RIP RRF, RIP Chowhound, RIP more, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, March 11th, 2022
The Tuesday Family Meal that went out to paid subscribers is copy / pasted below as usual. You know, you could get Tuesdays’ on time too…
I’m not sure what exactly I can write about the mood in Hong Kong right now — personally or for restaurants — but Alexandra Stevens has a pretty good summary of the facts on the ground here. When you get to the part about separating kids from parents in COVID wards, you’ll probably catch part of the vibe. Please forgive my typos. I’m vibing.
Let’s get to it…
The Porky Pig – Tuesday night email from Independent Restaurant Coalition Exec Director Erika Polmar: “Friend, This is the news I hoped I would never have to share: the massive government spending proposal from Congress and the Biden administration will not include additional money for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF).” Italics mine.
That’s all, folks.
Restaurant Hospitality’s Joanna Fantozzi reports D’s are blaming R’s, and some senators might try to get more funding through in a separate bill, but I don’t think you need to be a Hill insider to imagine just how unlikely that is these days.
Asked what this news meant for the thousands of restaurateurs buried under immeasurable COVID debt, an imaginary congressional spokesperson told me: “If you have debt after all this, that is your debt. It is not the debt of a grateful nation that asked you to endlessly pivot and pull back and close your small business in time of global and American need. It is your debt. Hopefully the economy makes up for it. A rising, non-inflationary tide lifts all boats. Sorry yours has so many holes. Try plugging them with bootstraps?”
P.S. – In an article about how NYC’s Masa has upped the floor for its cheapest dining option to $1000 per guest, Eater NY’s Ryan Sutton notes Masa “received a maximum grant of $5 million from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund last spring, a pandemic-era program that most New York culinary establishments were shut out from.”
The Suits – Deja vu: “Alphabet Inc's Google has been making unauthorized pages for restaurants and using them to take a cut of fees from delivery orders through sites like Postmates, DoorDash and Grubhub, according to a lawsuit Tuesday in San Francisco federal court… The lawsuit says… in some cases delivery sites pay Google to divert users to them.” Wonder where they learned that behavior? Google says they “do not receive any compensation for orders or integrations” through their “Order Online” feature and promises to defend itself “vigorously.” Details via Blake Brittain in Reuters.
The End of an Era – “Chowhound, the website that began 25 years ago as a digital gathering place for obsessive food lovers, will close down on March 21, the site announced on Monday.” The NYT’s Eric Asimov gives Chowhound a full obituary treatment, including this great last quote from co-founder Jim Leff: “‘Before I wrote about food, I was making finds and no one cared,’ he said. ‘Then I became a writer, and people cared. Then Chowhound, and they cared a lot. Now I continue to make great finds and nobody cares. From my perspective, it’s all been a comfortable straight line. I’m a chowhound to my core.’”
For the Somm: The Court – WaPo’s Dave McIntyre has an update on what the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas is doing to “restore its reputation after being plagued by scandals.” First up is a more “classic nonprofit structure” under former P&G brand manager Julie Cohen Theobald and a new group of non-industry board members. On top of diversity goals and HR standards, “the new board is also moving away from the celebrity somm to emphasize professionalism.” Sorry to everyone who watched Somm and thought that could be them!
NB: The Americas Court is not to be confused with the European Court, whose board still looks like this.
Some Sad News – Sorry to do this to you, but the front page of NYT Food looks a bit like an obituary section today, so… The ledes:
Writer: “Fred Ferretti, who covered a panoply of breaking news events for New York City newspapers before becoming best known for his prolific writing on cuisine, comestibles and cooking for The New York Times and then Gourmet magazine, died on Monday at his home in Montclair, N.J. He was 90.” Obituary via Sam Roberts.
Vintner: “Alain Graillot, who had never made a drop of wine when he arrived in the Crozes-Hermitage region of the Northern Rhône Valley in France in 1985 but became one of its leading producers, raising the reputation of its wines internationally, died on Friday at a hospital in Grenoble. He was 77.” Obit from Erik Asimov.
Baker: “Charles E. Entenmann, the last of three brothers who, with their mother, ran a Long Island bakery as it became one of the nation’s best-known producers of baked-goods, died on Feb. 24 in Hialeah, Fla. He was 92.” Story by James Barron. (I was a powdered donuts kid. RIP.)
And Chef: “Sally Schmitt, who with her husband, Don, opened the French Laundry, the now famous restaurant in the Napa Valley of California, in 1978, and in doing so helped solidify the valley as a food-and-wine destination and start a culinary movement built on seasonal local ingredients, died on Saturday at her home in Philo, Calif. She was 90.” Neil Genzlinger has her obituary for the Times, and the SF Chronicle has the local paper version via Janelle Bitker.
For Design Fans – Check out the restraint from Tao Group on Lavo in LA. Photos from Wonho Frank Lee in Eater LA, and it looks… not idiotic! I love that we’ve officially moved on from mid-century modern atomic lighting to the white shaded side of art deco. (For variety’s sake. Your ball and pipe pendants are fine!) The choice of crazy bright art against beige and muted seems to work pretty well. And the curtains on that archway are both obvious and perfect. That produce pedestal… maybe a bit much. But hey, they can’t all be 16-foot neon bodhisattvas!
And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s paid Family Meal, which is copy / pasted below as usual. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a panoply of breaking news events to email@example.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!
Here begins the Family Meal that went out to paying subscribers on Tuesday, March 8th, 2022:
Last chance refill, Delivery suits, Lazarus noms, and more...
And hello to paying subscribers only!
Wonky and techie today. The news is what it is.
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – Welp. We are down to the wire. “Top appropriators and congressional leaders are aiming to wrap up omnibus negotiations in time to file the massive spending package in the House as soon as Tuesday [today], vote on it in that chamber Wednesday and get it through the Senate before Friday at midnight when stopgap funding expires.” That funding package is probably the best, last chance for a refill of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Unfortunately, per Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson, Paul Krawzak, and Laura Weiss, “A package negotiated by a bipartisan Senate group to backfill the depleted RRF with up to $48 billion to provide grants to restaurants that qualified last year but didn’t get any money before funds ran out is unlikely to make it into the omnibus, sources said.”
That said, “One of the lead restaurant relief package negotiators, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said late Monday he still hoped to secure some funds in the omnibus.”
The IRC, NRA, and others have been trying to make a last minute push to get a refill included in time, but as Newsday reporter James Malone said in a summary of his own RRF reporting on Twitter: “Senator Schumer says more GOP votes needed. [Republican rep Andrew Garbarino, a member of the House Small Business Committee] says $$ not in bill.”
The Fade Away – When NYC and SF made their 15% fee caps on restaurant delivery apps permanent, DoorDash, Grubhub, and UberEats sued the cities, saying with COVID fading into the background, restaurants no longer needed the break. Back in September, NRN’s Joanna Fantozzi said the (still ongoing) litigation was “seeking declaratory relief and unspecified monetary damages from the city, as well as a jury trial.”
That list of demands may be spooking smaller markets. Headline in the Evanston Round Table: “Like mask and vaccine mandates, restaurant delivery fee cap also goes away.” Subheading near the bottom: “Heading off a lawsuit?” Per Bob Seidenberg, in discussions of doing away with the Evanston fee cap, “Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, asked about the possibility of one of the delivery companies bringing a lawsuit against the city if the restriction was kept in place. ‘Are we avoiding the threat of a potential lawsuit?’ he asked staff. Alexandra Ruggie, Assistant City Attorney, said it was her opinion that if the city left the cap in place, there was that possibility.”
Evanston’s cap officially ended March 1st. The many-billion-dollar gorillas win again?
Nom 2.0 – There are cooking MasterClasses, there are YesChef memberships, there is Substack giving out fellowships to try to develop its food-related subscription content, and launching today, Broken Palate’s Melissa McCart reports, there is Kittch, a site that “features free and paid live cooking classes, cook-a-longs, and livestreams from famous and professional chefs.” Because it’s launching on International Women’s Day, “Kittch debuts with a focus on ‘Women’s Culinary Month,’... Look for videos from Dana Cowin, Ruth Reichl, Nancy Silverton, Sicily Sierra, and more.... Chefs already involved in Kittch include Marcus Samuelsson, Amanda Freitag, Daniela Soto-Innes, Ivan Orkin, and more.”
Page Six called Kittch the “Twitch-TikTok-Zoom of culinary,” and listed out celebrity investors (LeBron!) and some big digital media world founders. Per McCart — who says Broken Palate is partnering with Kittch on some content — “For now, it’s invite-only and features tools that allow cooks to interact with fans, build audiences, and generate revenue streams.”
The more revenue streams the merrier! And maybe the timing is right for this one, now that we’re all used to ring lights and Zoom and IG Live. But here’s hoping the founders and creators are doing a good postmortem on what went wrong at Nom.com. Remember that? Launched by YouTube cofounder Steve Chen in 2016? When it shut down in 2018, VentureBeat said, “The idea was to let professional and amateur chefs and foodies create their own food-related livestreaming channels, in much the way Twitch has enabled video gamers to broadcast themselves.” It had celebrity investors (Jared Leto!) and everything.
And good luck, all!
And that’s it for today.
I’ll see you all here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or some funds in the omnibus to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!