Takeout's tomb, Tock's value, Michelin DC, Sunset caps, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, April 23rd, 2021
Before we get started, a heads up that I was on the Line Cook Thoughts podcast this week, talking through some thoughts on the cook “shortage,” food media, Tock, this newsletter, and more. Fortunately, my signal cut out from time to time, so all my most controversial thoughts were redacted deus ex 4G machina, but if you’ve been missing my dulcet tones, right this way.
And FYI: Tuesday’s paid Family Meal is copy/pasted below as usual. If you wish you were getting Tuesday editions the day they come out…
Let’s get to it…
The End of the Trend – Welp. Fancy takeout had a good run. Headline in Eater NY: “NYC’s Upscale Takeout and Delivery Bubble Is Beginning to Burst.” And in the SF Chronicle: “Is takeout over? Many Bay Area restaurants are halting to-go in favor of indoor dining.” Obviously a lot of restaurants not at the highest end (and not courting exclusivity over quantity) have already integrated takeout / delivery into their business models permanently, but per Luke Fortney in Eater: “As the weather gets warmer and indoor dining capacities increase statewide… several upscale restaurants — most recently [Carbone and MomofukuKo] — have retired their takeout and delivery services in order to focus on expanding outdoor and indoor dining. Others, including MissAda, LlamaInn, LlamaSan, and Atoboy, offered takeout or delivery during the pandemic but have since ended those services.”
In SF, according to Janelle Bitker in the Chronicle: “Often, these are more upscale restaurants, like [Nari, Hina Yakitori and Benu]. All stopped serving takeout in recent days. These are places that never imagined boxing up their food before the pandemic — and generally, they’re excited to never look back.”
Put simply by Juan Correa (Lamma San/Inn) in NY: “We’ve never liked the business… The business fees are prohibitive, the food doesn’t travel well and honestly my team is tired.”
Those Trend $$$ – Speaking of takeout… In Kristen Hawley’s Expedite newsletter this week, she covers all the big Tock numbers made public via Squarespace’s IPO documents, writing, “In the end, it was takeout that carried the ticketing and reservations company over the proverbial finish line. You could probably argue that Tock’s $400+ million sale to website builder and hosting company Squarespace wouldn’t have happened were it not for Tock To Go, the takeout and later delivery platform.” Which begs the question: If takeout really is fading at the high end, did Squarespace just pay a premium for the dying acquisition channel that first hooked a good portion of Tock’s original target market?
P.S. – Sample numbers via Expedite, in case you were curious: “Tock’s 2020 revenue totaled $23 million,” and Squarespace said it valued the company thusly: $4M for the tech; $6M for the “tradename”; $19M for enterprise customer relationships; and $64M for relationships to restaurants. (My back of envelope math says that means relationships with each of the 7100 restaurants Tock says is on the platform was worth exactly $9014.18 in the deal. Which would be a fun number to bring up next time a Squarespace/Tock sales rep comes calling...)
Michelin Season – The first American guide of 2021 is out this week in DC, and as (vaguely) promised, no restaurants lost stars. But, as Laura Hayes points out in Washington City Paper, the “benevolence” that guide director Gwendal Poullennec first teased was not extended to Bib Gourmand level, with at least six currently operating restaurants stripped of that honor. As far as stars go: “This year’s newcomers are Jônt (2 stars), Cranes (1 star), Elcielo (1 star), Xiquet (1 star), and Rooster & Owl (1 star).” Congrats, all!
Fee Season – The big q’s getting asked at local government levels now are which pandemic-era restaurant laws will stick around when this is all over — street / sidewalk dining permits, alcohol to-go, earlier closing times, etc., and delivery fee caps. Per Eater’s Ashok Selvam,“Chicago’s 15 percent commission cap on what delivery companies charge restaurants expired last weekend, and while there aren’t reports of DoorDash, Grubhub, and UberEats raising fees to pre-pandemic levels, an alderman has proposed extending the policy through at least the fall.” DoorDash put out a blog post a few weeks ago detailing what it said were the negative effects of these caps on both restaurants and delivery workers (higher charges to customer = fewer orders), but their Prop 22 PR magic is still yet to be seen.
The Resilience – Hard to imagine this sentence from Mike Jordan in Eater Atlanta this week doesn’t begin with Bryan Furman whispering, “I want to be a great pitmaster” at a monkey’s paw: “After losing his second restaurant in four years to fire, then closing his barbecue counter at the Kroger on Ponce in 2019, a recently settled divorce, and the pandemic, [Atlanta pitmaster Bryan Furman] is moving forward again. This includes opening Bryan Furman BBQ next year around the corner from his former Main Street restaurant in a newly built structure on Bolton Road.” To new beginnings!
And last but not least: Lazarus Season – In Miami (and right now only in Miami): “Zagat is back.” The Herald’s Carlos Frías reports: “The new Zagat will rate restaurants from 1-10 and the Zagat.com website and app include links to surveys where diners can submit their reviews online.” Sounds like… Yelp? Yes. BUT who cares, because in possibly the biggest news of the past year and a half, according to the official announcement post, Zagat has declared COVID is over: “Most importantly, the new Zagat will be the only restaurant discovery platform in the world that consists entirely of post-pandemic content.” Post-pandemic content! Right now! Congrats, us!
And that’s it for today! Unless you keep scrolling for Tuesday’s paid version...
I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday for next Family Meal, and everyone else on Friday. If you want to hear Kristen Hawley and I talk through our thoughts on the food stories we’re following — and tell us yours — to start next week, join us on Clubhouse, Monday at 10:30AM Eastern, 7:30AM Pacific.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or the world that consists entirely of post-pandemic content to email@example.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 the copy/paste of the Family Meal that went out Tuesday, April 20th, to paying subscribers. If you’d also like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
SBA RRF guidance, OFW sues, HWIN $100M, and more...
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – The updated resources page on the Independent Restaurant Coalition website has details of a new Small Business Administration website launched Saturday: “NEW — SBA.gov/restaurants: On April 17th, the SBA released guidelines for the [Restaurant Revitalization Fund] program. This is the official guidance we’ve been waiting for, including information about the documentation you’ll need to provide and a sample application.” IRC has a bunch of handy links up to help you get your head around everything, plus upcoming SBA Zoom discussions about the application process today at 4PM Mountain Time (with FAREIdaho) and Thursday at 9PM Pacific (with TravelOregon). Presumably anyone can join.
For point-by-point outlines of what to look for, I also recommend Barb Leung’s breakdown in her newsletter here (with bonus info on New York’s $2.1B “Excluded Worker Program” for undocumented workers), and Joanna Fantozzi’s in Restaurant Hospitality.
The Critics – Headline in Michael Gebert’s Chicago Fooditor newsletter this week: “Another One Bites the Dust” (Copyright: Wyclef Jean, 1998). Reports Gebert: “Chicago magazine’s last recorded [restaurant] reviewer, Jeff Ruby, announced that he was leaving his post in a string of tweets, beginning here.” Gebert says, “Ruby’s departure is not exactly a surprise—his last review (RPM Seafood) was a year ago and had a distinct end-of-an-era tone to it…. Now the question: Will he be replaced?” TBD.
P.S. - At about the 4:45 minute mark in Adam Roberts’s LunchTherapy podcast with the SF Chronicle’s Soleil Ho (via Acast or Apple), that critic says: “I don’t know when it will be OK for us to write negative reviews again, but I know it’s coming… I don’t know who the first one to do it will be, but it will be really interesting to watch.” May depend on who’s left standing by the time we get there…
The Labor – Speaking of Soleil, she has the latest entry in the “staffing crisis” narrative wars: “When restaurants can't find workers, some soul-searching is in order… In my decade as a restaurant cook… we didn’t think to expect more of our work, even when our bosses screamed at us or treated us like the scum underneath their shoes. Because I didn’t know any other way of doing things, I used to think I would be happy to keep doing the job forever, with the same crappy wages. But then I left to pursue writing, and I have never looked back…. I don’t blame restaurant workers for not wanting to go back.”
The Tip Credit – In a novel approach to undoing the tip credit (or at least drawing more attention to issues around it), One Fair Wage is suing Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Capital Grille, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, et al.) because its — (as far as I can tell) currently normal and legal — use of the tipped minimum in some states “causes its employees who are people of color to earn less than white employees,” and “Darden’s policy gives managers the ability to influence servers’ wages because they can assign servers to shifts or seating sections that tend to result in lower tips.” It also alleges the policies lead to increased sexual harassment from customers. Amelia Lucas has details on CNBC.
The big goal: “One Fair Wage is asking the court to declare that tipping policies like Darden’s are illegal and violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” I will reach out to Brett Kavanaugh for comment later.
(Side note for legal readers: “One Fair Wage is the only plaintiff named in the complaint. The group argues that it has the standing to sue Darden because it has had to divert more time and money to helping the company’s workers, including paying out $175,000 in financial assistance to employees because of the coronavirus pandemic.” That sounds like… shaky ground?)
For Book Fans – A reminder that today, 4/20, is the official launch of World Travel; An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever. Kirkus says, “It doesn’t substitute for a true travel guide, but anyone who loved and misses Bourdain will want this book.” Presumably that’s a few of you…
And last and least: The $100M deli – I stumbled on this story via a paywalled piece in the Wall Street Journal, where Charley Grant reported last week: “As an example of wild speculation in markets, hedge-fund manager David Einhorn flagged the case of Hometown International (stock: HWIN) in a recent letter to his investors. Hometown, owner of a single deli in Paulsboro, New Jersey, recently attained a market value in excess of $100 million, despite booking just over $35,000 in combined sales over the past two years.” So, of course I went looking for the deli, and it turns out CNBC’s Dan Mangan found a lot more… The story involves a local high school wrestling coach (paper net worth: $20M), a math teacher at the same school, Hong Kong and Macau shell companies, disbarred lawyers, and (sorry) solicitation of minors.
That last point takes the air out of my sails, but still somewhere in there has to be a feel good movie where the sandwich artists all get rich and everyone else goes to jail, right?
And that’s it for today.
I’ll see you back here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a distinct end-of-an-era tone 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!