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Gina Chersevani

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

Events

REPEAL DAY – A CAPITAL IDEA IN DC

December 3, 2015

Celebrating 82 Years of the Repeal of the 21st Amendment
By Francine Cohen

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

If you’re going to make an effort to celebrate Repeal Day in the most historically accurate way it sort of makes sense to celebrate in Washington, DC where the legislation for Prohibition was first enacted and then repealed, 13 years later. If you want to pair your geographic accuracy with a swellegant time, you’ll do it in the company of the DC Craft Bartenders’ Guild at their 8th Annual Repeal Day Ball being held on Friday, December 4th at the historic Carnegie Library.

This celebration of the 82nd Anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition comes together for the eighth time in recognition of this dry time coming to an end from coast to coast. In that spirit the town’s most respected and sought out bartenders will be slinging drinks side by side with fellow bartenders from other cities, truly making the party a celebration of what the US enjoyed all at the same time, eighty two years ago– the ability to get a good drink from their favorite friendly neighborhood bartender.

Guild President, Jamie MacBain (who also serves as the Beverage Director of Daikaya), notes, “We extend invitations to bartenders in other cities because ours is a close-knit, global community. Bartenders tend to move around a lot so most of us have worked in other markets and know other people [there]. A national bartending line-up presents a unique opportunity for DC residents to see and taste how other bartenders around the country approach our craft.”
The event will showcase numerous bartenders from New York, as well as such as Lindsay Matteson of Amor y Amargo who shares, “This is THE Repeal Day event, and It’s a great opportunity to work with friends and bartenders from around the country.”

Matteson joins her fellow bartenders from DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Livermore, CA and Sean Kenyon and his crew from Williams & Graham, the bar in Denver, Colorado that won the coveted Best American Bar 2015 at Tales of the Cocktails’ Spirited Awards. She adds, ” It’s also a way for us to give back to the community,” Matteson added. “If it weren’t for Repeal Day, I wouldn’t have a job.”

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

Thankfully, she does. And all the pouring that she and the other presenting bartenders do at the party go to a good cause; actually, a few of them. A portion of all tickets sales will be donated to The Museum of the American Cocktail, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education in mixology, and preservation of the rich history of the American cocktail. And the proceeds from the event’s first ever silent auction will go to sending one member of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild to NYC in the fall of 2016 to attend the BAR 5-Day program. MacBain explains, “This is our first year holding a silent auction and I could not be more proud of all the work and support we’ve received…from organizing support to donations…it’s been a massive undertaking. The reason for the silent is auction is simple: We wanted to do something different this year and to provide an opportunity for at least one Guild member to attend BAR 5-Day in NYC. Attending BAR 5-Day is prestigious, in and of itself. By having one of our own sit with masters of the bartending community…Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost, Steve Olson, F. Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour, Dave Wondrich…he or she will gain knowledge and experience that’s unrivaled in the profession.”
This annual party is unrivaled in its popularity and the Roaring Twenties inspired-theme event just keeps getting bigger and better as Guild founding member, Gina Chersevani, concludes, “It’s amazing to see the growth of this event over the years in the nation’s capital considering it started and ended here.”

ALL PINK ON THE INSIDE
Gina Chersevani (Buffalo & Bergen, Suburbia)
1 oz. Macchu Pisco
1 oz. Grapefruit Juice
1 oz. Cranberry Juice
Grapefruit spiced syrup
Shake with ice, pour into flute, fill with sparkling wine

2015 Repeal Day Ball tickets are available at
Date / Time: Friday, December 4, 2015; 9-11PM (doors open at 8PM for VIPs)

Location: Carnegie Library 801 K Street NW, Washington, DC

Tickets: Start at $80 for general admission; purchase at Eventbrite

Attire: Creative cocktail with a nod to the Roaring Twenties

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

Features

LADIES WHO LUNCH

July 8, 2013

1st Annual Dame Hall of Fame Luncheon is on July 18th
By Francine Cohen

TOTC 2012 Dame Hall of Fame luncheon table set

Follow the hats on July 18th and you’ll notice that the ladies are at it again – celebrating their past accomplishments and looking towards an even brighter future that will be revealed at this year’s Dame Hall of Fame luncheon at Tales of the Cocktail 2013 (www.talesofthecocktail.com). This the day for some serious celebrating of the strides women have made in the spirits industry, and all are welcome at this celebratory luncheon held at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel (www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/neworleansroyalorleans).

Returning sponsor Hollis Bulleit, World Ambassador for Bulleit Bourbon & Rye, explains why she and her brand are coming back for the sophomore year of this event that is co-sponsored by LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails), “The Dame Hall of Fame means to me that I get to celebrate with my peers the breaking of another glass ceiling. It is a place for me to be proud of my accomplishments and taking the risk to add a feminine perspective and queer perspective in an industry that up until quite recently had a lot of rules on the right way to enjoy brown spirits.”

Having women lead the way on the right way to enjoy brown spirits, and spirits of every hue, is a far cry from the days when when women weren’t even allowed in bars. Now they’re shaking up the entire industry as mixologists, bar owners, ambassadors and more. It wouldn’t be possible without the ongoing dialogue and mentorship that LUPEC engenders throughout the year and, since LUPEC events are not simply brand commercials, that is why organizers decided to add an engaging educational component to this year’s luncheon via a Q&A session that will foster spirited conversation. LUPEC NYC President Lynnette Marrero notes, “It is important for LUPEC events at Tales of the Cocktail to be a chance for brands to interact with our members and to share their unique brand stories with our fan base.”

TOTC 2012 Dame Hall of Fame Lillet ladies talking

The luncheon’s supporting brands Continue Reading…

Rocks Stars

ROCKS STARS SOUTH (TALES OF THE COCKTAIL 2011) – OWEN THOMSON

July 31, 2011

5 questions for Owen Thomson, Lead Bartender for Jose Andres’ Think Food Group, Washington, DC

We know Owen Thomson has a big appetite for creative drinks and delicious food. We’ve broken bread with him at New Orleans locals’ favorite restaurant Elizabeth (www.elizabeths-restaurant.com); the man can order!

Plus, during Tales (www.talesofthecocktail.com) he sat on the SavourEase panel with Mixtress Gina Chersevani and Chef Peter Smith of PS7s (www.ps7restaurant.com).

With all this under his belt it is no wonder he’s running the beverage program for celebrated chef Jose Andres.

And has this to say about the industry…

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

Q2. Do you wear an armband behind the bar?
A. Uh… NO…

Q3. As a veteran in the industry, what advice do you have for someone who is just starting out in the business?
A. Keep and open mind, and don’t ever think that you know everything.

Q4. Sponsorships aside, what’s your Go-To spirit right now?
A. Bourbon and Rye. Although, I drink everything…

Q5. Cubed or Crushed Ice?
A. Summer? Crushed. Other times of the year, Big Fat Cubes…

Agreed! Enjoy Tales…

Rocks Stars

ROCKS STARS (SOUTHERN EDITION) – GINA CHERSEVANI

July 21, 2011

PS7’s Mixtress rolls into the Big Easy with some SavourEase
By David Ransom

Rocks Stars goes to Tales of the Cocktail 2011

*This week, when we’re all in New Orleans doing what it is we do at Tales of the Cocktail, columnist David Ransom will be catching up with Rocks Stars to find out what’s happening in their universe. five minutes, five questions (those asked at The Absinthe House or Alibi are fair game too). First up, Miss Gina Chersevani.

5 Questions for Gina Chersevani, Head Mixtress at PS7’s in Washington,DC.

Q1. How many years have you been coming to Tales?
A. Six

Q2. Sponsorships aside, What’s your go-to spirit right now?
A. These days, I’m lovin’ white whiskey and mezcal. LOVE THEM!. Can’t get enough of them, and they’re all over my drink menu at the restaurant.

Q3. Do you wear an armband?
A. NEVER!

Q4. You are one of the most imaginative bartenders I’ve come across. You seem to be simply fascinated by the makeup of ingredients and the chemistry of the flavor profiles they create when paired in a drink. Where does that inquisitive nature come from?
A. Too much education, I think. I have two degrees (so far…), and just love to learn everything I can about everything.

Q5. As a veteran Bartender, I mean Mixtress, what advice do you have for someone just getting into the business?
A. READ! … Pick up every book you can and read it until the end… And when you’re done reading it pick up another and read that one until you fall asleep…and when you wake up to turn off the light, don’t, and keep reading. There is so much to learn out there! Oh, and don’t bullshit your customers…

‘Nuff Said. Enjoy Tales…

Features

TO JUDGE OR NOT TO JUDGE?

April 28, 2011

What’s fair game to reveal in a review of a restaurant’s opening night?
By Francine Cohen

It seems this was a bonus week for New Yorker diners. First up, The Dutch. Chef Andrew Carmellini’s much awaited Soho restaurant that opened with a savory late night menu and compelling cocktail list to satisfy the hordes of hungry fooodsters (some of whom are even bold-print names, but there’s no need to go there). So many showed up for The Dutch’s opening nights that the dining room at midnight was buzzing so loudly it might as well have been high noon on the playground. www.thedutchnyc.com

Then, on Wednesday, April 27th, LTO www.ltonyc.com debuted its former Broadway East restaurant space as pop-up restaurant/chef incubator.

The first one in whites to step behind the stoves downtown was James Beard award-winning RJ Cooper; noted DC-based chef and Iron Chef contestant. Later this spring or early summer Cooper will be opening up his 52-seat prix fixe menu restaurant, Rogue 24.

To be completely candid, INSIDE F&B was there for Rogue 24’s dinner as the restaurant’s guest. And, while we encountered some bumpy service, giggles over utensils, a few dishes we didn’t love as much as the langoustines or the foraged Shenandoah greens, and it became a meal that was paced quite a bit slower than we had anticipated, we took it in stride; understanding that this was the first night they were open. We had expected the kinks and walked in knowing we might be more than welcome guests, we’d possibly be called upon to be willing guinea pigs. And that’s okay. In fact, we think it’s terrific. We’re always more than happy to get behind the scenes, see the wheels in motion and help steer the ship however we can.

Which leads us to wonder just when you think it’s okay for journalists and bloggers to start publicly releasing their critiques of a new restaurant. Continue Reading…

Features

CHERRY BLOSSOMS ARE FLEETING

May 2, 2010

CHERRY LIQUEUR INSPIRED DRINKS ARE FOR FOREVER
By Francine Cohen All Photos Courtesy Of Cherry Heering


As spring quickly melds into summer INSIDE F&B felt the urge to pay one last homage to that beautiful, refreshing and cheery, yet fleeting, season that carries us from the brown, bitter and stirred drinks of deepest, darkest winter to those with hues to match our brighter days and moods.

Particularly embodying the brightness of spring is the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC (www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org). It’s that time of year when our nation’s stately capital is awash with pink blooms, and food and drink inspiration abounds as the farmers’ market stalls are finally piled with ramps and asparagus.

Who best to explore DC during this season, and help celebrate the festival by introducing bar patrons to the florally inspired liquid joys of the season, than a handful of the nation’s best bartenders toting Heering Cherry Liqueur (www.heering.com) in their bar kits?

In the group were famed Seattle mixo Continue Reading…

Features

TALES OF POTENTIAL TIKI PUNCH-UPS

March 11, 2010

Whose punch will we find in our cups?
By Francine Cohen

Whose Tiki tipple will be raised in a toast as the official cocktail for Tales of the Cocktail 2010 and lauded by cocktail professionals and aficionados far and wide?

You’ll have to wait until March 31st to find out what you’ll surely be sipping at Tales, but for now we can tell you that there are ten finalists, and it’s a very impressive lineup of Tiki mixing talent.

These talented mixing whizzes were offered a chance to create the official cocktail for the summer’s most spirited event thanks to Tales of the Cocktail’s partnership with Culinary Concierge Magazine www.culinaryconcierge.com, Tasting Panel Magazine www.tastingpanelmag.com, and CocktailTimes.com www.cocktailtimes.com. With over 150 recipes submitted judges Jeff Berry, Anthony Dias-Blue, Robert Hess and Stephen Remsberg had quite a task selecting the ten finalists.

Author and Tiki expert Jeff Berry comments, “Sampling from over 150 of these creative, complex, forward-thinking, often delicious ‘Tikified’ Planter’s Punches was pure pleasure, Continue Reading…