kimball Musk. Poking around the CHFTY’s socials, it doesn’t look like they’re drawing a huge crowd to this project — 460 Discord members and about 860 Twitter followers when a chef with almost 1M Twitter followers is trying to sell around 9k tokens — so I guess in the NFT world, bringing on a Musk is akin to rallying the base?
The Media – Big M&A week in food media this week. First, Vox Media boss Big Jimmy Bankoff has once again refused to acknowledge his business crush on Family Meal, and instead directed his repressed acquisition emotions toward purchasing Group Nine Media. Among other more clickhearted sites, Group Nine owns Thrillist, which will presumably bump up against Vox’s Eater and Grubstreet journalism in ways TBD. Katie Robinson has the all-stock details in the NYT.
And on the recipe / ecommerce side of things: “TCG, the investment arm of The Chernin Group, is pouring roughly $80 million into Food52, a cooking and home goods brand, including $48 million to cover Food52's acquisition of the home decor company Schoolhouse.” Notes on that via Sara Fischer at Axios.
For the Somm: Headline in the SF Chronicle: “Europe just issued a shocking rule that could help global winemakers address climate change. Alternative grapevine species, which may be better adapted to warming temperatures, are no longer illegal in Europe's most prestigious wine regions.” Details via Esther Mobley: “The new rule doesn't mean that Burgundy will rip out its Pinot Noir and replant hybrid vines tomorrow. Individual nations within the European Union will still have to issue their own approval of this decision — and there's no guarantee that states like France and Italy will get on board. Still, if nothing else, the go-ahead from the continent's top bureaucracy is a symbolic endorsement of the potential of hybrid wines, and an acknowledgement that climate change will require a major paradigm shift in global winemaking.”
NB: Mobley notes the news was first reported in Decanter by Jacopo Mazzeo who has a more technical, acronym-filled take here.
For the Somm Too: Some Sad News – “With the passing of Alexander "Sandy" Block due to cancer on Nov. 21 at the age of 72, the wine and hospitality world has lost an undersung hero. Block was vice president of beverage operations for Legal Sea Foods, the Boston-based restaurant group he joined in 2004.” Tribute / obituary via Owen Dugan in Wine Spectator.
For Design Fans – For all your inspiration and detail mining needs, the SF Chronicle Food and photos team is out with “The Bay Area’s most beautiful restaurants in 2021” slideshow, including fun photos of Abacá, Bungalow Kitchen, Empress by Boon, Hilda and Jesse, iChina, Miller & Lux, Palmetto, Red Window, The Tailor’s Son, and Viridian.
And in Chicago, Eater’s Barry Brecheisen has a full photospread of GoodFunk, a “new natural wine palace in the Loop.” Not entirely sold on that name, but I love a space that looks like it would feel busy and cozy with just one guest. And hats off to whoever brought the chaotic, scribble energy of that pendant fixture (linear mobile chandelier? Hard angle Calder light?) to the room (not to mention the mirror).
P.S. – Bets on how long before customers start complaining there are no chairs at those “standing” tables? I call day one.
And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s Family Meal, which is copy / pasted below as usual.
I’ll see everyone back here as soon as possible for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a symbolic endorsement of the potential of hybrid wines to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 a copy / paste of the Family Meal that first went out to paid subscribers on Tuesday, December 14th, 2021. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays from now on…
Most read lists, Tech suits, Media moves, and more...
And hello to paying subscribers only!
Not the meatiest industry news newsletter this morning. In food media, as holidays approach, recipes encroach.
Let’s get to it…
The Lists – Will try to round these up on Friday, but keep your eyes out for “Most Read of 2021” lists from the food pubs in your area this week. Eater is starting to put theirs out city by city (so far I see Portland, OR and Atlanta). Grubstreet’s is up in NYC (the bucatini shortage thing played big this year apparently). And others will follow. It’s more art than science, but if you’re trying to get a story out there, not bad to know what clicked this year…
The Suits – Per Andrea Vittorio in Bloomberg Law: “Uber Technologies Inc.‘s Uber Eats has joined DoorDash Inc. in suing New York City over a law that makes delivery apps share customer data with restaurants. The data-sharing mandate ‘rewrites’ agreements made between delivery platforms and restaurants and ‘runs roughshod’ over individual users’ privacy interests, according to the complaint Uber Eats filed Dec. 3…. Both lawsuits claim that New York City’s law is unconstitutional.” Winner gets dibs on national delivery data-sharing precedent?
PS – FYI, don’t think this made much news in the US, but Uber Eats recently announced it was pulling out of Hong Kong, having not made much headway against local leaders Deliveroo and Foodpanda (the latter of which is having some labor issues lately).
The Media – In NYC, “Tammie Teclemariam is joining New York Magazine as its first-ever Diner-at-Large, New York editor-in-chief David Haskell and Grub Street editor Alan Sytsma announced today. In this role, Teclemariam will spend one year eating her way around New York City, writing ‘The Year I Ate New York,’ a weekly newsletter and column that tells the story of New York through 50 gastronomical installments.”
And out West / nationally, the NYT’s California food writer Tejal Rao tweeted Friday, “I’m leaving the Eat column in NYT Mag to work on features for the magazine and two of my favorite writers — the brilliant Ligaya Mishan and Bryan Washington — are starting!”
Good luck, all!
The Media Too: The Profile Treatment – Full disclosure, I only 93%-listened to this while running around a bit this morning, but if you have been following junior newsletterer Alison Roman’s ups and downs, I don’t think you will find anything new in this week’s New Yorker profile by Lauren Collins, except maybe the fact that Roman confirmed she bought the Table on Ten restaurant building in Bloomville, NY, and wants to open a small market / low-key event space on the ground floor. Beyond that, it sounded like the same story and controversy and commentary we worked our way through last year, plus the well-known postscript that she is making good money and living someone’s best life.
Roman does at one point say: “I am a generation older than the hottest, youngest, coolest people right now,” which is some demonstrably false bullshit (I just checked the mirror), but whatever.
Some Sad News – “Mikio Shinagawa, who as a painter studying Buddhism in the 1980s opened the Japanese restaurant Omen, whose earthy Zen aura turned it into a downtown New York canteen for figures in the art and fashion worlds, died on Nov. 17 at a hospital in Kyoto. He was 66. His sister Mariko Shimizu said the cause was liver cancer.”
The NYT obituary from Alex Vadukul lists a dozen boldfaced regulars (Yoko Ono, Susan Sontag, David Byrne, Ingrid Sischy, Rem Koolhaas, Bill T. Jones, Merce Cunningham, Richard Gere, Patti Smith, Karl Lagerfield, etc. etc.) and then drops, “Yet even as Mr. Shinagawa’s restaurant turned into a downtown institution, and even as New York drastically changed, one thing remained the same: It has never been very hard to get a reservation at Omen.” A huge compliment these days?
For Design Fans – Check out Wonho Frank Lee’s Eater LA photospread on Hollywood’s new 15,000sqf Grandmaster Records restaurant / bar / lounge. A lot of restraint in the design here that works — hope they keep those concrete walls in the dining room bare! — but that sparse gold “lounge” is a David Lynch nightmare realm, and I pray my drugs never kick in there…
And Last and Least: The Critics – Former Bloomberg UK restaurant reporter / critic Richard Vines has always been a lot cozier with the industry than critics in the US, but somehow I missed that he and chef Pierre Koffmann launched a restaurant review site together last month? How will they review the new Bob Bob Ricard in London, where their joint portrait hangs in the dining room? Their site’s ethics statement reads: “We shall try to avoid bigging up our mates, but we have a lot of friends in the industry. And we shall book anonymously, but we don’t pretend to go unrecognized. While we aim to be unbiased, we’ve almost 100 years of professional experience between us and it is inevitable we may have some baggage. I just hope it is Louis Vuitton.”
And that’s it for today!
I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal, and after that may take a week or so off to spend some extra time with my kids over their break. We shall see. TBD.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or some baggage, I just hope it’s Louis Vuitton to email@example.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!