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Features

Hospitality Industry Feels 86’d

April 21, 2020

By Paul Samberg

Photo courtesy of Buffalo & Bergen/Photo by Rey Lopez

As COVID-19 continues to control the country, businesses are on life support, scrambling to pay the bills and employees. The allocation of $2.2 trillion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act neglected most of the hospitality industry, many of which are struggling to keep their doors open while Americans stay home.

In particular, the portion of the CARES Act known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) designed to support small business seems to be failing most independent bar owners and restaurateurs. All too quickly the $349 billion provided for this program dissipated, and the few businesses that received support from the program do not find themselves in a much better position than they previously were in.

Which is exactly what concerns the Food & Wine Best New Chef and James Beard Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini as he sees the financial aid programs roll out and restaurant operations severely restricted or closed altogether. This seasoned operator, whose restaurant group includes such NYC favorites as Locanda Verde, The Dutch, Lafayette, Bar Primi, and The Library at The Public, shares, “The PPP doesn’t put us as operators in a better position than we were, and I’m not sure it will put employees in a better position.”

A recent survey conducted by the James Beard Foundation reflects that Carmellini’s colleagues are equally concerned. More than 60% of respondents cannot sustain a closure for one month and 75% do not believe they will be able to reopen after two months of government mandated closure.

For those 75% of respondents who are not confident they will be able to reopen in June— which marks the eight-week usage term set out by the PPP guidelines—this program would not help keep their businesses afloat.

Staying afloat once COVID-19 hit wasn’t even a question for Wake the Dead, a popular breakfast spot in Lawrence, Kansas, which closed its doors on March 20. Fearful about her underlying health conditions, owner Rachel Ulbrick did not want to endanger herself by coming to work, and the PPP did not offer a feasible solution to temporarily closing. “I already have a fair amount of debt. Even though [the loan] was like zero percent, in three years it wouldn’t be. And that would add $20,000 on top of whatever debt I already have; I can’t do that,” Ulbrick said.

The remaining 25% of respondents who believe they could reopen in June face a secondary issue, though: actually receiving the initial loan. The CARES Act provides close to $349 billion in aid to small businesses through the PPP, but was designed to be distributed on a first-come-first-serve application basis.

On the first day applications could be submitted, April 3, $4.3 billion of the $349 billion available in loans was immediately allocated and banks began limiting applications. Wells Fargo was the first; they announced they would not consider loan requests submitted after April 5.

With the early April dates behind us, and PPP filings not a possibility for some, there are other avenues within the CARES Act to pursue, such as new unemployment benefits. In addition to the current standard weekly unemployment payments, supplemental payments of $600 per week are provided as part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation measure in the CARES Act. For self-employed and gig workers, they also qualify for extended 39-week benefits, which is 13 weeks more than normal eligibility.

While the supplemental payments are a help to many workers filing for unemployment, the unemployment websites and offices have been overwhelmed and the process can be slow, clunky and confusing. Some checks began going out to unemployed New Yorkers in early April, but Missouri did not plan on doing so until April 12, and Indiana residents may have to wait until as late as April 20.

No matter whether you’re in a state that makes provisions for unemployment payments early or later this month, there are some workers who may not even qualify for unemployment benefits. Even for those a stone’s throw from the Capitol, who count amongst their guests the same legislators who passed the CARES Act, restaurants like Buffalo & Bergen were not immune to being left high and dry by unemployment. Gina Chersevani, who founded and owns both the Buffalo & Bergen at Union Market and the newest on Capitol Hill which opened just weeks before the country shut down, explains, “We just got rejected. Out of 26 people from my one location that applied [for unemployment], only two were accepted, both not tipped employees.”

Chersevani also feels that insurance companies are failing the industry just as unemployment isn’t there for so many of her employees.

She’s discovered that her carrier will not pay disruption of business for COVID-19 and says, “I’m in my ninth year paying them—the same insurance company—and they denied all my claims for disruption of business.”

Chersevani is not the only owner in the hospitality industry who has had this issue, and, as a result, some restaurants are getting together to file class action lawsuits against insurance companies. Wolfgang Puck, Dominique Crenn, and a handful of other famous chefs have created the nonprofit foundation We Are BIG (Business Interruption Group), which is threatening to bring legal action against insurers who do not start paying insurance business claims.

According to founding member and chef Thomas Keller’s statement on the organization’s website, “The restaurant industry is the largest private sector employer in America…We need insurance companies to do the right thing and save millions of jobs.”

Photo by Francine Cohen

Many restaurant owners are in agreement with Keller and the other chefs taking legal action against insurance companies. Longtime New Orleans restaurateur and co-owner of Commander’s Palace Lally Brennan shares, “I very much agree with the efforts by Thomas Keller and others [to take legal action] and have the law changed around, because that’s not what America is about; that’s abusive.”

This fear felt by restaurant and bar owners and staff is not unfounded. An analyst at UBS predicts that one in five restaurants could permanently close due to the outbreak, which would mean nearly 200,000 establishments are in danger. Thus far, about three percent of restaurants have closed their doors, despite the recently passed stimulus package, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In the wake of ongoing hardship and potential lawsuits due to COVID-19 related regulations, and the failure of programs that are not one-size-fits-all, the industry does what it does best — turns within to help one another, especially when lawmakers cannot.

“We currently are ignored by lawmakers, which has been true for as long as we can remember. Case in point, our independently owned businesses have not been given a substantive seat at the table during Congressional relief conversations,” Chefs Andrew Carmellini, Luke Ostrom & Josh Pickard said in an email urging others to sign their Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants (ROAR) petition.

Chef Guy Fieri and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation worked together to create a relief fund for restaurant workers who are struggling due to COVID-19. Their fund is raising money for those in need with one-time $500 grants. And big and small liquor brands like Jameson and actor Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin have committed financial support to the USBG National Charity Foundation Bartender Emergency Relief Program’s Covid-19 Relief Campaign, which is offering needs-based philanthropic grants. Over a quarter million people have applied thus far.

Chef José Andrés is in week five of his #ChefsforAmerica campaign through his World Central Kitchen foundation. He has closed his restaurants, turning them into community feeding centers for people facing food insecurity due to COVID-19 related lost income. To date he has served 2 million meals.

Brennan and her cousin and co-owner, Ti Martin, are concerned about their team, many of whom have been with the iconic restaurant for more than a decade. They have been providing their recently laid off workers with food and other basic needs during the crisis, too. Brennan shares, “We gave away bags of vegetables and all the perishable items and things that we had cooked, and we’re giving away bags of toiletries and paper and paper towels and hand sanitizer. We’re doing all those types of things with the team to still stay in touch.”

Philanthropy for the hospitality industry is not just coming internally. Twitter personality Yashar Ali opened a GoFundMe to support restaurant workers. On his Instagram account he explains, “Restaurants have closed or are offering only takeout and delivery options, hotel business has slowed dramatically, and bars have been shuttered. As a result, people who rely on hourly wages (including those who rely on tips) are suffering, having seen their daily income all but disappear overnight, and for some already losing their jobs.”

Photo by Francine Cohen

Ali has already amassed over $1.1 from more than 8,900 donors, surpassing his goal of raising $1.1 million to be directed to Tipping Point Community and Robin Hood, two established foundations long dedicated to serving those in need.

Independent bars and restaurants need help. The future of COVID-19 is uncertain, and so is the future of many restaurants and bars in the nation. While many owners have had to close their doors forever, others are trying not to follow in their footsteps. The hospitality industry should not have to rely on famous chefs and Twitter personalities to help keep their doors open.

These days, it feels like an insurmountable task as Gina Chersevani concludes, “We are risking our lives serving f**king sandwiches.”

Photo courtesy of Wake the Dead

Features

JAMES BEARD TURNS 25

April 28, 2012

By Francine Cohen and Victoria Ruvolo

“…showers bring May flowers.” And, the James Beard Awards.

Yes, it’s that time again. Time to see who steps onto the stage at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall to accept the medal that announces to the hospitality industry that he (or she) is at the top of their game.

About a month ago the 2012 James Beard award nominees were announced, leaving the food world all a buzz. And the chatter will last up until late in the evening of May 7th, when the last award has been handed out and the last morsel of food created by the country’s best chefs and the last drop of champagne has been savored by the winners.

In celebrating the 25th anniversary of the foundation, and 23 years of bestowing these awards, it is evident that the James Beard Foundation is as much a winner as any of the stellar culinary and beverage artists who got a nod. James Beard Foundation President, Susan Ungaro, notes, “This year is the 25th anniversary of the foundation. And the 23rd year of the awards. Our awards committee wanted this year’s event to celebrate 25 years of American food at its best and salute the legacy of James Beard. Most notably, after our ceremony at Avery Fisher Hall, the grand tasting will feature chefs from all over the country each creating a recipe from one of James Beard’s cookbooks. He was not only a restaurant advisor/consultant, but also a mentor to a number of great restaurant owners and chefs; many of whom went on to win.”

She continues, “We are really excited about the fact that we’re playing up James Beard’s role in the development of the food world. How prescient he was Continue Reading…

Features

SUPER SIPS

December 31, 2011

Memorable cocktails that rise to the top of the list
Stories curated by and photos by Jason Rowan (except where noted)

Photo by Virginia Miller

Most publications are busy prognosticating; focused on the year ahead, projecting trends and anticipating the future. But at INSIDE F&B we decided to take a moment before rushing pell-mell into 2012 and invite you to join us in relieving some stress that always comes with looking ahead. Instead, stop and smell the proverbial roses as we take a look back at some of the spirit industry’s best drinks tasted around the world.

Simon McGoram, Drinks Editor, Australian Bartender Magazine (boozebraggart.blogspot.com/)

The best drink I had all year had to come from one of the more unlikely places in Australia – Katoomba in the Blue Mountians in NSW. Once upon a time it was known as Sydney’s playground – especially during the roaring twenties with Gatsby-like characters parading around in finery. Now the place attracts only a few weekend tourists with its beautiful art deco cafes and hotels remaining for the large part empty and falling into disrepair.

I was up there with my partner for a Valentine’s Day getaway – with February being the middle of summer down under we were expecting swelter. Instead a cool mist hung eerily over the whole town as we walked up the steps of the Carrington Hotel for a pre-prandial tipple. The hotel by the way looks like something out of The Shinning and sure enough during the middle of the week the place was empty and spooky.

We were sat next to a roaring fire in an anteroom next to the grand 1930s ballroom. I was expecting that they might manage a decent G&T but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the cocktail offering. I ordered an Old Cuban – an Audrey Saunders masterpiece that had somehow found its way to this country town. My partner had a Bramble – a Dick Bradsell modern classic from London. The drinks were good. Not exceptional. bBut it was the more the fact that in rural Australia I could order drinks created by the best bartenders of London and New York whilst being transported to almost untouched art deco setting. I thought truly cocktail culture has come of age and perhaps one of America’s greatest inventions can be enjoyed at all ends of the earth.

Stephen Myers, Illegal Mezcal
(www.ilegalmezcal.com)

Drinking a Negroni at an outdoor cafe with a beautiful girl and a great friend on the Sardinian coast as the sun set over a Phoenician ruin and a lighthouse. Rather than the 1:1:1 ratio of the drink on its own it was all the elements of the time, place, people and the great drink itself that made it my best drink for 2011.

Philip Gandevia, cocktail bartender, Eau De Vie, Sydney
(eaudevie.com.au/)

We were having a meeting at Eau De Vie, going over our recipes and making sure that our techniques were uniform. We mentioned a Bijou (equal parts gin, Dolin and Chartreuse, orange twist and discard) and I made a casual statement that of course it was always stirred. One of our team, Taka Shino, demurred, saying that he always shakes his. Not only was this interesting in terms of discovering an inconsistency but it was also something I’d never entertained for this cocktail. “Well, let’s try them,” I said and we made side-by side identical Bijous, mine stirred and his shaken. When we tasted them I was fairly shocked to discover that I preferred the shaken. It was an excellent reminder that the junior bartender can show the senior bartender something Continue Reading…

Rocks Stars

ROCKS STARS – TALES OF THE COCKTAIL 2011

August 19, 2011

A Few Of My Favorite Things
By David Ransom

Photo by Charles Steadman

Once again this past July in New Orleans, Mrs. And Mr. Cocktail (aka Ann & Paul Tuennerman) put on what those of us in the business have affectionately come to consider the triathlon of liver survival (drink-filled seminars, drink-filled tasting rooms, and drink-filled dinners and parties… not to mention the obligatory night-ending swing through Old Absinthe House on Rue Bourbon every night just to prove you didn’t expire during the course of the day) that is Tales of the Cocktail (www.talesofthecocktail.com).

Having just completed its ninth year, Tales has grown from a tiny industry-focused event that brought the nation’s top bartenders together for a few days of camaraderie, events, and parties, into a truly international symposium, complete with a “Spirited Awards” program (like the movie industry’s Oscars) that hands out honors to establishments and industry leaders from around the world, and now brings in professionals and consumers from all over the globe to celebrate the world of cocktails in the city that created them.

Rocks Stars and I feel honored to be given the chance to attend each year, and as always, I’m thrilled to be able to share some of my experiences…now that I have recovered enough to be able to write again…

So without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things from this year’s Tales, both good and bad, but really all good, as nothing that includes having a well-crafted drink could ever really be bad… and in no particular order:

Best Hosts Under Pressure: Ann & Paul Tuennerman. Nine years into it, Tales could probably have run itself, but Ann and Paul were everywhere. Every event. Every day. Every night. What amazes me about this is that Paul was recovering from a health scare and had just spent time in the hospital. I have to tip my hat to these two intrepid souls for not staying in the background and recuperating at home while “their baby” was staged. Quite to the contrary, they were all over the place from Tuesday’s Media Welcome Party at Arnaud’s French 75 bar (beautifully run by Chris Hannah, one of NOLA’s finest drinks-smiths – www.arnaudsrestaurant.com),to the final Sunday Brunch with Mr. & Mrs. Cocktail, and everywhere in between. I even ran into Paul solo, visibly tired yet surely on the mend, at the Suntory Suite (www.suntory.com) one afternoon where we chatted on the balcony overlooking Bourbon Street while enjoying a glass of Japan’s finest single malt. Continue Reading…

Rocks Stars

ROCKS STARS SOUTH (TALES OF THE COCKTAIL 2011) – DUSHAN ZARIC

July 24, 2011

Five Questions for Dushan Zaric of NYC’s Legendary Employees Only
By David Ransom

And now some words of wisdom from the man behind Employees Only (www.employeesonlynyc.com), winners of “Best Drinks Selection” and “World’s Best Cocktail Bar” at last night’s Tales of the Cocktail (www.talesofthecocktail.com) Spirited Awards presented by Pernod Ricard (www.pernod-ricard.com) and Beverage Media (www.bevnetwork.com)…

.

Q1. How many years have you been coming to Tales of the Cocktail?
A. 3

Q2. Do you wear an armband behind the bar?
A. No.

Q3. As a veteran of this industry, what advice do you have for someone just starting out in the business?
A. Find someone who inspires you both as a person and a bartender. Get to know his students, and if you like what you see, then BEG him to teach you everything he (or she) knows. Because, in the end, your styles will be similar, so you need to love your mentor’s style, as well as his knowledge.

Q4. Sponsorships aside, what’s your go-to spirit these days?
A. Tequila and Campari(www.campari.com)… at different times, of course…

Q5. Cubed or Crushed ice?
A. Cubed. Large, very cold cubes. It’s really a matter of habit now, although I’ll use crushed when I need to. NEVER Cracked…

Amen to that! Enjoy Tales…

Features

VIVA LA DIFFERENCE

July 15, 2011

The French are coming. And the new breed of bar is on its way.
By Miguel Calvo

High-end cocktail bars have been around for quite a while in the United States. In New York alone tropical Lani Kai (www.lanikainy.com), austere Death & Company (www.deathandcompany.com), tiki style Painkiller (www.PK-NY.com) and stylish Dram (www.drambar.com), to name a mere few, have set the standard in what people expect from a proper mixologist bar. In other parts of the country too, like in Chicago at The Drawing Room (thedrchicago.com), these bars exemplify what is now the norm in cocktail culture in the United States; offering fresh ingredients, paying attention to glassware, drink specific ice, house infused spirits/ bitters and atmosphere to match. While a number of the new breed of American bars have embraced a singular spirit centric focus like punch pavilion Cienfuegos (rum; www.cienfuegosny.com) and Mexican style Mayahuel (tequila; www.mayahuelny.com) many still embrace Prohibition rooms as Milk & Honey (www.mlkhny.com/newyork) and PDT (www.pdtnyc.com). So are we ready for a European invasion that may challenge what we have thought should be a mixologist bar?

Across the water there is a surge in the style of what may be the new direction of cocktail culture that is headed our way. These drinking dens sometimes have a selective door, they allow standing (and occasionally dancing), and have no fear of vodkas. Of course you may find the usual spirits suspects on their menu such as Hendrick’s gin (www.hendricksgin.com) and Appleton rum (www.appletonrum.com); but right alongside these iconic brands proudly stand a group of vodkas, such as Ketel One (www.ketelone.com) and Stoli (www.stoli.com), which are commonly ignored by their stateside brothers. Another big difference is that these cocktail crafters who, like their US counterparts, embrace the use of bitters like Peychaud’s (www.sazerac.com) and Continue Reading…

Features

MEDIA DARLINGS

July 14, 2011

Knowing what gets you featured in the press
By Francine Cohen
All photos courtesy of Lush Life Productions

www.hannaleecommunications.com) and Alia Akkam of Beverage Media (www.bevnetwork.com) and I shared with the USBG New York Chapter members recently at a monthly meeting held at Macao Trading Company (www.macaonyc.com) as Lee introduced her PR 101 program. In short…RETURN MEDIA QUERIES!

Seriously, people. Wonder why so and so is getting all the press and you’ve worked longer or harder than they have and never get featured? Hmmm, maybe that’s because when the media calls, you don’t respond. Or maybe it’s because they don’t know how to find you. Well, that stinks. But it’s easy enough to change.

If you walk away with only two things from this story, remember this: 1) Return media queries (as noted above) and 2) Content is king.

What does this mean exactly? Well, if you want people to respect you, talk about you Continue Reading…