RRF breakdowns, OAD brokedown, Media moves, AI Bourdain, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, July 16th, 2021

Hello Friday,

And hello again from Washington, DC! My ambitious plans to make it to NYC this trip have been thwarted by the realities of time. Coincidentally, this newsletter is late.

Let’s get to it…

The Relief – Seems like everyone spent this week combing through the database of Restaurant Revitalization Fund recipients, which is great news for anyone who has tried to use that database…. I see city by city Eater breakdowns for New York, Michigan, Philadelphia, Charleston, Vegas, Portland, OR, and Seattle (where Naomi Tomky also has helpful context in Seattle Pi) with more presumably on the way. And just googling “RRF funds” will get you local results all over. Here in DC, City Paper and Washingtonian both have breakdowns, the Boston Globe incorporated a searchable list of Massachusetts recipients into their coverage, etc. etc.

It’s easy (and sometimes fair!) to snipe at some of the “rich” restaurants on these lists, but as Joanna Fantozzi notes in NRN, the better targets of your scorn might be businesses that shouldn’t have qualified at all: “The Independent Restaurant Coalition already raised the alarm on some of these non-food establishments… that received grants… when ‘Congress clearly spelled out that only eating-and-drinking places should qualify for relief.’”

Fantozzi says that alarm has been heard: “‘The SBA takes fraud seriously and while the agency cannot comment on specific cases, the SBA is working with the Office of the Inspector General to provide information to look into any potential cases of fraud,’ a spokesperson for the SBA told Nation’s Restaurant News. ‘The SBA encourages anyone suspecting fraud or misuse of relief programs to report it here.’”

The Lists Opinionated About Dining named the Willows Inn on Lummi Island as their number one restaurant in North America this year, which has many people a bit frustrated, because most of us can remember a little Julia Moskin profile on the Inn and chef Blaine Wetzel from a few months ago. Obviously, OAD could just hide behind bad timing and a rigid vote counting system, but instead, founder Steve Plotnicki said on Facebook that when people asked him to dock points from Willows Inn after the allegations, he decided not to as, “My way of saying fuck you to the media.”

Cool, cool cool. But I think this Plotnicki quote (hat tip: Jeremy Repanich) reacting to Moskin’s article says the most about a lot: “Blaine is one of the premier craftsmen in the world of fine dining and I think that the most important thing is to preserve his place in that world. Trying to cancel him for transgressions leaves us worse off. If other people don’t want to eat at the restaurant because of what was written in the article, I understand. I just hope this article doesn’t impact my ability to enjoy his food.”

The Media – On Twitter this week, Aimee Levitt announced she is leaving The Takeout and: “Starting August 2, I'll be deputy food editor at Eater Chicago.” Midwest PR types note: She has a personal website, plenty of selfies on her Instagram, and has publicly asked that you “Please send me all your best Chicago food news, gossip, and recommendations!”

The Media (Opportunities) – Lots of new jobs out there for those of you in — or looking to get into — the media side of food this week… Gabriella Lewis announced that NYT Food is hiring for four positions on their video team (including two which appear to be on camera cooking gigs: Video Journalist and On-Platform Video Journalist). Kevin Pang says America’s Test Kitchen will be hiring for 52 full-time positions this year, and the first few up on the official page include a few Test Cook positions and some editorial work. And Padma Lakshmi is looking for a Digital Media Coordinator to be “driven hard and fed well.”

NB: If you apply for the job with Lakshmi, make sure to mention the fact that Top Chef was just nominated for an Emmy this year! But also make sure to follow the lead of basically everyone on that show and not mention anything at all about who won Top Chef this year.

For Film Fans – A lot of reviews out this week about Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, but the one generating the most attention is Helen Rosner’s in the New Yorker, wherein she learns that director Morgan Neville used “an A.I. model of [Bourdain’s] voice” to manufacture a few lines of the voiceover. Apparently those lines were all things Bourdain had written but not been recorded saying, and Neville says the estate gave permission to use the computer-generated voice (though there appears to be some question of that on Twitter this morning). People are going back and forth over whether this is disturbing or not, but for me the simplest way to look at it is: It’s inaccurate and fabricated.

Neville says “We can have a documentary ethics panel about it later”(!), but Bourdain’s longtime collaborator Laurie Woolever argues we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here, and having not seen the film, I am officially inconclusive. You’re welcome.

And last but not least: The Playwright – Headline in Eater Chicago: “Rick Bayless Takes on Social Media Influencers in New Play. Windy City Playhouse’s ‘A Recipe for Disaster’ gives the audience insight to what it’s like trying to impress Yelp and Instagram’s elite.” Pretty much every paragraph in that article by Samantha Nelson has its own little gem, but here’s the description on the official website: “It's influencer night at The Contumacious Pig, one of the city's hottest restaurants, and with folks like @VeganChic in attendance, it's bound to be an exciting evening. There's only one problem: the head Chef just called in sick and the Sous Chef might have taken the wrong pill to calm his nerves. The health inspector showed up unannounced, there's possibly a spy from CP's biggest competition in tow, and oh yeah, the busboy is hiding a wild pig. In the meantime, the GM is trying to hold it all together while keeping customers from tweeting negative reviews. Can this team of misfits join together to offer up a great dining experience, or will they end up (literally) with egg on their face?”

Checkov’s egg says the latter. Let’s go to a play?

And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s paid edition, which is copy/pasted below as usual.

I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday for next Family Meal, and everyone else on Friday. If you want to get Tuesday’s on Tuesday next week…

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a documentary-ethics panel about it to andrew@thisfamilymeal.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!

Here begins Family Meal from Tuesday, July 13th, 2021:

RRF revealed, Spiaggia closed, Rucker Cage, and more...

Hello Tuesday,

And hello to paying subscribers only, and hello to Washington, DC! After a day and a night on the road from St. Louis, I stayed in Baltimore just long enough to see the new Domino Sugar sign from Cindy Lou’s Fish House and have a fantastic dinner at Thames Street Oyster House. Now, at time of writing (not sending), I am back in my local, Boundary Stone, drinking a Raised By Wolves and slogging through the RRF data linked below. Tread lightly on the typos, friends. It’s good to be back (temporarily).

Let’s get to it…

The Relief – Behind a paywall in the WBJ: “SBA releases list of businesses approved for Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants.” Free to all at the SBA: the public database. There will be nuance missing from a lot of the hot takes around this list(!), but it’s going to be a tough read for those of you who missed out on the money. And it will be doubly tough if you were in one of the original priority groups (women, veterans, and socio-economically disadvantaged groups), because you can see who got approved after the SBA ended that system on 5/27. In NYC, Barb Leung says that includes: “Greenwich Hotel, $5M (approved June 4); The William Vale, $5M (June 25); Le Bernadin, $5M (June 4); Bowery Hotel, $5M (June 4); Gabriel Kreuther, $4.86M (June 25); and Daily Provisions, $2.975M (June 4).” Not their fault, but still.

Happy hunting! There are a surprising (to me) number of catering companies at the high end of the list, and a number of businesses that stretch the definition of “restaurant.” Some fun finds from a very quick scan of the $10M range:

Windsor Capital Group Inc got $10M for their operation of an Embassy Suites by Hilton, which apparently qualified under “Restaurant type: Inn.”

The Kitchen Cafe LLC, which is Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal’s restaurant group in Boulder, also got $10M. Kimbal’s not as rich as his brother, but he is on the board of Tesla and SpaceX, and the Kitchen Café also got $5M in PPP loans, all of which it said went to payroll and was forgiven.

Pita Hut Enterprises LLC got $10M in Orlando while using a (Zillow estimated) $3.5M lake house (hut?) as their business address.

And MIKE DITKA’s CHICAGO LLC (all caps coach’s) got $10M after taking $4.5M in PPP.

Obviously, it’s unfair to extrapolate too much from these scant details. Maybe all these groups were in desperate need! I don’t know who actually owns Ditka’s; Pita Hut may have a crippling mortgage on its home office situation; and Windsor Capital Group appears to have gotten its grant before the priority rules changed, so it’s possible that Chairman / CEO Pat Nesbitt Sr, and President Pat Nesbitt Jr, are part of — or beholden to — a priority group in some way, though it’s hard to believe some ownership-level Nesbittism isn’t at work there. (I’m sorry.)

PS - At the other end of the spectrum, there’s caterer Phyllis Harrisof Moline, Illinois, who asked just $1,000 to tide her over, and was approved a few days before female applicants were deprioritized. Congrats, Phyllis! I hope it helps.

The End of an Era – “In a shocking Friday morning [Twitter] announcementSpiaggia — the standard for Italian dining in Chicago over the last 37 years — won’t reopen, as ownership says they’re permanently closed… Ownership says they had the intention of reopening, but blamed the decision to close on the inability to strike an agreement with their landlord to restructure their lease ‘which was necessary to reflect the realities of operating a restaurant in an office building post-pandemic.’” Eater’s Ashok Selvam has an obit of sorts, including a handful of big names that came up through Tony Mantuano’s kitchen there: Joe FlammSarah Grueneberg, and NYC’s Missy Robbins.

The Consultant – Don’t usually include interviews, but can’t wait for this movie… Eater’s Hillary Dixler Canavan interviewed Portland, OR’s Gabriel Rucker about his consulting gig on the upcoming Nicolas Cage movie, Pig. “I designed dishes for the movie, and we had the opportunity to have [Cage] come through the kitchen. He came in at like 7 in the morning and he looked like shit. Little did I know that that’s what he was supposed to look like for the role.” Same, Nic. Same.

And Last and least: The Dumpling Thieves – In a slower, less charming version of Broad City, two women broke into Xi’an Famous Foods in New York and were caught on camera making dumplings and being drunk. “Helloooo, order number 100!” “Bitch, I’m in Gucci shoes.” and “You worked here?” / “I worked in the food industry. Not this specific location.” are all things I will be saying unironically in restaurant situations from now on. Apologies in advance.

And that’s it for today. Short and sweet and late while I’m on the road.

If you don’t see me in DC (hellloooooo, order number 100!), I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or order number 100 to andrew@thisfamilymeal.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!