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July 3, 2014

danny meyer on danny meyer

If you remember back all the way to last week, when we were visiting the fact that there will be a whole lot of independent restaurants/stores being priced clean out of the city into oblivion in the future, Danny Meyer, the man who opened the soon to be relo-ed Union Square Cafe, speaks on the matter:
Because the market suggests they can, landlords are using this moment to demand the significantly higher rents they've been waiting for since first betting on their neighborhoods. In our case, the advertised rent is triple what we are now paying...

For the condos and chain stores that may replace us, such costs can be absorbed or passed on to consumers. But that sort of economics doesn't work for neighborhood restaurants. Our food and wine isn't inexpensive, but it's not unreasonably priced. To change that value equation would be inhospitable to our guests and go against our reason for existing. Nor would it allow us to continue to provide an upward career path for our dedicated employees.

I largely agree.  I take that back; I agree.  But I do want to take issue with an issue ancillary to all of this, namely, what we're talking about when we're talking about neighborhood restaurants.

I've got nothing against Danny Meyer.  I've been to most of his restaurants and I've never had a bad meal/time.  But, I think for Meyer to characterize USC as a neighborhood restaurant is maybe a bit much, especially when you take into consideration his enormous restaurant empire, anchored by the endless expansion of Shake Shack.  In his op-ed he concedes that he may be part of the problem.  I think he is, but not in the sense of the snowballing landlord greed.

Rather, I think that he is part of the problem that is killing the actual neighborhood restaurants, the diners and mom-and-pops and lunch counters.  His food is just too good, and too high-end, and it has led us to where we are now in terms of the landscape of restaurant cuisine out there.  Basically, after the trails blazed by Meyer, we are all hipstervores now.  Our communal palate has changed like that, and it's fantastic that we're taking more care about the sourcing of our food and our diets in general, but let's be honest: when I say we, I'm talking about some small portion of the population that is pretty well-off economically and can afford the attention/money that this new cuisine requires.  And then there's everyone else.  And as the mom-and-pops slowly get squeezed, the empty space not filled by hipstervore experiments gets occupied by a new fast food restaurant or 7-11 — more better eating by chemistry, and more of the non-wealthy slowly eating themselves to death.

Obviously this is not Danny Meyer's (or David Chang's or Bobby Flay's or whatever name you want to fill in) fault, and more of an unintended consequence of success.  And it sucks that USC is getting squeezed out, and it basically shows that no one is safe.  I just want to be careful that we don't forget the actual neighborhood restaurants, because when they die, no one writes an op-ed about them.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

July 2, 2014

rich guy invokes pitchforks in positive way

This is from last week so it might as well not exist, but it is a Thing You Should Read — the latest contribution by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer to the conversation concerning income inequality.

But it's not as boring as all that!  The piece is posited as a plea to Hanauer's fellow billionaires to tend to this problem before the pitchforks and the torches arrive, followed by Madame Guillotine.  He's being partly disingenuous, of course, but when it comes right down to it, our current state of nauseating inequality is just bad for business:

Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it. The middle class creates us rich people, not the other way around.

It is plainly written and it is filled with restatements of ideas that you already agree with.  It also acknowledges that this is a problem that will not be solved politically without the public will to see it done.  So get up to get down, all you.

The Apostate Rich Guy events pop up now and again (Henry Blodget for example), and I guess I'll keep highlighting them until such time as there is no longer a need to do so.

But Hanauer is smart:

The most insidious thing about trickle-down economics isn't believing that if the rich get richer, it's good for the economy. It's believing that if the poor get richer, it's bad for the economy.

Please tattoo this on my forehead.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:33 AM

July 1, 2014

paul lepage, sovereign citizen

Here's a quick enthralling read.  It's a bittersweet love story, wherein the sitting governor of Maine, Paul LePage, falls head over heels for a bunch of Soverign Citizens:
When discussing Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves, both Democrats, [Sovereign Citizen dude Jack] McCarthy apparently claimed that they were guilty of "high treason" and noted that the penalty for treason hadn't changed in a hundred years.

"I never said it, but the governor said it. I never opened my mouth and said the word," explained McCarthy. "The governor looked at us and looked at his buddy and said, 'They're talking about hanging them.'" (The "buddy" was apparently a member of LePage's legal staff.)

According to McCarthy, at another point in the conversation, when discussing federal funding, LePage said, "If I go any further with this bill, with this refusal to accept federal money, they will surround this building and kill me."

"I believe he thinks that literally, absolutely literally. I said if you call we will come and defend you," said McCarthy on his show.

This is not fiction!  It's an excerpted version of the first chapter of an upcoming book by Mike Tipping.  It's filled with fun stuff like the aforementioned death threats and remonstrances and admirality law and stuff like that.  Oh, and a sitting U.S. governor falling for that puerile nonsense hook, line and sinker.  It makes Rick Perry look like a Fulbright Scholar, and Bobby Jindal look like the president of Mensa.

Read it and wish you were a Mainer.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:24 PM