SBA dry, Fuku invasive, TOTC spirited, Keller classy, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, April 17th, 2020

Hello Friday,

Bit of a wonky one today, and maybe could have used a little more editing, but I’ve got to hit send and get out the door because… Hong Kong recorded just one new COVID case yesterday, and I’m on my way to eat dinner in a sit-down restaurant for the second time this week. It’s as normal and strange as you imagine. AMA?

Let’s get to it…

The Relief – “The Small Business Administration announced Thursday it has reached its $349 billion lending limit and is no longer accepting applications,” the AP says. That comes after the WSJ’s Charity L. Scott reported Tuesday (possibly behind paywall), “The owner of the high-end Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain is among the first public companies to disclose it has received a government-backed loan to keep people on its payroll. Ruth’s Hospitality Group Inc., a company with more than 5,000 workers, received $20 million in forgivable loans on April 7, according to a securities filing. That is four days after the Small Business Administration opened the application window on its $350 billion Payroll Protection Program… The maximum PPP loan is $10 million. Ruth’s said two of its subsidiaries each received $10 million SBA loans from JPMorgan Chase & Co. and would use the proceeds primarily for payroll costs. The company, which operates or franchises 159 restaurants, had a profit of $42 million on revenue of $468 million last year.” In Politico, Zachary Warmbrodt notes Potbelly also got $10M from the program.

HashtagSmallBusiness.

And if you really want to put the fun in funding, check out this map from Zachary Mider and Cedric Sam in Bloomberg, which shows loan breakdowns by state: “During the first 10 days of the federal government’s small-business rescue program, the spigot was wide open in Nebraska. Firms there got enough money to cover about three-fourths of the state’s eligible payrolls. It was a different picture in New York and California, where companies received less than a quarter of their share.” Congrats, Huskers!

The Relief Too: Undocumented Edition  – Big news out west: “California will be the first state to give cash to immigrants living in the country illegally who are hurt by the coronavirus, offering $500 apiece to 150,000 adults who were left out of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package approved by Congress.” Full story from the AP’s Adam Beam on SFGate.

The Law – If you want to get a bit further into the business interruption insurance issue, New Orleans lawyer John Houghtaling was on Paul Barron’s FoodableTV YouTube show this week, going point by point through what the insurance industry is up to. It’s dry, and doesn’t break a ton of new ground, but jump in around the 2:35 minute mark and give it a little if you can, or skip ahead to 10:20 for Houghtaling’s thoughts on strategy / the future (he says Trump called the “BIG” group to discuss). Interesting aside: “In the case of my friend and client Thomas Keller, he actually has a virus inclusion clause, and they’re not paying that one either.”

The Suits – “Grubhub, UberEats, Postmates and DoorDash have been engaging in anticompetitive practices through contracts that dictate what restaurant customers can charge for food orders that weren’t even generated through them, according to a shocking Manhattan federal lawsuit filed Monday… Restaurants are forbidden from lowering their prices for [consumers bypassing the apps and ordering directly from the restaurants] ‘because the delivery apps’ no price competition clauses prevent them from doing so,’ the lawsuit said.” The NY Post’s Lisa Fickenscher reports, “The suit, which is seeking class-action status, represents three people who have ordered food directly from restaurants, including through sit-down dining, that do business with these apps in a range of cities, including New York, New Orleans, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles.”

The Link in Bio – One big thing that’ll almost certainly be sticking around in the after times: “Instagram is partnering with the Los Angeles-based restaurant ordering platform ChowNow to make pictures and stories from local restaurants shoppable by adding ‘Order Food’ buttons and stickers to their images and videos. The buttons and stickers will link directly to ChowNow to complete order flow, the companies said.” Key point from Jonathan Shieber in TechCrunch: “Followers can also re-share stickers on their own InstagramStories to drive awareness.” That might mean some influencers are about to come face to face with the most dreaded marketing metric of all: Last Click Attribution. Do bots eat?

The Ghosty Peach – Per Brooke Jackson-Glidden in Eater, Momofuku’s fried chicken chain has gone ghost kitchen in new markets during the pandemic: “Last week… [Portland, OR’s] online-trawling masses started noticing Fuku on delivery apps sourced from different locations around town — generally parking lots and food cart pods… the result of a three-month contract with Reef Kitchens, a branch of the larger Reef Technology brand, which runs delivery-centric ghost kitchens across the country.” Presumably that means new food service jobs in Portland, but things are feeling more zero sum right now, and I wonder how people feel about a very successful out of town group jumping into smaller markets at a time like this?

On a side note, Fuku CEO Alex Munoz-Suarez refers to his company’s leadership as “restaurateurs in the fast-casual space,” and I’m not sure I know what that space means anymore: “In all of the planned delivery cities for the three-month test run, Fuku’s commissary will send pre-butchered, brined, and dredged chicken, fries, and sauces out on refrigerated trucks to Reef Kitchen locations. Then, employees at the [trailer-based] kitchens will assemble orders locally and send them out for delivery…  trusting Reef employees to make a Fuku sandwich based off of training videos and recipe cards.” So… just like KFC?

For the Bar: Awards Season – Taking a different tack from the James Beard Awards, Tales of the Cocktail says they are “committed to moving forward with the 14th annual Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Spirited Awards in an effort to recognize the depth of talent across our global spirits community…. The Foundation feels it is more important now than ever to continue to honor the professionals, organizations and establishments that have enhanced the industry.” The official announcement from Tuesday says there is still no decision regarding the actual Tales event currently scheduled for July 21-26 in NOLA, but “in keeping with the original 2020 timeline, overall Top 10 Nominees will be announced on May 4th, 2020, Top 4 Finalists will be named on June 1st, 2020, and Winners will be celebrated on July 25th, 2020.”

For now, they say they’ve had a record number of submissions this year, and are breaking the finalist list up into groups of “Regional Top 10 honorees, broken into regions in the United States (East, Central and West) and Internationally (Europe, Middle East & Africa, Asia Pacific, and The Americas (Canada, Latin America & the Caribbean).” Full list here. Congrats, all!

P.S. – Rough, if expected, news for bars: In the President’s new guidance on re-opening the economy, they appear to be among the last type of establishment allowed to resume normal operations…

Some sad news – In NYC, “Jesus Roman Melendez was the ‘backbone’ of Jean Georges. On April 1, the coronavirus took his life.” Full obituary from Chris Crowley in Grubstreet, well worth a read with tribute after tribute from former coworkers. Hate to make my takeaway all about the end, but, damn, the way this virus hits some people is just so brutal: “Melendez worked at Nougatine for 20 years… On March 20, he started coughing. On March 25, his family tried to check him in to Queens General, but he was sent home. After that, his condition worsened… On March 27, Melendez was admitted to Queens General… Four days later, [his daughter] Yustin got the news she dreaded… He was 49.”

Some good news – In New Orleans, longtime (50 years!) Galatoire’s waiter John Fontenot is recovering at home after becoming “gravely ill” last month with coronavirus. Ian McNulty has that news at Nola.com.

The Media – Writer / editor Daniela Galarza announced this week that she’s joined Serious Eats, and freelancer listserve StudyHall tells me she’s accepting pitches, if you have time on your hands for writing… (Link goes to her Twitter feed).

And last but not least: The Task Force – Statement from the White House: “President Donald J. Trump Announces Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups.” Ah, yes, ye ol’ GAERIGs. For the F&B specific group, Trump has invited the NRA, every big chain and fast food group you can think of, a few other industry groups, and Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Daniel Boulud. Indie restaurant Twitter got pretty heated about this lineup for obvious reasons, with much of the ire being directed at Keller and his tweet about being “honored” to be invited by Trump. As the Washington Post’s Emily Heil put it, “That message drew criticism, much of it from apparent critics of the president.” Perfect. (Scroll through the replies to TK’s tweet to get a sense. I can’t choose just one!)

In response, Keller summoned the full weight of his TKG comms department to craft a rebuttal calling critics “haters and cynics.” Fortunately, José Andrés was there to keep the peace (and channel his inner Bill Clinton), reminding everyone that “We are in this together… And We the People, we will walk together to a place called Hope…”

See you there!

And that’s it for today. Way behind on replying to many of your notes this week, but promise I’m working on it. Ironically, there’s a lot to do these days! As last night’s brand new Bob Dylan song says, “I paint landscapes, and I paint nudes. I contain multitudes.”

I’ll see you here Tuesday for next Family Meal.

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P.S. - Re that task force, if you stopped reading at the F&B group, note there are plenty of other restaurant related businesses on the full list, including Momofuku funder Stephen Ross and the rest of the real estate group, and CEOs of all the major hotel chains under “hospitality.” I’m sure Keller’s Bocuse d’Or stories will impress Trump, but I’m keeping my eye on the landlords.