RRF schedule, Batali acquittal, Ghost suit, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, May 13, 2022
Hello Friday the 13th!
Today, and every day, we remember that in the annals of silver screen cook roles, there are two head and shoulders above the rest: Chief Petty Officer Casey Ryback, and number one camp mom, Pamela Voorhees.
Oh, and Tuesday’s paid Family Meal is copy / pasted below as usual. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays too…
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – The Independent Restaurant Coalition was tweeting with siren emojis on Tuesday: “BREAKING. We just got word from Senator Schumer that the Senate will vote next week on refilling the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF).” Which could be true! But by Wednesday, Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson was reporting the IRC might have gotten a bit out over its skis: “Schumer's spokesman did not directly dispute the coalition’s claim but said they needed to work through the scheduling of the House-passed Ukraine aid bill first. Senators in both parties are optimistic the Senate will clear that measure on Thursday [yesterday].”
Unfortunately, Politico reported that last night, Senator Rand Paul “blocked a speedy vote on the massive military and humanitarian aid package” for Ukraine, so… the RRF vote schedule may not work out as planned.
And even if it does, McPherson says Senate sponsors “Small Business Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., and Mississippi GOP Sen. Roger Wicker... have waxed optimistic for weeks about their ability to get 60 votes for the measure. But they both acknowledged Wednesday they’re still not yet there and probably won’t be able to firm up whip counts until Schumer officially schedules the bill for floor action.”
You don’t need my long, uninformed take on this, so I’ll just say my hopes remain low. Not you-should-give-up-trying low, but still… low.
The Trial – As sort of expected in the NYT this week: “Mario Batali Found Not Guilty in Sexual Assault Trial.” Story from Kim Severson. In announcing his verdict, the judge said, “‘It’s an understatement to say that Mr. Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question.’ But he added that [the accuser] ‘has significant credibility issues.’”
Does Batali take a victory lap, write a Substack, and start a comment-free YouTube channel this summer? I don’t think so? He still has some other legal issues to deal with, and I think Bourdain’s advice when Batali first floated a comeback in 2018 still holds: “Retire and count yourself lucky.” BUT I also think journalists should be careful about citing celebrity net worth dot com and imagining that any number of millions means an ambitious person will go quietly into early retirement… We shall see. The guy has not always been known to cover himself in glory.
P.S. The Zeitgeist – I don’t know how — or enough — to write about this, so take what you need from this screenshot for a quick check-in on another end of the cancel culture spectrum and the food world:
The Suits – Headline in Eater NY: “Ex-Workers Sue Social Media Star Frank Prisinzano, Owner of Popular East Village Italian Restaurants”. Feels like a bog standard wage theft allegation — with the important aside from reporter Luke Fortney that this “marks the fifth time Prisinzano has been sued over allegations of wage theft since 2009” — but what caught my eye here was the “social media star” side of things. Prisinzano is almost not being sued as a restaurateur (which is where the staff work), but as a celebrity. Here’s how the suit describes him in paragraph one:
“Plaintiffs worked in the three restaurants owned and made famous by Frank Prisinzano, a social media celebrity who boasts 185,000 followers on Instagram, 23,000 followers on TikTok, and 11,000 followers on YouTube.” (Footnoted in the suit with the great GrubStreet headline: “Making Sauce With Instagram's Mildly Furious, Exceedingly Horny Italian Uncle.”)
You have the right to remain under the radar. Any followers you may accrue can and will be used against you in a court of law.
The Suits Too – All is not at peace in the land of ghosts. Per Restaurant Business’s Joe Guszkowski, “JLL, a large real-estate services company, is accusing [ghost kitchen company] Reef of only partially paying or ignoring invoices starting in October of last year, leaving the tech company with an overdue balance of more than $3.5 million. It’s the latest problem for Miami-based Reef, which has faced a series of regulatory issues related to its delivery-only food trailers and last week said it was laying off 5% of its staff.” When they pitch tractor-trailer kitchens to VCs, do they mention razor thin margins?
The Media (opportunity) – FYI: If you know anyone interested in making the move into the get-rich-quick world of food media, Vox is accepting applications for a writer’s workshop that includes mentorship from people at Eater like EIC Amanda Kludt. “The workshop is specifically designed for people historically underrepresented in media and is focused on reaching people entering the industry.” Deadline: May 22.
And last but not least: The Inflation – If you play around with the NYT’s new (simple) “personal inflation calculator” you’ll find that when it comes to the food question, eating out at restaurants lowers your personal rate of inflation vs eating at home. Food prices rising quicker than menu prices is not news (or necessarily good!), but when the Independent Restaurant Coalition finally makes its pivot to general restaurant PR firm (“Got Restaurant?”), their job should be to spin this stuff into headlines like:
How To Beat Inflation? Drive Less, Fly Less, Eat Out More.
Good luck, team.
And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s paid version, which is copy / pasted below as usual.
I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal. If you’d like to see me Tuesday too…
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or the bill for floor action 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!
Here begins the Family Meal that went out to paying subscribers on Tuesday, May 10th, 2022:
Batali defense, ADA defense, An RRF success, Big Pinky energy, and more...
And hello from Hong Kong, where beaches, pools, and playgrounds are finally open again, and bars — which have been closed for months — could open in a little over a week. Cannot wait to go support the industry via top shelf vodka and mid bottle olives.
Let’s get to it…
The Trial – Molto Mario Batali is in court this week, and per Kim Severson in the NYT: “The woman who has accused the celebrity chef of groping her at a Boston bar in April 2017 spent several contentious hours testifying on Monday, the opening day of his criminal trial on charges of indecent battery and assault… If convicted, Mr. Batali faces up to two and a half years in the Suffolk County House of Correction and would be required to register as a sex offender.”
The accuser was questioned about (maybe) jokey texts she wrote about a potential financial settlement, and why she would go to a Batali restaurant (Eataly) after the incident if associations with him were so traumatic. The Washington Post’s Tim Carman, who also wrote about the case, said on Twitter that he heard CourtTV pundits say the accuser “didn’t do well on the stand.” (The trial is being streamed live on CourtTV.)
It’s unclear if Batali will testify himself, but Severson quotes his attorney as saying: “The defense in this case is very simple. It didn’t happen. She’s not being truthful. This was fabricated for money and for fun.”
Nothing about this trial sounds fun. But based on some quick reading about day one — and a total lack of legal expertise or inside knowledge here — it does sound like there is a decent chance of a reasonable doubt ruling so far. (Batali waved his right to a jury and is leaving the decision up to the judge.) Thoughts?
The Trial Too – On the CBS wires in CA, “A federal judge found Thursday that a disabled plaintiff's testimony was ‘not credible’ and dismissed his lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act after he had sued a Redwood City restaurant because its outdoor dining tables were not accessible for someone in a wheelchair. The case has potentially broad-reaching implications because Brian Whitaker, a prolific ADA plaintiff, has filed more than a thousand lawsuits in the Bay Area against small business owners alleging that their stores or restaurants are not accessible.”
Basically, this ruling boils down to whether or not Whitaker in particular was ever actually going to go to the restaurant in question (in other words, whether he had legal standing to sue), so it won’t be a silver bullet against other “drive-by” ADA suits. But it does come within a month of District Attorneys in SF and LA suing Whitaker’s law firm, Potter Handy, for “bombarding California’s small businesses with abusive, boilerplate lawsuits.” Bob Egelko has news on that case in the SF Chronicle here.
NB: For some nuance on the backlash to these kinds of ADA suits, I highly recommend this Lauren Markham NYT longread from last summer: “The Man Who Filed More Than 180 Disability Lawsuits; Is it profiteering, or justice?” Remembering it while looking at pictures of the place Whitaker sued, I thought: “Lawsuits suck, but… Come on, guys. Did all those tables have to be high tops?”
The Relief – If you’re drowning in COVID-time debt, you may want to skip this one…. A quick check-in on some restaurant owners who actually got a Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant last year (after the SBA was sued into rescinding offers to what were previously “priority” groups): In DC, “After closing [Penn Social] in November 2020 due to the pandemic, the downtown sports bar’s owners landed a $2.8 million [RRF] grant in August that allowed them to reopen and retool. The grant paid for a high-quality sound system to create a performance venue on Penn Social’s lower level, add a podcast studio, and turn part of the first floor into a coffeeshop.” So… that’s how the other half reopens! Elliot C. Williams has details in DCist.
And last but not least: The Profile Treatment – In the Washington Post this week, Aaron Hutcherson has a big profile of Pinky Cole, the founder of the Slutty Vegan (Impossible burger) burger chain that just announced a $25M funding round from a group that includes Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality Investments. There’s some established personal history in there — “Cole grew up without her father, who on the day she was born was sentenced to life in prison for running a cocaine-distribution ring.” — and some of the usual VC clichés around the investment — “I’m a big believer that you invest in people and leaders and founders as much as the idea itself,” Meyer says — but I died laughing at this new take on the labor shortage:
“The biggest hurdle has been finding staff who believe in her mission and aren’t in it just for a paycheck. The main qualification needed is ‘Big Slut Energy.’”
Reporter: What do you think is causing the labor shortage? Do people just not want to work anymore? Is it wages? Is it COVID?
Restaurateur: [deep sigh]. Slut energy’s too low.
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 potentially broad-reaching implications 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!
P.S. – It looks like if you’ve got enough Big Slut Energy, you could be Pinky Cole’s personal assistant. $35-50k per year.