RRFR edits, BrewDog lies, Toast buys, Crook's closed, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, June 11, 2021

Hello Friday,

As usual, Tuesday’s paid Family Meal is copy / pasted at bottom for all who missed it. If you don’t want to miss it next time…

A bit of a thin one today, as I’m still grappling with how to include the flood of what’s-old-is-new-again news around the Great American Reopening (GAR — pronounced “jar”). But stick with me. We’ll figure it out.

Let’s get to it…

The Relief – “Congress introduced legislation [Tuesday] to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund with a $60 billion second round of restaurant relief, after the U.S. Small Business Administration received requests for more than triple the allocated funds the first time around.” RH’s Joanna Fantozzi reports, “The Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021… was introduced as a bipartisan effort again by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-PA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).”

NB: The way this latest legislation adds new money is apparently with a quick lil’ edit on the old bill, “by striking ‘$28,600,000,000’ and inserting ‘$88,600,000,000’” (as one does). Pretty sure that means the new money is still beholden to the old language, including the wording around priority groups (women, veterans, and socio-economically disadvantaged individuals). Since applications from those groups accounted for more funds than the entire first round, there is a good chance at least the first few billion of this (potential) next round would go to them too. Sorry, Stephen Miller.

The Fallout – The reckoning in craft beer goes on, yesterday coming yet again for — no shock — BrewDog. A new letter, signed by 61 former staff and posted to Twitter, alleges a culture of fear without specifying any new allegations due to what signers say is dread of the company’s “notoriously trigger-happy legal team.” I hope everyone gets what they need / deserve out of that conversation(!), but what interested me here was the way the letter emphasized hypocrisy, which feels like a bit of a trend right now alongside recent Willows Inn and Belcampo reporting. Not saying these are related, but it does feel like angry employees looking to really hurt and/or reform an owner / company are going after trust with both consumers and the press lately.

In the BrewDog case, the letter writers ask: “How many more times will we see the stories about sending protest beer to Russia (you didn’t), [founders James Watt and Martin Dickie] changing their names to Elvis (they didn’t), awarding an Employee of the Month over a sweary can (which was not an accident and was actually approved for print by James), or offering Pawternity leave (which many staff are simply never permitted to take)?... You claim you want to save the planet … Chartering flights across the Atlantic that had to be filled with staff to justify them even going ahead? Brewing an ‘eco-friendly’ saison with glacier water (half of which was dumped down the drain) so the proceeds could go to charity (but only after the donation was slashed because it was too much)?”

Attempting to flatter your accusers by calling them “ballsy” in your response to these accusations (you did)?

The POS – Some operations app news via Jennifer Marston in The Spoon this week: “Restaurant tech company Toast has acquired back-of-house management platform xtraCHEFaccording to a Toast statement…. The deal follows a partnership the two companies launched in 2020. Financial terms were not disclosed.” Restaurant tech insider Kristen Hawley said of this kind of systems consolidation: “Expect more of this sort of news (very) soon.”

For the Somm: The Media – Per a Wednesday press release: “Adam Strum, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Wine Enthusiast Companies, and Sybil Strum, Chief Brand Officer and Co-Founder, announced today the promotions of Erika Strum to President of Wine Enthusiast Commerce and Jacqueline Strum to President & Publisher of Wine Enthusiast Media.” Congrats, all! And fingers crossed, because… I have officially nominated Wine Enthusiast for this year’s Ochs-Sulzberger Meritocracy in Media Award! You’re welcome!

The End of an Era – This week in restaurant obituaries, the NYT’s Brett Anderson reports, “Crook’s Corner, the restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C., that helped spark a renaissance in Southern cuisine starting in the 1980s, has permanently closed, Shannon Healy, an owner, said Wednesday… ‘The pandemic kind of crushed us,’ he said. ‘We were trying to reorganize some debt, and we just couldn’t get it done.’ … [Crook’s] served its final meals on Sunday night.” Longtime Crook’s cook Bill Smith soaked in the news and the response — “thousands of lovely compliments, memories and everything else” — with a PBR and a soapback.

The End of an Era Too On Instagram Wednesday, Edouardo Jordan announced that his first Seattle restaurant “Salare has been such a bittersweet journey--one that is now coming to a close. I will be permanently closing Salare on July 3rd.”

And Finally… The Beginning of an Era? – Also on Instagram this week, Resy co-founder and Internet marketing cult leader Gary Vaynerchuk announced he is teaming up with David Rodolitz (of Empellon and more) and chef Josh Capon to form a new hospitality company called “VCR Group.” No word yet on what concrete projects might be in the works, but the current tagline on their site says “Old World Hospitality Meets Modern Day Technology,” which is perfect.

Nothing says “Modern Day Technology” quite like “VCR”.

And that’s it for today! (Except of course for Tuesday’s Family Meal copy/pasted below.)

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 an ‘eco-friendly’ saison with glacier water (half of which was dumped down the drain) 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, June 8, 2021:

Jobs up, Tips down, ROC whiffs, Bolton gone, and more...

Hello Tuesday,

And hello to paying subscribers only! If you got this as a forward and wish you were getting Tuesday Family Meals on Tuesdays too….

Welp. I am officially very, very jealous of all the reopening energy back in the States. Here in Hong Kong, we continue to muddle along with plexiglass on tables and a vaccination rate about as strong as a lightly fortified wine. I’m not saying there isn’t anything happening in hospitality — most places are very much open and there are definitely groups in expansion mode here too — but in terms of travel and tourism and an end to dystopian loudspeaker announcements reminding beachgoers that by wearing a mask when not swimming “TOGETHER, WE WILL FIGHT THE VIRUS!”… feels like it’s going to be a while yet.

I’ll assume you are sending thoughts and prayers. And I accept.

Let’s get to it…

The Reopening – Friday jobs report numbers via Ron Ruggless in NRN: “The nation’s unemployment rate fell to 5.8% in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, as the foodservices and drinking sector added 186,000 jobs — a third of the 559,000 positions gained in the month. Eating and drinking establishment employment is in the bureau’s larger leisure and hospitality category, which added 292,000 jobs in the month ‘as pandemic-related restrictions continued to ease in some parts of the country’.... However, the bureau noted, ‘Employment in leisure and hospitality is down by 2.5 million, or 15%, from its level in February 2020.’”

The Tips – Meanwhile, while workers nationally reported a decline in total tips during the pandemic, the NYT’s Kevin Quealy and Amanda Rosa report that on average: “The pandemic turned New Yorkers into big tippers, particularly in the first months of the shutdown. Now, as the city reopens, average tipping on takeout, delivery, drinks and other restaurant meals is slowly but steadily returning toward prepandemic levels, according to data from millions of credit card transactions starting in mid-March 2020.” Presumably more covers helps make up that difference at mid to high-end places, but Quealy and Rosa also note that on the lower end: “Although average tips have gone down, the data from Square indicates that the share of orders receiving some tip — even a small one — increased with the onset of the pandemic, and hasn’t changed much since.” Maybe it’s the pandemic? Maybe coffee shop tablet confirmation screen minimums have reached a sweet spot?

Either way the lesson to be shared with guests, per Grubstreet’s Chris Crowley yesterday: “Now Is Not the Time to Skimp on Tips.”

The Suits – Headline in the SF Chronicle: “This nonprofit is the face of restaurant worker equity. But ex-staffers say it's discriminatoryRestaurant Opportunities Centers United, the nation's biggest restaurant worker nonprofit, is being sued for discrimination by former employees.” On top of the specific allegations of wrongful terminations and poor working conditions (ROC leadership calls these: “unfounded claims”), this Janelle Bitker article rehashes the many times ROC — both now and under former president Saru Jayaraman, now of One Fair Wage — were allegedly unable to live up to the ideals they preach to restaurants. But while One Fair Wage at least seems to have learned this lesson and moved on to a laser-focus on changing laws, not restaurants, descriptions of ROC’s work with restaurants reminds me of me trying to teach my kid how to hit a baseball (“Watch me. Watch me. Liiiiiike this!” whifffff).

Example: Chef Sicily Sewell-Johnson “worked for ROC for seven months in preparation for opening [one of the organizations Colors restaurants], which she said involved paying thousands of dollars for furniture and supplies out of pocket and almost suffering a finger infection — she sliced it at the restaurant but couldn’t go to a hospital because the restaurant didn’t provide health insurance, she said. Sewell-Johnson said she loved what ROC stood for but was frustrated that it couldn’t seem to figure out how to successfully provide fair wages and benefits to workers. Her questions and complaints to management rarely got responses, she said…. ‘I never felt more crazy and more Black and more gaslit than when I worked at ROC,’ she said.”

To be fair: Razor-thin margins.

The Media – Missed this last week: Arizona Republic food, dining, and nightlife editor Lauren Saria announced on Twitter that her last day at the paper will be June 18th. No word yet on what’s next for Saria, but the Republic is looking for her replacement now. Details and application here.

Some Sad News – In Nashville, “On June 2nd, Bolton Matthews, owner of Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish and direct descendant of Nashville hot chicken forefather Bolton Polk, passed away after a hard-fought three-year battle with stage IV colon cancer.” Delia Jo Ramsey has an obituary, including a string of tributes from peers, in Eater. “Bolton’s is one of Main Street’s oldest Black-owned businesses and is recognized by the Southern Foodways as a Nashville Food Heritage Site…. Since his passing, Matthew’s wife and co-owner Dollye says the restaurant will be closed until further notice.”

And last but not least: For Design Fans – Here’s Agnes in LA, courtesy of Eater’s Wonho Frank Lee. Maybe the millennial pink napkins and the (what are we calling this color?) light olive(?) benches and window/door accents will raise your late-trend hackles, but the couch-style armrests on those plaid banquettes are a fantastic little detail, and if you can’t see why you’re wrong.

And that’s it for today!

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 some tip — even a small one 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!