Third Wave

Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count

It’s here. Or more appropriately, it’s a tsunami. A wildfire. Ten million cases.

COVID-19 US cases by county, by Johns Hopkins University

No matter how hard local and state governments try to spin it or deny it (particularly Republican governors), the third wave of infection in the United States has arrived just as the weather in most of the Midwest has cooled down after what one of the warmest weeks in recent history, which thankfully happened during the election.

But now that’s done and people will be heading indoors. From what I’ve seen a fair amount believe now that the election is done it’s more or less “safe” to be out and about, but that is mere wishful thinking.

The risk is higher than ever.

Because of this governments are starting to take action and one of the first targets is the food service industry:

  • Minnesota governor Tim Walz will announce bars and restaurants to close at 10 P.M. on Tuesday November 10.
  • Wisconsin as of right now has nothing planned. The state Supreme Court keeps striking down all efforts of Democrat governor Tony Evers.
  • North Dakota’s governor, Doug Burgum, has only issued recommendations to reduce capacity but no order has been issued to help prevent virus spread.
  • South Dakota tried to one-up their neighbors to the north. Governor Kristi Noem went in on a scheme to promote tourism from people frustrated by lockdowns in other states. Her position remains about the same.
  • Michigan is likely on the verge of a second lockdown. This past week contagion rates skyrocketed. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been very proactive about communicating her plans.

None of this bodes well for any our industry. OpenTable currently has a state-by-state map of restrictions to help clientele navigate the situation but without comprehensive assistance from local, state and federal governments society at large stands to lose a vast amount of bars, restaurants, coffeeshops… ranging from chains like Starbucks and Pizza Hut, to little hole in the wall joints.

Eater wrote about it back in August. Vox said about the same in September. Mashed wrote what Andrew Zimmern thinks will happen if there is no bailout. Yahoo News has already reported about bankruptcies earlier this month. Foodable Network has an interview with Elizabeth Blau (from the James Beard Foundation) about how things are looking out for the next couple months.

Things are still looking really unstable for us. Here’s hoping now that a new federal administration is on the way in things get better because right now surviving is all we can do.

Corrupt courts deserve the guillotine

Logo of the Court of Master Sommeliers - blurred

What they have encountered is very different. Twenty-one women told The New York Times that they have been sexually harassed, manipulated or assaulted by male master sommeliers. They, and other current and former members of the court, say the abuse is a continuing problem of which its leadership has long been aware.

Source: The Court of Master Sommeliers Has a Sexual Harassment Problem – The New York Times

This is truly horrifying to read. I have met lady sommeliers who have forgotten more about wine than I will ever learn; to read how their career prospects and personal goals are limited by the usual cabal of old white men shows how deep the toxicity of our industry has reached. These are people who will never experience any hindrances in life in their quest for booze and sex and the vast majority of them need to suffer both civil consequences and for those who have commited assaults, criminal charges.

I’ve read stories of rock stars who have been more respectful even at the nadir of their personal lives— and they are people who sing about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

Those who control the Court of Master Sommeliers all need to quit or be forced out, new leadership brought in and new rules implemented to prevent people in power from forcing situations and relationships on those who just want to learn more.

This sadly feels like just another stop in the #MeToo journey but here is hoping it will bring about lasting change.

Burger King says the Car is also the king

Burger King "Restaurant of Tomorrow"

So… this is what is to be the new post-pandemic architectural design for new Burger King locations. It’s a nicely done video that thankfully avoids all the classic architecture mock-up imagery horrors by using straight CGI rendering:

Granted, the video first came out a month ago but now that it’s had a chance to percolate through the web the main reaction is how it puts cars at the forefront of the dining experience

Nowhere is that more evident than in a series of new stores Burger King plans to start building next year—where the car is treated like royalty.

Fast Company

These new concept restaurants will have not only a drive-in section, but curbside delivery, food lockers for to-go orders, and a multiple-lane drive-thru. Welcome to the future!

She Finds

The idea of consumers using restaurants in an off-premise setting isn’t likely going away when the pandemic subsides. That’s why several chains have enhanced their restaurant designs to cater to increased digital/carryout/delivery orders and that’s also why the drive-thru has garnered much attention.

Forbes

Having the entire experience be almost touchless from beginning to end is bound to be a huge change for the vast majority of customers but it is just another step for the company to try and maintain its profitability on the face of an extended pandemic that shows no sign of letting up in the United States. I can’t help but keep thinking about how it puts the car as the end-all, be-all of fast food dining experiences just as most cities are reconsidering the role of motorized vehicles as part of city life. Consider:

It would seem this new evolution of drive-thru restaurants will have to convince city officials not just here in the US but all over the world that it has a place within city limits. I’m not sure most progressive politicians will agree.

Another thought— I know for a fact a lot of restaurants become meeting points for the communities they are in. New Burger King locations with this architecture will not be part of the community they are built in. What about old locations? Are they to be remodeled, leaving behind the communities that emerged from them?

Then there are the employees. I certainly do not see company leadership willingly giving them higher wages even if they’re working in what are certain to be flagship locations. A fair amount of employees do have a regular clientele they like interacting with and this is just taking that away.

Perhaps it’s what just happened but I am having a hard time finding anything to celebrate with this change. It could be good for the company but it certainly feels like everyone around these drive-thru locations will lose.

Tomorrow, the car will be king! Wonder if they’ll be able to share a single throne.

Start as guests, onward

This is today’s feel good post, courtesy of The Bitchy Waiter:

Over the years, after sharing stories about each of your lives, one day you realize they are no longer just a customer. They’re your friends.

When Your Regulars Become Your Friends

This is one of the things I am missing the most during the pandemic.

The Primordial Soup

This is rich. A video of Julia Child cooking up the building blocks of primordial life. I clicked on it thinking “Oh it’s probably her showing us how to do a kick-ass soup that we can then take in a myriad directions!”, but no. It’s something that truly takes you back to the beginning.

Julia Childs in her kitchen

What’s not to like? We have one of the best people to have ever graced kitchens showing you the basics of how we think life arose on Earth.

Video available here. Just click on the video file preview.

Covid-19 outbreak mapping

According to data collected by FERN, as of July 28 at 12pm ET, at least 528 meatpacking and food processing plants (372 meatpacking and 156 food processing) and 75 farms and production facilities have had confirmed cases of Covid-19. At least 48,248 workers (37,876 meatpacking workers, 5,240 food processing workers, and 5,132 farmworkers) have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 191 workers (170 meatpacking workers, 14 food processing workers, and 7 farmworkers) have died.

Source: Mapping Covid-19 outbreaks in the food system | Food and Environment Reporting Network via Food Politics.

This… is pretty bad. A lot these places are almost exclusively staffed by immigrants, who are one of the hardest hit communities as they usually cannot access healthcare like everyone else. Immigrants already actively distrust the federal government under the Trump administration.

My fear and everyone else’s is that this will get worse.

Heed her words!

My serving job at an expensive restaurant in Manhattan ended abruptly in mid-March. The last evening I worked, I had the distinct feeling of being a violinist in the quartet on the Titanic, doggedly serenading despite certain death as my sonatas/wine key attempted to assuage the panicked first-class passengers trying to flee.

Source: I’m an Unemployed Waitress. Don’t Dine Out At All.

The vast majority of people that can afford to dine out these days are also people who an afford an extended stay at a hospital because of COVID-19 and also can manage extended healthcare costs after they leave the hospital.

The rest of us are not so lucky in this regard and a fair number of people I know are also refusing to return to the workforce as they know they will have less money available for rent/bills/food/discretion than if they remain on unemployment.

I hope this will be the push the restaurant industry needs to leave tipping behind. It is a shame it had to come to this.

It is sad

Decentralized, delivery-only restaurants—to say nothing of the WeWork-ification of restaurant kitchens—point to greater problems and complexities, like widening inequality, the high cost of living in coastal cities, the tenuous financial model of restaurants, and a culture in which, whether by preference or necessity, people prioritize convenience even in their leisure activities.

Source: Our Ghost-Kitchen Future | The New Yorker

What happens to everyone else that doesn’t give in to the VC-backed fist of capitalism? I personally already had to leave my beloved kitchens because of the pandemic and the prospect of working in glorified trailers does not entice me.

An intersection: Lyndale Ave & Lake St

Lyndale Avenue South at Lake Street West

From what I hear the rent costs at this intersection have been wildly out of line with the true costs for years now, if what I’ve heard is right. Setting that aside for a moment, there is plenty of story to be had. Heck, someone on streets.mn even did a photo essay of all the vacant storefronts back in 2016.

Not a lot has changed… but with the pandemic some things are definitely changing here

Northeast Corner

It’s Greek To Me used to live here until it closed in September 8, 2019 after a stellar 37 year run. They tried a few different things at the end but… didn’t really make a difference, blaming the sale of the parking lot behind them as one big factor of the closure. Not going to say much about the service, which we found hit or miss over time.

To the north (past Jungle Theater) you’d find Muddy Waters, which just closed on May 2, 2020. To the east you find Trio Plant-Based, holding down one of the “cursed” locations of the intersection.

But the corner itself has been sitting empty for 8 months and there is no word of any new restaurants opening there, or any redevelopment.

Southeast Corner

Held down by Iron Door Pub since 2015 after much drama, we’ve found it a good place for decently priced strong drinks. It’s not Cause… but it turned out to be a great place to watch the game.

The stores to the south of it have come and gone without much fuss.

Southwest Corner

Currently held down by Prieto Taqueria Bar, opened last year. This corner has a story of being a really hard spot to hold down for any length of time after the demise of Falafel King. Not quite cursed… yet.

Next door to the south you have Blue Door Pub which took over the spot from the much-missed Country Bar & Grill, then Caffrey’s Deli & Subs, which along with Cause saw its share of drama.

Only Caffrey’s looks like it’ll come out of pandemic closure more or less unscathed.

Northwest Corner

Most people don’t even think of this corner at this point except for the big ole sign built on its roof:

It’s been empty for years after Milio’s closed. Redfin has it off market and valued around 825K… but doesn’t actually say if anything is being developed anymore.

It’d make a hell of a rooftop if it weren’t for the sign.

Next door to the north you have Moto-i—which does have one hell of a rooftop, and Lyn-Lake Brewery, which also has a great rooftop.

So what now?

The big worry for a lot of people around here is having Lyn-Lake turn into another Uptown. We have heard people refer to this part of town as Uptown and… it just doesn’t sit right, really. The main similarity they’ll have is multiple empty storefronts all over.

It is not one we appreciate. Here is hoping this intersection rebounds sooner rather than later. I’m sure there are more intersections in other cities that have complicated histories and complicated stories.

Tell us in the comments.

On Third Party Delivery Services

This post is currently making the rounds

Having worked in one such service years ago I can confirm how the math is done. No matter what service you go with, a restaurant stands to make cents of “profit” for every dollar of sales, while the costs are that much higher for the customer. It’s getting to the point where local and state governments are starting to look into it.

The percentages are lopsided to heavily favor the services themselves, and that’s by design. A lot of people have commented on this fact in a lot of places.

Do the right thing: pick up the phone and call the restaurant directly— yes, it will mean talking to someone (the horror!) but it usually will result in you (as the guest) developing a relationship with the restaurant itself. This is a good thing. You want to save your favorite restaurant, right? This is what you have to do.

A small sacrifice to help not only the restaurant itself, but the people working there.

Under Pressure

Just like the song. The governor extended the stay-at-home order until May 18.

The restaurant industry in our state is reeling. You can go from basic PR announcements to personal stories, but the facts are stark: Our industry is bleeding dry due to the pandemic and from the looks of it the amount of help we’ll get is going to be severely limited.

All you have to do is look at the federal response.The National Restaurant Association put out a report and the numbers are depressing, to say the least:

  • Nationwide, sales were down 47% during the period from March 1 to March 22
  • 54% of restaurant operators have switched to off-premises service only
  • Seven in 10 operators have had to lay off employees and reduce the number of hours worked
  • Roughly half of them anticipate more layoffs and hourly reductions over the next 30 days
  • More than six in 10 said they’ve had to reduce their operating hours

Yes, I know the entire planet is looking at the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but we can still hope for a better future while being sad about what we’re losing.

The end of a golden era in bars and restaurants.

Our world stops

Stop

As of yesterday I have been furloughed by my employer. Granted, I was working minimal hours as a host, but still… it does hurt the bottom line. Our governor announced basically all places of leisure are to close until March 27, including all restaurants, pubs, breweries, food halls/courts, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The situation is quite scary for people in food service right now. I can think of at least two restaurants that might not survive being closed down for this long, and that is contingent on the closure not being extended further into the future. In Nevada they’re set to close for 30 days, so that will make for an even harder experience for the industry in that state.

It will be a hard time for everyone. Let us help each other in the industry:

  • Pickup food from your local food bank, and donate to it when the situation is better.
  • Apply for unemployment benefits. Check with your employer beforehand as some employers are not being honest or forthcoming about employment status.
  • Some grocery and big-box stores are hiring temporary help due to the crush of people. Of course, this risks community exposure to possible contagion, which you may or may not want.
  • Look around for more resources. A good place to start is this Eater list.
  • If you’re stuck at home, video call your service industry friends. Don’t text or call. A lot of people rely on the job to get their share of social interaction for the day and it helps your mental health to talk with other people in the same situation.
  • Go outside. You don’t have to stay cooped up indoors. Just make sure to apply proper social distancing.

I’m sure everyone has seen plenty of articles about staying productive but remember. Not everything is about money. Do what you like to do and get into building better habits for yourself.

This will be hard for everyone but remember you’re not alone.

Edit 2020-03-18 06-31: Check out this r/KitchenConfidential COVID-19 megathread with a ton of links to resources and help!

Fodder: Scab Salt

#saltbae sitting on an easy chair

Source: Salt Bae’s Meat Empire Is Rife With Labor Problems – VICE

Apparently this is something Salt Bae has dragged along with him from before he even his the meme big leagues in addition to accusations of sexism, racism, willfully ignoring health violations, etc etc etc. That’s before the most substantial accusation of them all: That his food is just bad.

The industry is already notorious for intensely disliking union and those that would push a union agenda in a restaurant and what unionizing would do to a business, whether the fears that are real or imagined. There are multiple pros and cons for each and we are not going to go into those in this post.

The choice quote of the Vice article:

Kucur talked about Gökçe’s obsession with Scarface: “He was so influenced by the movie. He thinks he is like Tony Montana. He said to me, ‘What’s the name on the restaurant? Nusr-Et. What’s my name? Nusret. What I say, goes.'”

We should all be so fortunate if the fireworks are even a smidgen like in the finale of the movie.

Someday the band will get back together

Closing a restaurant means staring directly at your reflection and seeing a quitter staring back at you

Source: How to Close a Restaurant – Eater

A few months ago the staff of the restaurant I was working at were all told of an all-hands meeting. Nobody thought it strange as it had been over six months since the last meeting and that one had resulted in an entire reworking of the menu. So it was time.

I started getting giddy when the corporate Chef showed up, and then one of the owners showed up. Something was afoot. So we all walked down to the conference room of the building, and the boss immediately dropped the bomb on us.

The restaurant was to close down when the lease was up, a month and a half from that day.

It did come as a bit of a surprise to most of the staff—myself included. Our numbers weren’t the best but we were breaking even, or so I thought. We had a fair number of regulars, and people regularly raved about the quality of the food.

It meant a number of things but first and foremost it meant a fair number of employees would have to seek out new employment in the slowest season of the year.

But here’s the thing. This is closing down a restaurant from an employee’s point of view. I did not have to worry about emptying out the space, or closing down accounts with suppliers and purveyors, or worrying about those last paychecks. It is a very different experience since as an employee you… get to just walk away worrying only about that last paycheck.

It still smarts. There are always more restaurants to work at but it is a special thing when you have a good crew working together.

Maybe someday it will happen again.