Sweetgreen fibs, DeSpirito mints, Onwuachi builds, 80-20 rules, and more...
Family Meal – Friday, October 29th, 2021
Reminder: Tuesday’s paid subscriber Family Meal is copy/pasted below as usual. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays too…
Hey hey, today is costume check day! Vet your friends’ ideas and let them vet yours. That private party is not private. No one can hear you explaining context in a still photo. And food media can see your Close Friends posts on Instagram.
Costume check day! The online reputation (and/or business) you save could be yours.
Let’s get to it…
But first… a few quick addendums to Tuesday’s edition.
And re my half-theory on a potential restaurateurs-as-innkeepers trend: Readers sent in two additions to my list. The team behind Nashville’s Henrietta Red opened an inn and restaurant in St. Michaels, MD recently. And Charleston’s massive Indigo Road Hospitality Group (Steve Palmer and Larry Spelts) spent the pandemic getting into hotels too. Any others I should know?
OK. Let’s really get to it…
The 80/20 – Headline in RH: “Labor department sets limits on use of tip credit for server side work. Final rule [publishing today] brings back 80/20 standard and clarifies when employers can apply sub-minimum wage for ‘tip-supporting’ work.” Story by Lisa Jennings, with this reaction from the NRA: “Restoring the Obama-era 80/20 rule is an arbitrary change that creates mass confusion and enormous compliance challenges for restaurants. This rule does not provide the clarity that small business owners and their employers need and is likely to increase litigation around the issue.”
G funk beat. Wage theft lawyers, mount up!
The “Profits” – All is not as easy-money in Fast Casual as it may appear. Headline in Axios: “Sweetgreen repeatedly lied about being profitable.” Details via Dan Primack: “In a 2018 podcast with Recode's Kara Swisher, Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman replied ‘We are,’ when asked if the company was profitable. Sweetgreen was referred to as profitable in 2018 and 2019 profiles by Forbes, Inc. and Eater. In its IPO filing, Sweetgreen reports losses of $31 million for 2018 and $68 million for 2019… Some companies use a massaged earnings calculation called ‘adjusted EBITDA’ to justify profitability claims, but Sweetgreen's adjusted EBITDA is also negative each year of the 2014-2020 period. The company also told the NY Times last year that its 2019 revenue ‘topped $300 million,’ even though it was actually $274 million.”
Hard to imagine any of those numbers are possible without about $480M in VC funding over 15 rounds in 14 years, so… Sweetgreen is a tech company after all!
For the Somm – The SF Chronicle’s Esther Mobley raises questions of problematic branding this week, focused on The Prisoner: “The red blend is among the most influential products in modern wine history. But how long can it last with its unsettling imprisonment aesthetic?” Probably a while based on its success so far… By the numbers in Mobley’s piece: “It’s the third-best-selling wine over $25 in the U.S… and the top-selling red blend in that price range… Annual case production is in the ballpark of 250,000, [brand owner] Constellation confirms, and the tasting room was drawing 2,500 visitors per month pre-pandemic. (The average Napa tasting room saw 1,372 per month in 2019).”
Re-branding is an expensive, difficult exercise, especially if you’re selling something that sits on a physical shelf in a sea of products differentiated (pre-purchase) only by labels. Plantation Rum pledged to change its problematic name over a year ago, and… nada? [Insert meta joke here (this is it)].
The Media – In Washington, Gabe Hiatt says he’s moving on from his editor role at Eater DC and heading back to the Washington Post to work on the travel section there. Still not clear if / when Eater may post an opening for his replacement, but anyone interested can contact EIC Amanda Kludt at email@example.com. I stand ready to move back to the District if necessary.
The Media Too – Looking over Kwame Onwuachi’s recent letter to Congress in support of Summer EBT programs, I noticed some new (to me) logos beneath his name. Seems Food and Wine’s executive producer is launching his own production company — Broken Whip Media — alongside actor Nick Creegan and author Nana Kwame Adjei- Brenyah (according to an interview Creegan gave to Thao Vo in Sheen Magazine). That company is housed in the same LA office as Fifth Floor Hospitality, which Onwuachi incorporated at the end of last year, and which apparently employs his longtime DC collaborator David Paz-Grusin as COO. Moves on moves on moves…
And last but not least: The Unfungibles – The non-fungible token (NFT) market is taking off in the food world. I’ve been seeing Spike Mendelson talk about buying them a lot on Twitter, and this week, Eater’s Jaya Saxena reports: “Recently, Martha Stewart began selling portraits of herself as NFTs, and Pizza Hut sold off digital images of pizza. And now, chef Rocco DiSpirito will be unleashing a ‘Custom Recipe NFT’ on the world… The recipe will be ‘paired with The Fractals of Taste by Dustin Chan, a loopable 5-min video that complements the flavors and reflects colors referenced in DiSpirito’s first cookbook.’”
NB: “Unleashing” the recipe is a bit nuanced… Seems it was already minted and sold months ago (for close to $9k!), and the current owner (a company called Metaversal) is now contracting Christine Lau at Kimika to cook it for a launch party. Spoiler alert: Rarible says it’s spaghetti carbonara, and if you really want to, you can apparently search for the recipe in the looping video itself. “The recipe is embedded, using steganography, in a still from the paired fractal-based artwork.”
OK, but… if “steganography” is the process of hiding a secret message in plain sight, and this is a secret pasta recipe hidden inside a magical wealth creation device, are we all going to do the right thing and call this StregaNonagraphy or what?
And that’s it for today. Except of course for Tuesday’s Family Meal 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 be here Tuesday too…
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a still from the paired fractal-based artwork to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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, October 26th.
Inn the Money, Olo Wisely, Editor to Owner, and more...
And hello to paying subscribers only! If you got this as a forward and wish you were getting Tuesday Family Meals too…
Short and sweet today.
Let’s get to it…
The Price Point – Headline in CNBC: “Chili’s parent stock tumbles 10% after labor challenges and higher food costs hit earnings.” I can hear the tiny violins all across your inboxes, but include this Amelia Lucas story for one detail: “[Chili’s parent company] said it is raising [menu] prices to fight the higher labor and commodity costs, with a target of 3% to 3.5% for its fiscal year, above its prior range of 2% to 2.5%.” Dramatic number-massaging headline from me: National Restaurant Chains Raising Prices 50% Above Expectations. Your move, indies.
Lotta Inns Lotta Outs – Not ready to call this a trend (though I want credit for spotting it if you do), but down Mid-Atlantic way, (at least two) chefs and restaurateurs are getting into the inn business. Earlier this year, Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf’s restaurant group bought the Milton Inn outside Baltimore to revamp it into a fine dining destination (apparently successfully — Jane Marion just called the Inn “an instant classic” in Baltimore Magazine). And now, Eater DC’s Kalina Newman reports Bin Lu, former head chef at Pineapple and Pearls, is “bringing a high-end approach to American comfort food at Blue Rock, a renovated inn and restaurant that sits on an 80-acre property in Washington, Virginia, already known in dining circles as the location of chef Patrick O’Connell’s three Michelin-starred Inn at Little Washington.” That’s on top of Iliana Regan leaving Chicago to fully commit to her Milkweed Inn in Michigan’s UP this month.
Obviously, O’Connell and many others have been doing this for yonks, and what’s old is new again, but… Feels a bit like a smaller-scale counterpoint to big hotels contracting big names for anchor restaurants? Penny for your trends.
The All-In-One – Missed this in my lil’ tech roundup on Friday: “Technology platform Olo announced Thursday that it will be acquiring software solution company, Wisely, for $187 million… Wisely is a customer intelligence platform that specializes in personalizing the restaurant guest experience through consumer data.” Details via Joanna Fantozzi in Restaurant Hospitality.
The Profile Treatment: Baker Edition – In the NYT, John Birdsall has a profile of “Don Guerra, a leader of the local-grain movement in Tucson.” It’s a hopeful one for the baker set (except maybe: “Mr. Guerra and his wife separated three years ago, in part because of disagreements over his early hours and a punishing workload.”). But my big takeaway beyond the content was that Birdsall moved to Tucson in 2020, and I wonder (not too deeply) if a profile like this happens if a big name food writer doesn’t live there? Who else am I not reading about?
The Media – Headline in Philly Magazine: “I’m Stepping Down as Philly Mag’s Food Editor to Open My Own Restaurant. Even with the future of restaurants so uncertain, I still believe in them — so much so that I’ve decided to open one of my own, Mish Mish in East Passyunk.” Alex Tewfik is sticking around till the end of the year, but says after that: “I obviously can’t own a restaurant and stay on as food editor here, so guess what? We’re on the hunt for a new food editor. If you’re reading this, if you know your shit, it could be you. Email us at email@example.com for more info, and stay tuned for the listing.”
And on the social side of media moves, Adam Moussa announced he is leaving his job as lead social media manager at Eater, and moving on to join “Condé Nast Entertainment as Associate Director of Creative Dev in social for Bon App + Epicurious.” Someone’s got to get those BA video numbers back up…
The Media Too – The International Association of Culinary Professionals held their annual conference and awards ceremony this weekend. If you need an email intro to butter up a media type this week, maybe try congratulating Francis Lam on his Radio Show win for The Splendid Table, or Charlotte Druckman, Matt Brooks, Amanda Soto and the WaPo Food team for their Newsletter(!) award, or any of the many others who won at places like Taste, Punch, America’s Test Kitchen, the LA Times, lots of big publishing houses, and the King Arthur Baking Company Catalog. Full list here. Congrats, all!
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 a renovated inn and restaurant that sits on an 80-acre property to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!