Relief fade, Beard fight, Humm's deal, sad news all around, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, September 11th, 2020
Let’s get to it…
The (federal) Relief – From Andrew Taylor on the AP wire: “Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package on Thursday as the parties argued to a standstill over the size and scope of the aid, likely ending hopes for coronavirus relief before the November election.” Key point: “The panicked atmosphere that drove passage of the $2 trillion landmark CARES Act in March has dissipated as the nation powers through the pandemic with partial reopenings of businesses and schools.” As NYC et al announce a return to indoor dining, the cavalry, it appears, is comfortable enough with that progress, and will not be coming.
The (in-house) Relief – “Plate conducted an analysis of 25 GoFundMe campaigns launched by restaurant groups since the beginning of the pandemic and found that although their success rates varied greatly, most generated only enough money for their recipients to cover a few grocery runs. All fell short on their fundraising goals, averaging about 40 percent, and even the most successful campaigns were only able to mete out a few hundred dollars for each employee. Frasca Hospitality Group in Colorado managed to give all of the 226 workers employed before the pandemic checks for $758. Fifth Group in Atlanta paid out $230 to its 600 employees. The Momofuku restaurant group cut checks for $172 for a number of its employees, according to a former server who asked to stay anonymous.”
Frasca’s $758 was at the high end of the handy chart included in that John Kessler piece, with the far other side dropping all the way down to $18 per staff member (though some of those smaller piles of cash were stretched in the form of bulk food distribution).
All of this reminded me of Gabrielle Hamilton’s piece in the NYT a million years ago (April) when she worried both that she wouldn’t be able to figure out how to redistribute funds equitably to staff (Kessler says the Victory Brands group in Atlanta handled this by… asking staff) and also that, “When I tried to imagine joining [the staff GoFundMe] trend… It felt like a popularity contest or a survival-of-the-most-well-connected that I couldn’t bring myself to enter. It would make me feel terrible if Prune was nicely funded while the Sikhs at the Punjabi Grocery and Deli down the street were ignored, and simultaneously crushed if it wasn’t.” Update for Hamilton: No need to feel terrible! Someone started a GoFundMe for the Deli two weeks ago, and at time of writing it’s raised $48,347 toward its $50k goal.
Beard Season – Following up on his last Beard Awards debacle piece, Pete Wells reports this week that members of the national restaurant and chef awards committee are just as confused as the rest of us, and all 20 members are officially “asking the [James Beard Foundation] to acknowledge that a list of winners for 2020 exists, to confirm that ‘demographics’ played a part in the decision not to release the list, and to explain, in essence, who at the foundation knew what about the winners, and when they knew it.” In a statement to Wells, CEO Clare Reichenbach acknowledged there was a list of winners, but didn’t touch the “demographics” side of things.
I know this may all seem like a bit of overkill to some of you, but in the midst of so much devastation in the hospitality world, it’s important to consider the victims here. Per Wells, the committee members also “accused the foundation of acting in ways that ‘negatively reflect on the professional reputations’ of the committee members.” Thoughts and prayers, folks. Thoughts and prayers.
Meanwhile, in a Washington Post op-ed on Tuesday, Beard biographer John Birdsall wondered WWJD under the headline: “James Beard was anti-elitist. He would hate the awards that bear his name.” Asks Birdsall, “If Beard’s ghost is to be dragged under a spotlight he didn’t seek, shouldn’t we at least honor who he was? Shouldn’t his eponymous awards seek to resist the status quo, to give money and influence and calcified tradition a shove as hard as Beard once tried to?” Follow-up q for Beard’s ghost: Quit? Or leak an internal memo to the NYT and stay on for a bit of the ol’ fix-things-from-the-inside?
The Consolation Prize – Some good news for those who almost won (or maybe did win?) a Beard this year: “Partnering with Maker’s Mark, The LEE Initiative will present a $3,000 grant to all 88 of the announced [James Beard Award] finalists in the regional chef categories, as well as the Rising Chef of the Year, Outstanding Baker and Outstanding Pastry Chef.” Details via Chris Chamberlain in Nashville Scene.
Awards Season – In other awards news, a press release from 50 Best tells me they’ve decided to move forward with their 2020 50 Best Bars list, “which will be unveiled as part of a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday, 5th November.” Congrats?
The Bar – In SF, “Thad Vogler, one of San Francisco’s most prominent barkeepers, has permanently closed three of his four restaurants: Obispo, Trou Normand and Nommo. All three have been closed during shelter-in-place.” I don’t include all the closings going on because there are so many (earlier last month, someone even sent me Erica Cantley’s obituary for a restaurant on an actual funeral website), but I really appreciated Volger’s honesty to the Chronicle’s Esther Mobley here, re an outwardly successful bar empire: “‘I made mistakes,’ he said. ‘Classic restaurant mistakes: growing too quickly so you don’t have enough cash, then your places become mediocre because you don’t have the bandwidth to maintain quality. That’s where I was when COVID hit.’” Ugh. I know where I want to be when Bar Agricole reopens next year.
The Big Deal – Meanwhile… In the Astrolabe newsletter, Daniel Humm told Gary He that Eleven Madison Park can wait this out in part because, “The landlord stepped up in a big way and that kind of made all the difference. The banks also. We have bank loans that we need to pay back, and the bank also allowed us to not pay until this is over.” Take that to your bank?
The End of an Era – “Beverly Soon Tofu, one of LA’s longest running Korean businesses and perhaps the first-ever sundubu-jjigae restaurant, will be closing this month on September 20 after 34 years of business.” Matthew Kang has that story in Eater LA.
Some sad news – “Randall Goldman, the hospitality professional who helped change the way that Charleston-area diners thought about upper King Street and the way that the nation at-large thought about Charleston, died on Friday night in San Antonio. He was 53. The cause of death was not immediately available, but Goldman on July 7 posted to Facebook that he was entering his sixth month of remission from cancer.” A multi-faceted obit from Hanna Raskin in the Post & Courier is here.
A bit of the arc: Goldman worked as a culinary instructor with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, served on the national advisory board of the James Beard Foundation from 2010-2018, “chaired the College of Charleston’s Hospitality & Tourism Management Executive Committee and presided over the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association,” but also resigned from his hospitality group “following a company investigation that revealed ‘unacceptable managerial conduct’ toward employees,” and “was also ousted from the board of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, a group he previously led as its chair.”
And in a Washington Post obituary, Matt Schudel reports, “Mel Krupin, who presided over the dining room of Duke Zeibert’s, one of Washington’s leading power restaurants of the 1970s, like a drill sergeant and later battled his former boss in the ‘Matzoh Ball War’ after opening a competing downtown restaurant, died Aug. 27 at a hospice facility in Rockville, Md. He was 90.”
While in Houston, per Eater’s Amy McCarthy, “The Houston dining scene lost a towering figure this week with the passing of longtime restaurateur Tony Vallone. A representative for the legendary restaurateur’s family tells Eater that Tony Vallone ‘passed of natural causes peacefully in his sleep’ on September 9 at the age of 75.”
For Design Fans – An historical menu exhibition curated by Henry Voigt was moved online this year, and the result is we all get to poke around “A CENTURY OF DINING OUT: THE AMERICAN STORY IN MENUS, 1841-1941.” My favorite so far comes from Taylor’s Saloon “the foremost women’s restaurant in mid-century New York… This 56-page menu has a black leather spine with gilt rules, black gutta percha covers, ornamental gilt borders, inlaid mother of pearl, and navy-blue embossed endpapers.” Oo la, that cover! (Side note: The exhibition is visually very cool, but a quick scan didn’t yield much understanding of the diversity of the era. For example, I assume Taylor’s Saloon catered only to particular women…)
And last and least – For just $14 per month, you too can own the Soleil Dining Table from Olivier. Description: “Here comes the sun... and a delicious meal on the Soleil Dining Table, named after Bay Area restaurant critic Soleil Ho. With solid beech legs and chic metal detail, this dining table is perfect for feeding friends or a well deserved treat-yourself meal.” Also great for pandering!
And that’s it for today. I gotta rush because tomorrow is my birthday and I’m late for dinner! Please blame any mistakes or typos on the passage of time.
I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday, and everyone else Friday for next Family Meal.
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