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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

ROCKS STARS: TOASTING TALES AT TEN

August 22, 2012

By David Ransom

This year, Tales of the Cocktail celebrated its tenth birthday by doing what it does best: throwing a conference for the spirits industry that is unrivaled in its scope and size, and unmatched in its dedication to providing the bar industry with a forum to share ideas, learn from its legends, try new products, and move itself forward.

I could wax poetic about the program, which under the close supervision of founder Ann Tuennerman (aka: Mrs. Cocktail) has grown in ten years from being a one-day happy hour and dinner to a six-day extravaganza of seminars, tasting rooms, awards programs, meet and greets, parties, and more parties. But we all know that, and there are plenty of other columns that can tell you what seminars were new this year, what products were launched, and who won what award.

Instead, I’d just like to let you know what I considered to be the most interesting experiences and trends at Tales this year. So let’s get to it…

Most interesting spirits trend: Anything white. Whether it was white whiskey or moonshine, Pisco (either kind, see below), grappa, white rum, gin, or some new vodka made from a particular type of grain grown only on Mars, white spirits seems to be all the rage this year with the mixologist set, who are using it to create wonderfully crafted, clean, well thought-out cocktails. Cheers to that!

Honorable mention should go out to the liqueur category. Four wonderful products stormed Tales this year: Mandarine Napoléon was re-introduced, Cognac Ferrand’s Dry Orange Curacao, which made its debut earlier this year, won best new product at the Awards, Lillet’s delightful Lillet Rose made a big splash (and was also runner-up to Ferrand’s Dry Curacao), and Marie Brizard showcased it’s new Essence line of liqueurs during its U.S. Cocktail Competition Finals on Friday, at which, I am honored to say, I was a judge.

Marie Brizard winner Robert Montero and his Sunny Crusta

Most interesting seminar: Without a doubt, the most interesting, and also most entertaining, seminar I attended was The Pisco Wars: Peru vs. Chile since 1613. These two countries have been vying for Pisco dominance and authenticity for generations, and that all came to a head in Continue Reading…

Features

SUPPORT THE RACK!

May 28, 2012

The Speed Rack Finals in New York City
By Amanda Schuster
Photos courtesy of Speed Rack

On Thursday, May 10th, Yael Vengroff (Miss Speed Rack NYC, and now a Houston, Texas resident) won the title of Miss Speed Rack 2012 to the collective rapture of what seemed like the entire US drinks community, all gathered at the Prince George Ballroom. In the final round, Vengroff narrowly beat fellow Texan Alba Huerta in a tense smackdown.

While the showing on the stage was great, so were the onlookers, other participants, competitors and the audience. Suffice it to say, if there had been some sort of unspeakable catasclysmic event there, much of the country would go awfully thirsty. The biggest names in the bar business were representing as judges, barbacks, and sponsors, not to mention those who attended simply to cheer on their friends and colleagues to support the cause.

The cause goes far beyond Speed Rack’s mission of showcasing some of the best talent possessing XX chromosomes in the country, it also raises significant funds for breast cancer prevention, education and research. To date, $68,500.00. This event, which was created and executed by Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix, two of the founding members of the New York chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails), has built a nationwide community while doing an outstanding job of spotlighting the female bartenders who are pivotal forces behind our new golden era of cocktail culture. Without people like them, and pioneers such as bar owners and Speed Rack event judges Julie Reiner and Audrey Saunders, a lot of us would still be consuming syrupy neon sludge from a gun as our only option, and probably not having too much fun where we drink it either.

For decades, women have worked hard to achieve this level of respect in the bartending community. Physically seeing the culmination of this progress together in one place proves how integral women have been to this business. Said Reiner as the night began, “We’ve come a long way, baby! Now there’s so many of you and it’s so inspiring. [I’m] So proud of Ivy and Lynnette.”

In a relatively short amount of time, Marrero and Mix have done a tremendous job assembling this level of talent and garnering supporters. As judge Dale DeGroff pointed out during the intros, “This is the biggest thing [of its kind] in America right now.” Degroff, who is considered one of the most important mentors in the business, has often pointed out that women are key facets of creating successful bar communities with their instinctive talents for creating recipes and cultivating a welcoming atmosphere for guests.

The Speed Rack tour was a guest in 10 key cities around the country. In each town they visited local female bartenders were put to the test to determine which was the fastest and who would travel to New York to compete in the final showdown. Competitors raced head-to-head to prepare four cocktails, one for each of the judges.

Sponsored brands donated the ingredients, and also libations with which audience members sipped along with Speed Rack finale judges Reiner, Saunders, and DeGroff plus Chopped judge, and first time cocktail competition judge, Chef Amanda Freitag.

Top talents also contributed barbacking duties, including Sean Kenyon (Denver), Ricky Gomez (Portland), Jeff Bell (NYC), Dominic Venegas (NYC), Michael Neff (NYC), Toby Maloney (NYC), Steve Schneider-Hadzismajlovic and Daniel de Oliveira (Chicago) while industry instigators Simon Ford and Chris Patino, clad in all white suits, kept the proceedings, er, staying alive, as emcees.

The cocktails were randomly chosen by the judges from a list of fifty standard recipes. Speed counts, but so does flavor and technique. Saunders’ critique can be especially discerning (said of a garnish in Round One: “…it was like the sinking of the Titanic!”), which is why she announced that once the competition is over, she can revert to a more nurturing style of support and encouragement. “How this thing has grown! I’m looking forward to going easier on you. I want to see some of you ladies step up and own your own bars.”

Freitag, who originates from solely a culinary background, was a little concerned for her alcohol tolerance. “I’m honored to be here. If you see me later in the crowd and I’m tipsy, forgive me.” For the record, she was seen later in the crowd, and she held up just great.

The great were separated from the merely great in the preliminary rounds which narrowed the competition down from sixteen to eight. Even a simple Daiquiri, which is, as Degroff called it, a “naked drink,” can show certain flaws, and potentially knock someone out. There were then four qualifying rounds before the two semifinals.

Despite a long, boozy night that lasted over five hours, the crowd kept its enthusiasm burning strong, with snacks from local businesses Viktor and Spoils, Pies ‘n’ Thighs, Clover Club and Steve’s Ice Cream, and the palpable energy re-fueled by those working the sidelines. The Ladies of Lillet in particular, among them brand ambassadors Amanda Boccato and Charlotte Voisey, should get some sort of Speed Goddess achievement award for maintaining their roller derby finest (and big smiles to match) throughout the night.

The night ended with a champagne toast (of sorts) to Yael. Congratulations, Yael! And congratulations to every last person who was involved in Speed Rack nationwide. Every last one of you is a winner as it seems impossible that any other industry measures up to the bartending community’s commitment to celebrate the hearts, minds and breasts of so many.

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: PROFILES IN CUBAGE

June 23, 2010

Shawn Starbuck Kelley
By David Ransom

The last thing Shawn Starbuck Kelley ever expected, was to be on the receiving end of a pitch… In her life, it’s usually her that does the asking. Not that she isn’t thrilled to be promoting something to the press. That’s something she’s VERY comfortable doing! It’s just that she’s just usually discussing one of the many spirits brands in her stable, not the finer points of the world according to Shawn. So when I asked her if I could interview her for Rocks Stars, Shawn, while surprised, was thrilled to sit down for a chat.

As Director of Public Relations for Pernod-Ricard USA (www.pernod-ricard.com), producer of such iconic brands as Absolut, Beefeater, Plymouth, The Glenlivet, Chivas, and Jameson, Shawn is one of a handful of names at the top of the leader board in the world of spirits, mixology and cocktails, who didn’t get there by shaking a shaker, or squeezing a lime. Not that she didn’t roll up her sleeves and do some dirty work along the way, it’s just that her path was a bit more circuitous, and possibly, dare I say it…, more interesting?

No, she wasn’t a lawyer, doctor, or pop singer who gave up a lucrative career to follow her dream of a life in food, nor did she leave the family coffee shop business, as her name may imply, to strike out on her own. Starbuck is a family name, but they’re not based in Seattle, and the closest she comes to being in any way associated with a coffee brand, is that Pernod Ricard owns Kahlua.

Growing up as the last of five children in a middle class family in Detroit Michigan, Shawn recognized early that food (and drink) would always play an important role in her life. She says, “I came from a family of gourmands. I grew up with an appreciation for good food, whether it was fresh fish and local veggies during summers on the shore of Lake Michigan, or learning how to make my parents’ evening drinks when they came home (Mom’s drink was an Old Fashioned and Dad drank Continue Reading…

Events

300 YEARS OF GIN

March 2, 2010

Photo by Nick McGlynn/Photo Courtesy of Pernod Ricard

Fish, Chips and Sips Celebrates Three Centuries of Gin Cocktails
By Kathleen Reynolds

New York City may have been in the midst of its most severe blizzard of 2010, but that didn’t stop bundled up imbibers from cozying up for an event at the Summit Bar www.thesummitbar.net billed as an evening of “Fish, Chips and Sips” hosted by the good folks from Plymouth www.plymouthgin.com and Beefeater Gin www.beefeatergin.com.

“We’re here to showcase the versatility of gin,” said Sarah Bessette, Director of Public Pelations for Pernod Ricard www.pernod-ricard.com. Bessete’s go-to drink: a classic Plymouth Martini. Also served were cocktails made with Beefeater, Continue Reading…

Events

COCKTAILS FOR A COUNTRY

February 13, 2010

Spirited sipping leads to $5,800 raised at the Hearts & Cocktails for Haiti Benefit

By Francine Cohen

Photo courtesy of Lush Life Productions

Who said people drink just for pleasure? Sometimes they drink to help those in pain. At least that’s what was going on at Bar Celona in Brooklyn on Sunday, January 31st when hundreds of spirits industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts gathered to raise a glass and some much needed funds for Haiti.

Haitian American Ray Raymond of Leblon Cachaça and Dave Catania of Chairman’s Reserve organized this important evening and welcomed their industry friends and cocktail lovers to join them for cocktails created especially for the evening by some of New York’s best mixologists. Continue Reading…