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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

ANATOMY OF A DRINK MENU

June 12, 2014

By Effie Panagopoulos

Photo courtesy of Avua Cachaça

Photo courtesy of Avua Cachaça

*****This story sat in the INSIDE F&B vault for four years, waiting for just the right moment to see the light of day. That day is now; and once we dusted it off and took another look at it we discovered it was just as fresh and relevant today as it was back then when it was written. Of course some things have changed; Gianfranco Verga is no longer the Beverage Director at Louis 649, and the Louis 649 TNT program is currently on hiatus as it undergoes a refresh, but despite these minor things that happened as time marches on it is interesting to see that some things never change.

Read it for yourself. And then attend a seminar at Tales (www.talesofthecocktail.com) like “The Art & Science of Cocktail Menus” (www.talesofthecocktail.com/events/art-science-cocktail-menus/) or “For Profit Consumer Education? Yes!” (www.talesofthecocktail.com/events/profit-consumer-education-yes/) and see what positive changes you can make happen in your bar, all because of a finely tuned menu…

Tuesday nights have become the new industry night, spurred by almost a year full of consecutive Tuesday Night Tastings at East Village cocktail bar, Louis 649 (www.louis649.com). Pioneered by Gianfranco Verga, Beverage Director at Louis 649, and going almost a year strong every Tuesday, the TNT’s like their eponymous song, and Good Times’ Jimmy Walker –are pretty darn dyno-mite. Every week offers the chance to try a wine or spirit you’ve never tasted; learn something new about a spirit you may always drink yet never knew anything about, or like on this chance evening, get to meet a leader in the industry and find out what makes him tick. What started as a weekly gathering of an industry-only crowd, has refreshingly become an ever-changing group of imbibing enthusiasts– a feat in and of itself.

A few Tuesdays back, I rushed over to get to my 7:00 feeding, for what I assumed would be an intimate presentation by one of New York’s preeminent poster boys for all things cocktail, Jim Meehan. But “rushing” in Greek-people-time means I got there at 7:05 (5 minutes late), and to my dismay Louis was already packed to the gills for their TNT (Tuesday Night Tastings). Well, Jim was only voted American Bartender of the Year last year, and it was only fitting that the cocktail community and common folk alike came out in droves to hear the secret workings of the mastermind behind the cocktail program at neighboring watering hole, PDT www.pdtnyc.com. You could taste the anticipation in the air as Jim, and his apprentice for the evening, Pernod Ricard’s (www.pernod-ricard.com)Jamie Gordon, were scurrying about to get the amuse-bouche drink to the thirsty, ornery crowd. Jim brushes past me and I am quickly reminded why I and the roomful of people like this guy so much. Tray of drinks in hand, he smiles a quick hello to me along with everyone in a 3 foot radius. You’d never know there was an ounce of stress in his body, as he acknowledges us with the warmth and grace of Mr. Rogers welcoming you to Continue Reading…

Features

THE BEST DRINK I HAD ALL YEAR

June 6, 2013

What You Missed in 2012, What You Can Hope You’ll Find Something As Good As in 2013
By Jason Rowan

Best Drink image of bar by Jason Rowan

As we are deep in the middle of rooftop lounges and large scale cocktail party season with The Manhattan Cocktail Classic (www.manhattancocktailclassic.com) and Googa Mooga (www.brooklyngoogamooga.com) behind us and Tales of the Cocktail (wwww.talesofthecocktail.com) dancing immediately ahead on the calendar, it makes sense to sit back and really consider the cocktail.

Plenty of people will proclaim this (insert name here) cocktail they sipped during the MCC Gala or on the lawn of Brooklyn’s park or at (insert bar/rooftop lounge name here) or while wandering the tasting rooms at the Hotel Monteleone the “BEST COCKTAIL EVER!” but can it really be?

What makes a great cocktail? Is it just ingredients? Or, as restaurateurs and chefs have discovered with all the attention they pay to atmosphere and staffing, does it have more to do than with just what’s in the glass? There are definitely standout drinks to be found, but you may find that your reasons for finding them are what makes them the “best.”

Here we take a look back to 2012 to see what impressed. Only time will tell how 2013 stacks up.

Virginia Miller, SF Bay Guardian, The Perfect Spot

There’s the best drink and then there’s the best moment with a drink…

Aviary chocolate cocktail photo courtesy of Virginia Miller

Aviary chocolate cocktail photo courtesy of Virginia Miller

The best drink itself is a toss-up between the entire line-up at The Aviary in Chicago soon after Charles Joly became bar manager (oh, for the “dessert” cocktail, Cold Dark Chocolate, served in an angled glass, one side fitted with menthol ice, the other with Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey and oleo sacchrum, topped with warm marcona almond foam, awakening the mouth alternately with warm and cool notes as the mint subtly dissolves into chocolate-citrus – www.theaviary.com) or in San Francisco, AQ’s unforgettable summer drink, the Maeklong Market Cocktail, with a base of peanut-infused mekhong, a sugar cane/molasses/rice-based Thai spirit, creamy with coconut milk, lime and kaffir lime leaves – nutty, creamy, savory, refreshing (www.aq-sf.com).

Maeklong Market photo by Virginia Miller

Maeklong Market photo by Virginia Miller

The best moment with a drink? My husband and I were in Maui for the first time this November, having slipped mini-bottles of St. George’s fantastic gins (Terroir, Botanivore, Dry Rye – www.stgeorgespirits.com) in our carry-on. We had an unbelievable corner deck over the ocean at Napili Kai Resort tucked in Napili Bay (www.napilikai.com). Each morning there were rainbows (from end-to-end) with the islands of Lanai and Molokai before us. At sunset, we made ourselves simple gin and tonics with St. George gin, cheap Schweppes tonic, and lime. Bathed in golden, rosy sunsets, our humble G&Ts were perfection, both of us relaxed and free from all care, even for those fleeting moments, blissfully lost in beauty.

Jacob Briars
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was another superb year for cocktails, with the creativity of the industry seeming to know no limits. Happily we are seeing a few less high-octane rye and amaro drinks and a lot more interesting service methods, and generally a better sense of humor too. Every drink I had at London’s Artesian www.artesian-bar.co.uk/artesian.html, Portland’s Clyde Common (www.clydecommon.com) and Melbourne’s Black Pearl showed why they are held in such high regard. But for me there were three standout drinks of 2012.

‘Six Cylinder Cocktail’ at The Last Word Saloon, Edinburgh

The Last Word is the new-ish project from the talented team behind Auld Reekie favorite Bramble www.bramblebar.co.uk. The vibe is less saloon than cozy house, but the drinks are superb. At Bramble Jason Scott, Mike Aikman and team had led the charge for barrel-aged and bottled cocktails, and at Last Word they have taken it one step further, with the ‘Six Cylinder Cocktail’ which is ‘married in steel’. It’s an ironic nod to both the aging craze and the resurrection of forgotten classics. The original ‘Six Cylinder’ is found in Harry MacElhone’s ‘ABC’ and was probably invented to commemorate a racing car in the late Twenties. I’m sure nearly every bartender has skimmed over the recipe, which looks very odd indeed, with 6 ingredients of equal parts, more like a gimmick than a classic. The Last Word team took both the drink and the name at face value, with equal measures of Bombay Sapphire (www.bombaysapphire.com), Campari (www.campari.com), Martini sweet and dry vermouths, Cherry Heering (www.cherryheering.com) and Dubonnet (www.doyoudobonnet.com). Then it’s aged in steel vats for 4 months, and decanted into small 100ml containers that are labeled like something you’d find in a garage workshop, and served on a bed of crushed ice. A strangely pleasant metallic taste is the initial sensation, and no one ingredient dominates. Unlike barrel aging, which tends to smooth a drink by adding vanilla and other woody notes, this Six Cylinder is perfectly blended and integrated yet it’s all a harmonious whole. Married in steel, indeed. I look forward to ‘steel aging cocktail programs’ popping up all over America soon…

‘Bumblebee’ at Public, New York City

Antipodean-inspired restaurant Public has always been one of my favorite spots, and since Naren Young took over the ‘cocktail program’ the drinks have been a superb blend of the food friendly and the forward thinking. My favorite cocktail at Public this year was as much for its lineage as its flavor, though it was also incredibly delicious (www.public-nyc.com). Naren’s ‘Bumblebee’ was a snappy blend of Bacardi 8, lime juice, egg white (free range of course) and 5-spice-infused honey syrup. I was wowed and ordered another before I’d made much of dent in my first ‘Bumblebee’ as it was that delicious. I later discovered through the all knowing power of Facebook that Naren had ‘lifted’ the drink, with a few tweaks, from Clyde Common’s Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who in turn had purloined it from Erik Adkins at the Slanted Door where it was thought to be a San Francisco classic, and a San Francisco original too, according to a few SF ‘tenders who thought Naren and/or Jeff had taken credit for the drink. Well, I was later recently reading Charles H Baker’s ‘South American Gentleman’s Companion’ and once of the first drinks in there is a ‘Bumble-Bee’ from a bar in Georgetown, Guyana. Picasso once said ‘Great artists steal’ and that’s certainly true in the cocktail world, and we’re much better off for it!

‘Penicillin’ by Sam Ross, closing night of Milk and Honey

Finally not really a drink from 2012, but perhaps my most memorable cocktail experience was having Sam Ross make me a Penicillin on the last day that Milk and Honey was open for business. There is no bar that has had a bigger impact on the global cocktail industry in the last decade, few bartenders who have worked as hard at their craft as Sammy, and few drinks that deserve the title modern classic as much as the Penicillin. I know Milk and Honey is only moving house (www.mlkhny.com), and luckily I can get a Penicillin in good bars from New York to New Zealand. Having a Penicillin here made by a favorite bartender in a favorite bar surrounded by friends bidding Milk and Honey a fond farewell was a very special moment indeed, and appropriately it was my last (and thus, most memorable) cocktail of 2012.

Jonny Almario, 1885 Britomart, Auckland

Photo courtesy of Collecting Melbourne

Photo courtesy of Collecting Melbourne

THE STAGGERAC


The year of 2012 for me was stripping back to basics, trying as many classics as possible and reshaping my perspective. I have an undying love for Sazeracs and this year my drink of 2012 would have to be the George T. Stagg Sazerac (or Staggerac) I had at The Everleigh (www.theeverleigh.com) for a knock-off after a shift at Bar Americano. I’m still not sure why to this day I still consider over-proof or booze-heavy cocktails as knock-offs but I’ll leave that for another story.

I believe the first time I had heard about Staggeracs was reading the 28 Sazeracs in 28 Days that was posted over the month of February in 2010 on Savoy Stomp. I was intrigued to try it but with the hefty price tag in Australia I had to find a good excuse to try one.

Mid to late last year I found the excuse, I had just been accepted into a dance program (which has brought me back to New Zealand this year) and one night after work I convinced my workmate Matt to join me for a quick knock-off. We sat at the bar and ordered from proprietor and friend Michael Madrusan. The first sip was definitely a “holy s**t” moment, the experience of tasting something so well-crafted, so deliciously complex and let me tell you they pack a punch (made the mistake of not eating dinner after my shift). I usually have the tendency to either eat or drink something quite fast as soon as it I deem it delicious, at the dismay of my parents and friends but this drink was one of the few I actually sat there and took my time. However the high alcohol content probably added to that fact.

The combination of being in my favorite bar, in the company of friends and having well-crafted cocktails definitely made this occasion and drink my pick of 2012.

Liam Donegan – Master Distiller, Jameson

Photo courtesy of Irish Whiskey Blog

Photo courtesy of Irish Whiskey Blog

I wasn’t a virgin going to NOLA in July. 2012 was my second successive visit to Tales, but somehow again I managed to completely underestimate the impact that this special place, combined with some of the world’s best spirit minds, would have on me.

Thursday was a busy day; myself and Ger (a good friend and our Jameson Master Cooper) held a fun whiskey making session in One Eyed Jacks, followed by a Spirited Dinner at Sylvain – both very cool venues and both very relaxed sessions (www.sylvainnola.com www.oneeyedjacks.net). At One Eyed Jacks we talked through the triple distillation process with nothing more than a blackboard, a barrel and a few glasses of Jameson. Later on at Sylvain we enjoyed a great dinner, tasted different Whiskey expressions from the Jameson family matched with some of the States’ best craft beers. Combine that with good company (from Boston and NYC) over dinner and it was shaping up to be a very good day.

We finished the night in a bar called Alibi where the party continued and most of the bar got stuck into Jameson shots and various cocktails. I was probably tired, coupled with feeling a bit overwhelmed with the city, and I found myself sitting at the end of the bar alone for a while. I ordered a Jameson Black Barrel on the rocks. It was poured in one of those American oversized shot glasses (we don’t see those at home) with plenty of ice and I sat back, looked on and savoured my favourite whiskey. The day, the dinner, the bar, the glass, the commotion and the Whiskey made it, for me, the most memorable drink in 2012 without a doubt (www.jamesonwhiskey.com).

Jason Rowan

MELLO OCHO, NEW ORLEANS

Not all gatherings at Tales are in the service of promoting a brand, or a competition between bartenders or brand ambassadors. Scott Baird and Josh Harris, the well-liked enfants terrible of the San Francisco cocktail scene, are the men behind the Bon Vivants cocktail consulting team and the recently opened Trick Dog (www.trickdogbar.com) and “pop up bar” The Rio Grande, Comal in Berkeley. For the past 3 years they’d organized a Volunteer Day on the Tuesday before Tales gets under way, inviting attendees to join them in working on local schools affected by Hurricane Katrina. This year some 85 plus bartenders, brand ambassadors and journalists took a couple yellow school buses to East New Orleans and spent a day repainting classrooms at Ruby H. Lee High School. After a full day of painting fueled by coffee, altruism and Pandora emanating from propped up iPhones (I think Black Keys were the album radio of choice) and finishing the entire second floor of the school (31 rooms!) many volunteers retired to the Bon Vivants’ rented digs near the French Quarter, where they’d taken the second floor of a house and stocked it to the brim for all their events of the week. The long entrance hallway was lined with boxes of spirits, mixers and tools, and spread across a table were dozen of mini bottles of Tequila Ocho, a brand the B.V.s were working with for Tales (www.ochotequila.com). The volunteers set down on the deck overlooking the street, where they drank beers from cans and a serious game of dominoes was quickly underway. In the kitchen I spotted a traditional Volunteer Day cocktail being made, ice (paramount), Tequila Ocho, Mello Yello, the juice of half a lime and some sea salt tossed on top, then the whole thing is stirred with a knife (a key part of the tradition). Ruby Wilson was making one for herself and was kind enough to fix one up me in the proper manner, knife-stirring included. The original had been made based on what was found in the fridge on an equally sweltering day years earlier, after the first Volunteer Day, and being part of this ad hoc tradition was immensely gratifying. Salty, citrus, balls-out boozy and hella refreshing & rewarding, the drink was effortlessly perfect after the long, hot day of good work. A reminder that context, one’s company, the moment and the story are as important to what makes a drink come to life as a thousand baroque twists and turns behind the bar. And that being of service is, in fact, the bartender’s chief mandate.

Photo by Jason Rowan

Photo by Jason Rowan

Features

PICKLE BACKS JUMP THE SHARK

February 26, 2010

INSIDE F&B charges chefs and bartenders with creating the next drink sensation
By Francine Cohen

Photo by Michael Harlan Turkell

February 25, 2010 will forever live in infamy as the day that the beloved pickle back jumped the shark.

We’re thrilled for its popularity.  And still intend to enjoy them now and again.  But the pickle back no longer holds its own as a secret insider liquid handshake since  the cat’s out of the bag thanks to this terrific article by Robert Haynes-Peterson, http://www.examiner.com/x-2969-NY-Drinks-Examiner~y2010m2d25-The-Breslin-Brings-Pickle-Back

Known well to those who have embraced the briiiiiiine, the pickle back has a special place in the hearts of industry folks (and a select and welcome group of aficionados) who find themselves at bars late into the night/wee hours of the morning, often following a grueling shift and looking for nothing more than a simple drink, a savory pick me up, and some good company.  Now we expect to see lots of people bellying up to the bar for their backs.

Whatever its vaunted origins (Texas www.traveltex.com, Bushwick Country Club www.bushwickcountryclub.com, The Randolph www.randolphnyc.com, The Rusty Knot www.nymag.com/listings/bar/rusty-knot/ ) and supposed instigators of its popular appeal Continue Reading…