Weekend relief? Religious parity? Suit success? Chef cribs, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, December 18th, 2020
A wordy one today, followed as usual by Tuesday’s edition copy/pasted at bottom. If you have the means and would like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
And if you’re in the market for some hilarious mugs and bags that definitely WILL NOT make it to you or your loved ones by Christmas, right this way to…
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – Washington Post relief reporters Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein, and Seung Min Kim say Congress is close on a $900B compromise package, but “stimulus talks could spill into weekend as lawmakers scramble to complete deal… The legislation taking shape is expected to devote about $330 billion for small-business relief, including $257 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, aides said. Firms would likely be required to show declines in revenue of as great as 25 percent to qualify for the assistance…. The measure would also have aid directly targeted for the restaurant industry, which is bracing for a severe downturn amid the closure of winter dining due to the surging pandemic.”
The 14-Minute Listen – FYI, I was on NPR’s Consider This podcast with host Audie Cornish yesterday, talking about what I’m hearing from you all about… all this. Also on to discuss were Nya Marshall of Ivy Kitchen and Cocktails in Detroit, and Russell Cross, who runs an auction house that sells liquidated restaurant equipment.
At one point, Cornish asked me to look into my emails for examples of what people in the industry are thinking about congressional relief efforts, and I was therefor able to read on air this quote from a line cook in Columbus (who shall remain anonymous): “The one thing I keep coming back to is that Mitch McConnell is a truly garbage human being and it drives me crazy that people actually trust him.”
A couple of quick outtakes from our conversation:
First, at one point Cornish asked me why I thought there might still be a market for equipment from closed restaurants in this environment. I spitballed that buyers were people who have cash on hand, are looking out at a vaccine horizon, and see deals on rent and gear to be had. Then the Restaurant Manifesto Twitter account pointed out evidence of a Wells Fargo analyst saying just that on Seeking Alpha yesterday:
“Coming out of a year unlike any other in modern history for the restaurant industry, we expect chains to benefit from pent-up demand and a consumer who is flush with cash to spend. We think this dynamic sets up particularly well for the casual dining space, with this sub-segment likely to see outsized benefits from independent closures.”
And second, my point at the podcast’s end about people’s changing relationship with dining is from a conversation I had earlier that day with Baltimore restaurateur Tony Foreman, who told me he thinks dreams of a roaring 20s turnaround within a year or so are wishful thinking at best…
The Suits – In a twist, restaurants hoping to pull back government restrictions on indoor dining are actually winning some suits. WBAL-TV11’s David Collins says that in Maryland, “An Anne Arundel County judge agreed Wednesday to issue a temporary restraining order to block the county executive's order that banned indoor dining.” And in the LA Times, Greg Moran reports, “A San Diego Superior Court judge made it clear Thursday afternoon: An injunction he issued late Wednesday that stopped state and local officials from enforcing the COVID-19 shutdown on two strip clubs also applies to all restaurants in the county.”
And while restaurants often use other types of businesses to demonstrate alleged unfairness in capacity restrictions, I thought it was interesting to see Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser hold up current restaurant capacities as the fair standard for churches this Christmas. WaPo’s Julie Zauzmer and Michelle Boorstein report that, fearing a lawsuit from the Archdiocese, “Bowser revoked the cap of 50 people that she had previously imposed on worship services and instead ordered that religious facilities fill no more than 25% of their pews, up to a maximum of 250 people… [Bowser] says the new rules offer ‘parity’ among different types of activities. Indoor restaurant dining was reduced from 50% capacity to 25% capacity as of Monday… [and the] city’s largest restaurants could host no more than 250 people at a time. At a news conference Monday, she cited the restaurants Clyde’s and Old Ebbitt Grill.”
Reminded me of Psalm 1221: “Oh, Parity, thy double-edged sword. Let he who useth it to avoid legal action, prepareth for legal action citing said use.”
The Messaging – Meanwhile, as restaurant groups sue to reopen dining, staffers in Washington State are organizing against. Per Gabe Guarente in Eater Seattle: “On Tuesday, December 17, the labor advocacy group Working Washington released a letter signed by service industry workers that supported current indoor dining restrictions during the pandemic and called for greater economic relief. So far, there are 32 signatures.” A small start, but maybe a snowball to keep an eye on.
The Head Scratcher – And on top of all that, there’s a new NYT Op-Ed out from a Yaryna Serkez, who claims to know “The Magic Number for Reducing Infections and Keeping Businesses Open.” Says Serkez: “Data from the early in the pandemic reveals there’s a ‘sweet spot’ where infections can be reduced while keeping business steady. That magic number: around 20%. If indoor capacity in public spaces like restaurants, gyms, hotels and grocery stores was reduced to just 20%, we could prevent 87% of new infections. Meanwhile, these businesses would lose just 42% of their visits, on average, according to research from scientists at Stanford and Northwestern.”
Feels like that “on average” I italicized is doing a lot of heavy lifting for the math there…?!
The Media – Announcement in Georgia: “Atlanta magazine is looking for our next food editor: a journalist with insatiable curiosity about one of the most fascinating food cities in America.”
For Design Fans – Love when a brewpub tries to slip the shackles of brewpub design and go off in another direction, even if that direction is a now classic combo of deep greys and color coordinated book sets (and still can’t quite give up the exposed ductwork all brewpubs love), so here’s that in an Instagram spread on Batson River Brewing & Distilling’s new place in Portland, Maine, which Portland Food Map’s Anestes Fotiades tells me was designed as “a cross between Bruce Wayne’s library and hunting lodge.” (NB: Batman has been known to struggle with the larger bucks.)
And last but not least – Also for design fans… Big congrats to chef Jason Atherton on having his newly redesigned London home featured in Wallpaper yesterday! There truly could not be a better time for a chef to show off his new billiard room, walk-in closet with custom-lit shoe shelves and pink velour(?) walls, and, of course, “A luxury commercial cooking suite by Italian brand Marrone (the floor structure even had to be reinforced to support the extra weight).” I’m not going to tell Atherton to read the room, because I read the room and the most relatable thing in it was the soup cans (except they’re Warhols).
And that’s it for today! (Unless you missed Tuesday’s newsletter, which is copy/pasted below as usual.)
FYI: Family Meal this coming Tuesday will go out to everyone, paid or unpaid, because I’m taking the next two Fridays off for Christmas and New Year’s Day. I think. And I’ll make a judgement call on the 29th and let folks know (via Twitter) what to expect.
I’ll see you all here Tuesday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or no more than 25% of their pews 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 copy/paste of the Family Meal that went out Tuesday, December 15th, to paying subscribers. If you’d also like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
The 98.6%, European states, Festival fall, and more...
Let’s get to it…
The Relief – State of play per the Washington Post last night: “Momentum grows on Capitol Hill for economic relief package as bipartisan group releases two bills.” Details from Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis, and Seung Min Kim: Leaving aside continued negotiations on liability protection for businesses and extra aid to state and local governments, “The bipartisan stimulus legislation includes 16 weeks of unemployment benefits at $300 per week for jobless Americans, as well as 16-week extensions in base unemployment benefits and the unemployment program for gig workers and independent contractors. The plan also devotes $300 billion in small-business relief, including a second round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, according to a summary of the document provided by a congressional aide.”
Exactly how that $300B for small-business relief is divvied up (and where the goalposts will begin on PPP loan forgiveness this time around) is still TBD.
Quoth Pete Wells in his column yesterday: “Congress hasn’t explicitly told restaurants to drop dead yet, but then the year is not quite over.”
Occupy Albany: We Are Not The 98.6%! – The data news from New York on Friday per Erika Adams and Tanay Warekar in Eater: “Restaurants and Bars Account for 1.4 Percent of COVID-19 Spread in New York. The data was released at the same time that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on indoor dining in NYC.” Based on 46,000 statewide contact tracing data points, “The figure places the industry as the fifth-largest contributor to spreading COVID-19 in the state, following education employees (1.5 percent), higher-education students (2.02 percent), and healthcare delivery (7.81 percent). The largest contributor to COVID-19 spread in New York, by far, is private household and social gatherings. According to the state, 73.84 percent of COVID-19 cases spread through private gatherings.”
Still, no matter the facts (oof), arguing the evidence in favor of reopening indoor dining will remain a very uphill battle. The idea that closing safe restaurants will continue to force social animals into unsafe home/party environments should be at least somewhat compelling, but I just don’t see how it overcomes headlines like this one from Tim Carman in WaPo on Saturday: “Coronavirus can travel farther and faster inside restaurants than previously thought, South Korean study suggests.”
And on the (maybe) more winnable outdoor dining front: While it’s been interesting to watch Slapfish’s Andrew Gruel go viral and get his message picked up by Fox News, OANN, and some others I refuse to link to here, I don’t think shouting conspiracy(ish) theories to maskless crowds at “Save Small Business” rallies is going to sway the Democratic leadership of California on outdoor dining anytime soon…
The Obvious Answer – Anyway, if you’re feeling angry about your own state’s flailing, here’s a quick look at Europe to make you feel… exactly the same? The BBC reports that London is closing down dining at restaurants again at midnight tonight, but the NYT’s Melissa Eddy notes: “As Germany is preparing to all but shut down, some other European countries are relaxing their own rules. France has lifted its curfew and reopened nonessential stores, Ireland has allowed restaurants, stores, hotels and bars to reopen and people to gather outdoors, and England is preparing to ease restrictions on private gatherings to allow people from as many as three households to mix from Dec. 23-27.”
Tier seven, level blue, common sense, snafu.
The… Winners? – Headline in Bloomberg: “Vegan Restaurant Chain By Chloe Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.” I include this not because it’s yet another group in financial trouble (who isn’t?), but because it reminded me of one of the less productive thoughts I’ve had lately. You may remember that By Chloe had been the subject of a lot of back and forth over ownership and IP. Eventually, co-founder Chloe Coscarelli was forced out and I don’t think ever allowed back in. Just speculating here (unrelated to Coscarelli!), but as I’ve watched 2020 in the restaurant industry, sometimes I wonder if some of the people who were pushed out of ownership and/or “cancelled” last year didn’t get out at the right time? Obviously better not to be a horrible person and exposed to the world as such, but financially… congrats? (I did say it was an unproductive thought.)
The Festival Circuit – In an open letter in the Aspen Times late last week, Food & Wine EIC Hunter Lewis writes: “I’m thrilled to announce that we’ll be hosting the 38th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Sept. 10 to 12 . Originally scheduled for June, our team moved the date to allow for more careful planning and preparation that will help ensure the safety and well-being of attendees, staff, talent, exhibitors, volunteers and everyone involved in this incredible event.” Tickets on sale in April.
FYI: September 12th is my birthday, so if anyone at Vice needs a piece like, “I Dropped Acid in the Krug Tent at Aspen Food & Wine on My Birthday and Now Martha Stewart Won’t Take My Calls Anymore,” this has been a pitch.
And last but not least: For Paris / Soul Food / Design Fans – In “The New Soul Food of Paris,” in Eater, Alexander Hurst says, “Today, with one of Europe’s largest Black populations, France faces its own questions over discrimination, police violence, social and economic inclusion, and what it means to be French. Against this shifting backdrop, a new crop of soul food restaurants has opened in Paris over the past five years: Gumbo Yaya and New Soul Food-Le Maquis near the Canal Saint-Martin, and Mama Jackson farther east. But instead of being African-American projects, they’re all run by Black French chefs.” It’s an interesting read, but before I could even start to scroll I zoned out staring at Eileen W. Cho’s headline photo of the Gumbo Yaya façade. Not totally original, but still… The color scheme! The font! The drop-shadow! Menu painted on the side! Dashed painted framing on the window that somehow matches the ad-hoc signage tape! Chicken everyday!
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 as three households to mix from Dec. 23-27 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. - I’m working on a very last minute gift guide (subscriptions / ways to support good food media, charity ideas, etc.). Send thoughts if you have them!