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    Jing Fong Workers Protest Restaurant Closing

    Jing Fong Workers Protest Restaurant’s ClosingAmr Alfiky/The New York TimesThe “Save Jing Fong! Protect Chinatown!” chants were heard up and down Canal Street on Tuesday. Over 70 people gathered to protest the closing of the largest restaurant in the area — and one of few unionized restaurants in the city. Here’s what happened → More

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    Hurt by Lockdowns, California’s Small Businesses Push to Recall Newsom

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }At HomeBake: Maximalist BrowniesListen: To Pink SweatsGrow: RosesUnwind: With Ambience VideosAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyHurt by Lockdowns, California’s Small Businesses Push to Recall GovernorThe pain for such enterprises been particularly acute in the state, leading some to back an effort to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom.Daniela Del Gaudio, left, and Alexandra Del Gaudio, are the founders of the Wild Plum, a yoga studio in the San Fernando Valley in California. By the time they reopened last month, they said, they had $70,000 in debt.Credit…Rozette Rago for The New York TimesFeb. 19, 2021Updated 6:26 p.m. ETLOS ANGELES — Alexandra and Daniela Del Gaudio had never been to a political rally before, let alone one to protest a coronavirus lockdown and recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. But things had changed in the sisters’ lives since they opened the Wild Plum, a yoga and wellness space, in 2018.The Wild Plum, in California’s San Fernando Valley, closed in March when Mr. Newsom issued pandemic stay-at-home orders for the state. By the time the Wild Plum reopened last month, when Mr. Newsom relaxed the latest lockdown restrictions, the sisters had amassed $70,000 in debt. So there they were at a recent anti-Newsom rally in a restaurant parking lot in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, along with dozens of other business owners.“Everyone says to walk away, but we put everything we have into this,” Daniela Del Gaudio, 33, said. “We’re banging our heads trying to figure out what to do.”California was one of the earliest states to go into lockdown last spring, and it is now emerging from a second lockdown, which started in December. That stop-start-stop has created a groundswell of anger toward Mr. Newsom, a Democrat in the third year of his first term, that is increasingly fueling a movement to recall him from office in one of the bluest of blue states.Demonstrators rally for a recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom in Huntington Beach, Calif., in November.Credit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated PressThe recall threat to Mr. Newsom has considerable momentum. Since March, 1.5 million Californians have signed a petition to oust Mr. Newsom, enough to trigger an election for a new governor. If enough of the signatures are verified, it will be the fourth recall election of a governor in American history.After they are verified and costs are estimated, the state has 60 to 80 days to schedule an election. Voters will be asked two questions on the ballot. The first is whether Mr. Newsom should be recalled. The second: Who should replace him? If the first question on the recall comes up short, the second becomes moot.The recall campaign has been funded by the Republican National Committee, which committed $250,000, as well as Silicon Valley tech investors such as Chamath Palihapitiya, who donated $100,000. Small-business owners have also been an engine behind the effort, said Randy Economy, the spokesman for the Recall Gavin Newsom campaign.“He’s broken the back of small-business owners and put many of them out of business for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Economy said. He said many were incensed when Mr. Newsom was photographed in November having dinner at the French Laundry, a temple to haute cuisine in Napa Valley, in violation of state guidelines. (When photos of the dinner were leaked, Mr. Newsom apologized for his behavior.) Small businesses across the country have suffered from shutdowns that sometimes seem to flare up as suddenly as surges in the coronavirus itself. Restaurants, gyms, corner stores and spas have closed, some after trying to hang in there for months.The pain in California has been acute. Nearly 40,000 small businesses had closed in the state by September — more than in any other state since the pandemic began, according to a report compiled by Yelp. Half had shut permanently, according to the report, far more than the 6,400 that had closed permanently in New York.Few of the pandemic choices that Mr. Newsom has faced have been easy. California has suffered enormously from Covid-19, with more than 3.5 million cases and 47,000 deaths. Los Angeles County, one of the hardest-hit places in the recent virus surge, has more than 1.2 million cases and 19,000 deaths.Dan Newman, a political strategist for Mr. Newsom, said the governor was focused on coronavirus vaccinations and reopening the state. Mr. Newman blamed “state and national G.O.P. partisans” for supporting “this Republican recall scheme in hopes of creating an expensive, distracting and destructive circus.”Acknowledging that the pandemic has “heavily impacted our small businesses,” the director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Dee Dee Myers, pointed to several state programs that offer them help. They include the California Small Business Covid-19 Relief Grant Program, the California Rebuilding Fund and the Main Street Hiring Tax Credit.Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement that Mr. Newsom had “proven that he is woefully unqualified to lead the state of California.”In places such as Los Angeles County, where Mr. Newsom won 72 percent of the vote in 2018, and neighboring Orange County, a more conservative area, the small-business anger is particularly intense. One local business owner leading the movement to open California’s economy is Andrew Gruel, 40, a chef who owns Slapfish, a seafood restaurant chain.Mr. Gruel argued in an interview last month that California’s lockdown rules were confusing and hurt small businesses disproportionately. “None of the rules make sense,” he said one afternoon from the Slapfish in Huntington Beach.As evidence, Mr. Gruel pointed to the Walmart just up the road. While local restaurants could not have diners sit outside in the first lockdown, even six feet apart and with plexiglass between them, a Burger King inside the Walmart remained open, he said.“And that was legal,” he said. “It’s like W.W.E. in there, people cross-body blocking each other for B.K. delight.”Opposition to Mr. Newsom’s pandemic policies is particularly intense among small businesses in the Los Angeles area.Credit…David Walter Banks for The New York TimesMr. Gruel said he had laid off 100 people, had closed one of his restaurants permanently and was worried about the rest of Slapfish’s two dozen locations. The company has lost around $100,000 and taken on a lot of debt, he added.That afternoon, he let people sit outside anyway, even though it was against the lockdown restrictions at the time. “You could do a citizen’s arrest,” he suggested.Local business associations said they were also furious. Nick Rimedio, who serves on the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the lockdowns had widened a class divide. While quarantine has been almost relaxing for what he called the wealthy “Zoom class,” it has been a nightmare for the poor and middle class who have storefronts or work service jobs in businesses in the area, he said.“If you’re well-to-do, if you have a healthy stock portfolio, if you can work from home, you’ve saved on your commute. You’re doing great,” Mr. Rimedio said.Angela Marsden, the owner of Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill, a cozy bar in Sherman Oaks, has become another anti-lockdown leader. In December, she posted a video on Facebook in which she was masked and near tears. She pointed the camera at a movie set with outdoor tables, which was legal, and then contrasted that with her newly built outdoor dining setup, which had just been banned. The video went viral, and she started a GoFundMe page that has raised $220,000.Last month, Ms. Marsden, 48, gathered dozens of local business owners, including the Del Gaudio sisters, to discuss how to survive and what to do to push for reopening. Many owned bars and restaurants; others owned gyms or spas. Almost all of their locations had been closed since March.They sat at different tables, spaced a few feet apart. Most wore masks most of the time.“Our retirement savings are gone,” said Joe Lyons, who owns the Celtic Raven Pub in Winnetka, Calif., with his wife, Belinda.Credit…Rozette Rago for The New York TimesBelinda and Joe Lyons, who own the Celtic Raven Pub and co-own JJ Sullivan’s Irish Pub in the San Fernando Valley, said they had furloughed 12 people. One of their suppliers was demanding payments they could not make, they said. The Celtic Raven landlord has been pressuring them for 10 months of unpaid rent. By March 1, they will be personally liable for $49,000 in back rent.“It’s going to kill us,” Mr. Lyons said. “Our retirement savings are gone.”But the hardest part, Ms. Lyons said, was Mr. Newsom’s policies.“When we were told we could open last June by Gavin Newson, I put full insurance back with the intention of reopening, only to be told that we could not,” she said. “That cost me over $8,000 that I’m still paying, as the insurance company would not cancel.”Another attendee was Guido Murga, the owner of One Headlight, a hospitality supplies distributor. He said his business was down because restaurants, his main customers, were hurting.“I sell napkins, straws, cherries, olives, to-go cups. When they close, I close,” he said. “I’m drowning week to week.”Ms. Marsden had never led a rally before, but she got into the energy of it.“Come April or May, how many of us will be here?” she asked, her voice rising.“None!” some in the crowd shouted.“I’m drowning week to week,” said Guido Murga, whose supply business in Los Angeles depends on restaurants.Credit…Rozette Rago for The New York TimesThe event was disrupted midway through when a small group of virus skeptics who had joined the crowd grew boisterous and demanded that people stop wearing masks. The moment reflected the complexity at play. Those fighting to open businesses in a responsible way were tangling with more Trumpist factions, who saw new allies in some of the apolitical business owners.Carey Ysais, owner of the bar Kahuna Tiki, stood up to call everyone back to order.“Guys, where you’re at is a different place than where we’re at,” Mr. Ysais said, as the anti-mask crowd jeered. “Are you a bar owner? Excuse me, are you a bar owner?”The Del Gaudio sisters did not leave optimistic.“We were raised to work hard. We’re not even given that opportunity,” Alexandra Del Gaudio, 36, said. “We’re trying to pull our families out of poverty.”Thomas Fuller More

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    Pete Wells's Odyssey as Restaurant Critic During Pandemic

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }At HomeMake: BirriaExplore: ‘Bridgerton’ StyleParent: With ImprovRead: Joyce Carol OatesAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyTimes InsiderChange by the Plateful: Covering Restaurants in a PandemicTo capture New York’s food scene in these times, I’ve adapted to many roles. But the essence of my job remains the same: hunting for a good meal.Pete Wells’s review of the restaurant Falansai was his first based solely on takeout and delivery.Credit…Adam Friedlander for The New York TimesFeb. 17, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETTimes Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.In November, Falansai, a Vietnamese restaurant that had closed at the start of the pandemic, was taken over by a new owner and chef named Eric Tran. I was intrigued by his menu, which included confit duck necks and a seafood curry soup made with peanut milk. The backyard was supposed to be open for outdoor dining on warm nights, but there weren’t any. Too curious to wait for spring, I placed a delivery order, using my own name instead of an alias so the courier would know which bell to ring.Mr. Tran told me later that when he saw the order, he and his sous-chef asked each other whether they were cooking for the Times restaurant critic.“Why would Pete Wells order delivery from us?” the sous-chef asked.“Maybe he’s hungry?” Mr. Tran replied.I was. But I was on the job, too, and that first order persuaded me to review Mr. Tran’s restaurant without eating on the premises at all. It was the first review I’ve written based solely on takeout and delivery but, as restaurants, and my attempts to cover them, continue to adapt to the pandemic, I imagine it won’t be the last.For months after all the restaurant dining rooms in the city were forced to close last March, I wrote nothing that resembled a review. The entire business and all the people in it were suffering, and I spent my time as a reporter, finding out how some of them were getting along. I quickly learned that when talking with anybody who had earned a livelihood from restaurants or bars, I needed to budget at least an hour.Before the pandemic, I normally called chefs after I’d written a review of their restaurant but before it was published, to check facts. The chefs usually sounded as if I were calling with the results of a lab test. One chef called me back from a hospital and told me his wife was in the next room giving birth to their first child, but — oh no, don’t worry, it’s fine, he said; in fact, I’d picked a perfect time to call! These were, in other words, awkward conversations.The ones I had last spring were different. It was as if the fear and distrust all chefs feel toward all critics were gone. They talked about going bankrupt, they talked about crying and not wanting to get out of bed. What did they have left to lose by talking to me?By June, the crisis had settled into a kind of desperate stability. I was starting to run out of restaurants-in-extremis ideas when, midway through the month, the city announced that restaurants could serve on sidewalks and in the streets. On the day outdoor dining began, I rode my bike into Manhattan to have lunch at the first open restaurant I could find. I was as thrilled to eat someone else’s cooking as I was to do something that resembled my old job.It still took a few weeks before I wrote any reviews. At first, I worried that any opinion of mine would be unfair when restaurants were trying so hard to adapt to the new reality. Eventually, I understood that that was exactly what would make the reviews worth writing. Good food in a pandemic was great; great food seemed like a miracle, and I was finding great food all around.My pandemic reviews note the ways that restaurants have trimmed menus and simplified dishes, but even the shorter, stripped-down versions had a lot to praise. There was something that got to me about these small businesses — some of which had opened in the pandemic, all of which were fighting for survival — trying to bring New Yorkers some joy while keeping them healthy. I didn’t want to just report on it. I wanted to bang a drum so people would pay attention.The decision not to put stars on the reviews, as The Times has since the 1960s, was easy. Formerly, I tried to make the stars reflect how close any given restaurant came to being an ideal version of itself. But in the pandemic, there were no ideal restaurants, only places that were making it up as they went along.Almost everything about outdoor dining appealed to me: the street life, the flower pots, the shoestring architecture of in-street platforms. Even the weather played along, staying mostly dry and temperate nearly through the end of December. But there was no question that by Christmas it was getting too cold to dine al fresco.In my reporter mode, I had been told by scientists, airflow engineers and other experts how Covid-19 is transmitted, and all last summer and fall I felt fairly certain that eating outdoors could be relatively safe for everyone. (Some public-health experts believe that now, even outdoor dining in New York City is unsafe while the local risk of Covid transmission remains very high.) I did not have the same certainty about dining indoors or about some of the plywood structures I call enclosed porches, particularly their windows and doors, which are closed so they have almost no ventilation. I have walked away from several of those.I wanted to keep reviewing restaurants, but I didn’t want to go back into their dining rooms both because of the risk and because I was afraid readers would take it as an all-clear signal. When the governor halted indoor dining again in December, my selfish reaction was relief. Then I briefly got depressed. How would restaurants survive? And how would I keep writing about them?One answer had already started to appear on sidewalks and streets in the form of small greenhouses, huts, tents and yurts. Inside these personal dining rooms, you can (and should) sit just with people from your own household. If the restaurant thoroughly airs the space out between seatings, any germs you breathe in should be the same ones that are bouncing around your home. Many restaurants instruct their servers to stay outside the structures as much as possible, though some don’t. Indoor dining is back on in New York, but for now, I order more takeout than I’ve ever done in my life. I am still going on my rounds, too, but I dress differently these days. The other night, I put on thermal underwear, thick wool socks, a heavy shirt, synthetic-blend trousers and a bulky sweater. After lacing up my lined hiking boots, I packed a scarf and a Microfleece travel blanket into a tote bag. Then I strapped on a couple of masks. I looked like I was embarking on an overnight snowshoeing trek, but I was only going to Manhattan to chase down some tacos.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    How a Minimum-Wage Increase Is Being Felt in a Low-Wage City

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Jobs CrisisCurrent Unemployment RateWhen the Checks Run OutThe Economy in 9 ChartsThe First 6 MonthsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyHow a Minimum-Wage Increase Is Being Felt in a Low-Wage CityIs $15 an hour too much, or not enough? Fresno, Calif., may be a laboratory for a debate over the minimum wage that is heating up on the national level.Elsa Rodriguez Killion, a Fresno restaurant owner, worries that California’s rising minimum wage will force her to cut jobs.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney for The New York TimesFeb. 14, 2021, 5:05 p.m. ETEven before the pandemic, Elsa Rodriguez Killion realized that Casa Corona, her restaurant in Fresno, Calif., was going to have to change with the times.She spent money on digital marketing. She invested in technology that enabled online orders, for dishes like the restaurant’s signature chile verde. And there was something else she had to keep up with: California’s rising minimum wage.The minimum rose to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, the fifth annual increase under a 2016 law. It is set to reach $15 for most employers by next year. With price increases, Ms. Rodriguez Killion was able to absorb some of the added payroll expense. But she also cut more than 20 percent of the 160 jobs at her restaurant’s two locations in the last five years, not including those lost because of the pandemic.“Every year we have had to make hard decisions to let labor go,” said Ms. Rodriguez Killion, 47, who opened Casa Corona with her brother and sister more than 20 years ago. She worries that paring more of her work force is inevitable.On the flip side of her anxiety is the measurable difference felt by some Fresno workers, even if the higher pay is still often not enough to live comfortably.“It helps tremendously,” said Elisabeth Parra, 25, a Walmart cashier who lives with her mother. Since her pay rose to the $14 minimum last month, she said, “I’m able to help my mom more with bills.”Fresno may be a laboratory for a debate that is heating up on the national level. President Biden wants to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, from the current $7.25, achieving a longstanding priority of the labor movement and the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.For now, at least, such a provision is part of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. House Democrats, who voted in 2019 for a $15 minimum wage, intend to do so again when they send the pandemic legislation to the Senate. But chances there are clouded by parliamentary questions — and the objections of two key Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, along with Republicans.Backers have long said that increasing the minimum wage would raise the living standard of workers and help combat poverty. With more money, workers would be inclined to spend more, strengthening the economy.Opponents contend that minimum-wage increases cost jobs, particularly in struggling cities like Fresno. What’s more, they say, any broad standard, whether statewide or nationwide, does not account for local variations in the cost of living or business conditions.According to a study by the Congressional Budget Office, raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would decrease employment by 1.4 million — but it would still raise 900,000 people out of poverty. The report’s conclusions were wielded by both proponents and foes of the $15 proposal.The pandemic-induced downturn has raised the stakes. Those favoring a minimum-wage increase say it is more essential than ever, especially since sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, including leisure and hospitality, have a higher proportion of low-wage workers. Critics counter that lifting the wage floor would severely harm small businesses trying to bounce back.“This is the debate that usually takes place in some academic circles,” said Antonio Avalos, the chairman of the economics department at California State University, Fresno. But the experience of Fresno, an inland city of 500,000 isolated geographically and economically from coastal metropolises like San Francisco and Los Angeles, underscores the core tension between the competing economic arguments.Fresno is the hub of an agriculture-rich area, with produce that includes almonds, pistachios, oranges and grapes. Its economy is tied directly to the agriculture industry, though its location has also made it a draw for warehouses. In recent years, Amazon and the beauty emporium Ulta Beauty both opened sprawling fulfillment centers there.Fresno’s economy is tied to agriculture, but its location has also drawn warehouses, including an Amazon distribution center.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney for The New York TimesFresno County, where more than half of the population identifies as Hispanic, has one of the state’s highest poverty rates, and one of its lowest median wages. The typical local worker in 2019, the last year for which data is available, made under $17 an hour. A quarter of workers made $12.50. Before California enacted gradual increases under its 2016 law, the minimum wage was $10, a level typical for fast-food jobs and other low-wage occupations.Some Fresno business owners saw little impact from the raises.Arthur Moye, who owns Full Circle Brewing Company, a craft brewery, has not had to reduce his staff because the wage increases had been “a slow roll,” he said. Instead, he has adjusted both the pay and the work. “We might increase expectations on the people that are here earning that higher wage,” devoting more scrutiny to job candidates and doing more to develop those they hire, he said.But others, especially restaurant owners like Ms. Rodriguez Killion, say costs are becoming untenable, especially as they contend with the pandemic’s impact.A 2019 study by the University of California, Riverside, funded by the California Restaurant Association, a trade group, found evidence that the rising minimum wage was slowing growth in the state’s restaurant industry.Kris Stuebner, an executive at Jem Restaurant Management Corporation, which operates KFC and Wendy’s franchises in Fresno, said the wage mandate had been particularly tough for restaurant operators like him, who have to allocate a percentage of their profits to things like franchise royalties and advertising fees.He has not reduced his work force, he said. But to offset the rising labor costs, he said, he has had to raise prices and look for places to save money. He formed an internal maintenance department because he could no longer afford to pay an outside company to fix issues like plumbing.“It’s this balancing act — you’ve got all these balls in the air to juggle,” he said.Several employers questioned the logic of applying a statewide minimum wage in a place like Fresno, where the cost of living is much lower than in coastal cities. In voices tinged with resentment, some describe the rising minimum wage as akin to a “payroll tax grab” by the government because payroll taxes for employers are tied to employees’ wages and rise when wages do.Some business owners also noted that they had had to raise wages for employees already making more than the minimum to keep the pay scale fair. And some mentioned indirect results: When the minimum wage increases, the price of other things, from gas to cleaning linens to produce, increases as well.Yet hiring has continued. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, restaurant employment in Fresno rose by about 7 percent from the end of 2016 to the end of 2019, before the pandemic — a slightly higher rate than in California as a whole.The minimum-wage law allows the governor to delay a planned increase for a year if the economy weakens. With the pandemic gutting their industry, restaurant owners in Fresno and elsewhere urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to do so.When he didn’t, some owners were outraged.“It’s frustrating as can be,” said Chuck Van Fleet, the owner of Vino Grille & Spirits and the president of the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association. “You’ve got somebody who’s out there saying, ‘Hey, I’m trying to do what’s right for everybody.’ And the only thing he wants to do is increase wages.”At the same time, the wage increases in California have offered hope to some workers in Fresno, whose incomes have grown.Ms. Parra, the Walmart cashier, has lived almost her whole life in Fresno. She recently graduated from California State University, Fresno, with a degree in mass communications and journalism, focusing on advertising, and dreams of becoming an art director.She was making $15 an hour in a part-time job at a public relations firm before she was let go in the spring during the first coronavirus surge. She started working at Walmart in October for $13 an hour, the minimum wage last year.Jessica Ramirez makes $15.65 an hour at the Amazon warehouse in Fresno, but even with food stamps, she finds her pay barely enough to support her five children.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney for The New York TimesWhen the wage went up, Ms. Parra said, she could more easily help with rent and pay the phone and cable bills at the apartment that she shares with her mother, who makes $18.50 an hour at a heating and air-conditioning company.She noted, however, that her wages were not enough for her to live on her own. “I wouldn’t say that we’re poor, but I also wouldn’t say that we’re well off,” she said. “But because there is both of us who have incomes, we’re able to do O.K.”Mayor Jerry Dyer said there were “mixed feelings, obviously,” about the rising minimum wage. “As a mayor of a city, it’s important that we have people in our community who are making a livable wage,” he said.But Mr. Dyer, a Republican, said he also understood the pain that businesses might be feeling. “I’ve heard from businesses that if the minimum wage goes up too much, they’re not able to be competitive,” he said.“That’s the challenge that we face,” he said.One prevailing question is whether $15 is enough.In Fresno, it often isn’t. M.I.T.’s Living Wage Calculator estimates that a living wage in Fresno for a family of four, with both adults working, is $22.52 an hour. In the past year, Fresno’s median rent increased by 11 percent, to $1,260, according to Apartment List’s National Rent Report, among the greatest increases in the country.For 40 hours a week, Jessica Ramirez, 26, makes $15.65 an hour at the Amazon warehouse in Fresno. She is the primary breadwinner for herself, her partner and her five children, but even with food stamps and occasional gig work, she said, her wage is barely enough for them to get by.Ms. Ramirezsaid she was renting a three-bedroom house for $1,350 a month — roughly half of what she makes.She wants to go to college, but even more, she wants a better life for her children. “I’m their provider,” she said. “I have to give them a home. That’s what they need — a home.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Pizza Was the Restaurant Hero of 2020

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }At HomeMake: BirriaExplore: ‘Bridgerton’ StyleParent: With ImprovRead: Joyce Carol OatesCredit…Tony Cenicola/The New York TimesSkip to contentSkip to site indexPizza Was the Restaurant Hero of 2020Its ease and affordability made it a pandemic staple for many families and a rare bright spot in an industry that has been decimated.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York TimesSupported byContinue reading the main storyFeb. 12, 2021, 10:31 a.m. ETA few times a week, Elizabeth Reninger ambles to a pizza restaurant near her job for lunch. She orders the same thing every time: a cheese slice and fries for $6. For a little adventure, she sprinkles on some Parmesan and red pepper flakes.Before the coronavirus pandemic swept across the country, Ms. Reninger, a criminology student at Northern Arizona University who also works at a dog day-care facility, estimated that she ate pizza only once every couple of months. That changed late last summer when she strolled into a Slice and Ice pizza parlor.“Maybe the warm, gooey cheese is some sort of comfort food for me with the pandemic,” Ms. Reninger said. “I go a couple of times a week, maybe three times some weeks, which is kind of embarrassing.”For many Americans, pizza has been a perfect pandemic option, a comfort food for a time that is anything but comfortable. Whether a thin-crust version topped with fresh vegetables or a stuffed-crust pie piled high with sausage and pepperoni, pizza has checked many boxes during these strange times, primarily because it travels well and can easily feed — sometimes fairly inexpensively — an entire family. Over the first nine months of 2020, the combined revenue of Domino’s and Papa John’s grew so much that it was roughly equivalent to their selling about 30 million more large cheese pizzas than they had the year before.In a year when restaurants across the country have struggled to stay afloat, with many unable to cover rent payments and pay employees because of government-mandated shutdowns, those that dished up pizza have generally fared better. Sales of pizza grew as much as 4 percent last year, according to Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm. Pizza and chicken are the only foods categories expected to have grown.“The pizza category as a whole was a big winner,” said Sara Senatore, an analyst who covers restaurants at Bernstein. Ms. Senatore noted that it may have become a go-to meal for families that found themselves on a tight budget because of falling wages or lost jobs.(Le) Brix Pizza and Wine in Denver opened as a French brasserie but quickly pivoted, temporarily, to pizza to accommodate the demand for delivery foods.Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York TimesFor large pizza chains like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and the privately held Little Caesars, the pandemic proved to be a sales boon. The four controlled 43 percent of the $44 billion U.S. market heading into the pandemic, according to Technomic. Some analysts say the big chains, most of which have not reported fourth-quarter earnings yet, almost assuredly gained more market share because their size allowed them to better navigate issues like paying rising prices for cheese and other ingredients, hiring additional help or covering rent after particularly lean weeks than independent pizza parlor owners.For the first nine months of last year, combined revenues at Domino’s and Papa John’s increased almost 12 percent, or $434 million. Pizza Hut’s revenues for the same period were down a tad from 2019’s levels. The chain was in the midst of a turnaround plan when it had to deal with Covid-related closings and restrictions at its dine-in restaurants across the country. Even frozen pizza performed well during the pandemic, with sales climbing nearly 21 percent to more than $6 billion, according to NielsenIQ.“Pizza was the perfect food for the pandemic, but I think it’s also the perfect food for all time,” said Ritch Allison, the chief executive of Domino’s, which saw double-digit increases in same-store sales in the United States, starting last spring. In the past year, Domino’s stock has soared 40 percent, to $385 a share. In the fall of 2008, it traded at a low of $3.“We entered the pandemic in a fortunate position,” said Mr. Allison, noting that the company had a robust delivery service and had invested in its digital capability over the past decade.(Le) Brix is considering continuing the pizza operation even after the pandemic ends. Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York TimesJeff Schwing keeps the pizza oven going. The co-owners built it over Thanksgiving weekend.Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York TimesStill, as demand soared during the pandemic, Domino’s rushed to hire 30,000 people; ramped up its production of the fresh dough that is sent to all of its locations; and faced occasional shortages of ingredients as meat producers shut down because of coronavirus outbreaks in their facilities. Television commercials, which normally take months to plan and shoot, were reshot in a matter of days so they could feature drivers wearing masks as they made deliveries.Mr. Allison said his company had also become quite nimble in responding to pandemic customer behaviors. When it noticed cheeseburgers and tacos were also popular pandemic options, it quickly created two specialty pies: cheeseburger and chicken taco. Both become hot sellers, Mr. Allison said.“My new favorite is the chicken taco, and I add extra jalapeños to give it some zip,” he added.The pandemic has been devastating to the restaurant industry over all. Last year, more than 68,000 restaurants closed permanently, with buffets, French bistros, and soup and salad spots being among the hardest hit, according to Datassential. But 11,000 restaurants opened during the pandemic. Pizzerias led the way, with nearly 2,000 openings.Justin Morse and his partners had hoped to be serving their version of escargots (served in little ramekins with saltine crackers) and steak frites to diners when they opened Brasserie Brixton, a cozy, 45-seat French bistro in Denver, in July. But they became increasingly nervous as dining restrictions in the city expanded in the late fall, and they found themselves unable to apply for government relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program because they could not show a history of lost revenue.Mr. Morse and his co-owners knew they had to focus on delivery. Realizing that items like French onion soup do not travel particularly well, they did an about-face. Over Thanksgiving weekend, they built and installed a wood-fired pizza oven.The partners in (Le) Brix Pizza and Wine, from left: Amy Keil, Justin Morse and Nicholas Dalton. Mr. Morse delivers the bulk of the pizzas himself.Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times“What industry is already set up for delivery and takeout? Pizza,” Mr. Morse said. “We said, ‘Let’s mimic an industry that people are already comfortable with in terms of delivery and takeout.’” While their restaurant, temporarily renamed (Le) Brix Pizza & Wine, offers a classic Margherita pizza, it also sells pizzas with French flair. One comes with white anchovies and thyme and another with potato, crème fraîche and rosemary.“We’re not selling enough pizzas to cover all of the costs, but it’s better than the alternative,” said Mr. Morse, who delivers the bulk of the pizzas himself. He said the group hoped to return to French fare in a few months, but was considering continuing the pizza business at a different location.Mr. Allison of Domino’s said he believed that demand for pizza would remain robust even after the pandemic ended.“We’ve been given the opportunity to serve a lot of new customers during the pandemic who had never ordered from us or not ordered in a long time,” he said. “We hope we’ve done a great job to serve them and that they become loyal customers.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    In Canada, Americans Are Missed, With Limits

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesSee Your Local RiskNew Variants TrackerVaccine RolloutAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyIn Canada, Americans Are Missed, With LimitsU.S. visitors usually mean big business for Canada’s tourism industry. But the pandemic has blunted lonesomeness for the country’s best friend.Before the pandemic, American visitors were frequent guests at the Fairmont le Château Frontenac, a castlelike hotel in Quebec City.Credit…GettyFeb. 10, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETDavid McMillan, the co-owner of Montreal’s famed temple of gluttony, Joe Beef, used to spend his days obsessing over his signature dishes like rabbit with mustard sauce, and lobster spaghetti. These days, however, he has another preoccupation: Studying American vaccination rates.Before the pandemic, so many American gastronomy pilgrims from New York, Boston and Los Angeles came each week to Joe Beef that many local residents, facing a 10-week waiting list, all but gave up trying. The Americans, Mr. McMillan recalled wistfully, thought nothing of buying expensive bottles of Champagne and sucking down oysters until midnight, before purchasing his prophetic-sounding cookbook “Surviving the Apocalypse.”“Ah, how I miss the Americans,” said Mr. McMillan, who presides over a mini-empire of four restaurants in the city, including Liverpool House, where Justin Trudeau once bromanced President Obama. American tourists, he added, accounted for half of Joe Beef’s pre-pandemic weekly revenue of about $118,000, or about 150,000 Canadian dollars. “When the Americans were here every night it felt like we were putting on a Broadway show.”David McMillan is the co-owner of Montreal’s Joe Beef, a restaurant which attracted American gastronomy pilgrims before the pandemic.Credit…David Giral for The New York Times“Now, I look every day at how the U.S. vaccination is going,” he added. “And I get messages every day from American clients asking when they can get back in.”It’s a question many in the Canadian tourism industry have also been asking, ever since the Canada-U. S. border was closed to nonessential travelers in March. The loss of American visitors, armed with their strong dollars and consuming zeal, has buffeted popular destinations like Montreal, Quebec City and Vancouver, already reeling from a debilitating pandemic. Canadian airlines have been forced to make thousands of layoffs.More than two thirds of the 21 million international tourists who came to Canada in 2019 were from the United States, according to government data, with Americans pumping about $8.7 billion into the economy. That’s compared to the nearly $1.3 billion spent by Chinese visitors, about $1 billion by Britons and about $735 million by the French.The absence of American tourists feels acute in many quarters of Canada. Above, a deserted stretch of Rue Notre Dame West in Montreal.Credit…David Giral for The New York TimesAbsence makes the heart grow fonder — but not enough to open borders.Canadians have long had a love-hate relationship with their larger, showier neighbor south of the border. That ambivalence was magnified during the Trump administration, when the mercurial American president slapped punishing tariffs on the country, suggested Canada had burned down the White House during the War of 1812 (the country didn’t then exist) and called its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, “very dishonest” and “weak.”But it has always been more love than hate when it comes to travel between the two countries, with Americans drawn by Canada’s proximity, its common language in most regions and its mix of cosmopolitan cities and natural landscapes.The inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who spent her disco-dancing teenage years in Montreal, has renewed the ardor between the two allies, while vaccination has created cautious optimism about taming the pandemic. Still, while the tourism industry is experiencing one of its worst crises since World War II, recent polls show that the vast majority of Canadians want the borders to remain closed. Canadians, a typically rule-abiding people with a deference to scientific authority, have looked with some horror at the spiraling infection rates in the United States, and the handling of the coronavirus during the Trump administration.Mélanie Joly, Canada’s minister of economic development, who is responsible for tourism, said keeping the borders closed was a matter of pragmatism. “We can’t talk about reopening the economy until we stop the spread of the virus,” she said in an interview. Lamenting the absent Americans, she added: “It’s a bit like losing your best friend but you are sick and your best friend is sick and everyone is better off staying at home.”She said she hoped the travel industry would be “back on its feet” by September, as vaccination in Canada and the United States accelerated. The border, she stressed, would remain closed until the pandemic is contained.The Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal is popular with American visitors. Credit…David Giral for The New York TimesAt the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montreal, American museum-goers from New York, Massachusetts and Vermont helped turn a pre-pandemic exhibition on Leonard Cohen, the gravelly-voiced Montreal-born balladeer, into a blockbuster. But the museum’s director, John Zeppetelli, said knowing friends and colleagues in the art world who had contracted the virus while attending art fairs last year in the United States and elsewhere had underscored the need for caution. “Public health has to supersede economic concerns,” Mr. Zeppetelli said.Covid-19 tests, quarantines and a cruise ship ban create obstacles to travel.As it is, Canada itself is experiencing a lethal second wave, with a curfew in effect in Quebec, a lockdown in most parts of Ontario, the country’s most populous province, and border restrictions in each of the country’s Atlantic coast provinces that have required even Canadians from other provinces to quarantine.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    Europe’s Bankruptcies Are Plummeting. That May Be a Problem.

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesVaccine InformationTimelineWuhan, One Year LaterRomain Rozier in his empty restaurant in Paris. “We’re at death’s door.” he said.Credit…Sabine Mirlesse for The New York TimesEurope’s Bankruptcies Are Plummeting. That May Be a Problem.Governments have extended national programs to keep troubled businesses afloat, but the aid may only be postponing a painful reckoning.Romain Rozier in his empty restaurant in Paris. “We’re at death’s door.” he said.Credit…Sabine Mirlesse for The New York TimesSupported byContinue reading the main storyJan. 25, 2021, 12:01 a.m. ETPARIS — Romain Rozier’s cafe should be bankrupt by now.Since the coronavirus hit last spring, sales at the once buzzing lunch spot in northern Paris are down 80 percent. The only customers on a recent day were a couple of UberEats couriers and a handful of people spaced far apart at the counter, ordering takeout.“We’re at death’s door,” Mr. Rozier said, tallying the 300 euros ($365) he had made from the lunch shift, well below the €1,200 he used to pull in. “The only reason we haven’t gone under is because of financial aid.”France and other European countries are spending enormous sums to keep businesses afloat during the worst recession since World War II. But some worry they’ve gone too far; bankruptcies are plunging to levels not seen in decades.While the aid has prevented a surge in unemployment, the largess risks turning swaths of the economy into a kind of twilight zone where firms are swamped with debt they cannot pay off but receiving just enough state aid to stay alive — so-called zombie companies. Unable to invest or innovate, these firms could contribute to what the World Bank recently described as a potential “lost decade” of stagnant economic growth caused by the pandemic.“We need to get off of all of these subsidies at some point — otherwise, we’ll have a zombie economy,” said Carl Bildt, co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations and a former prime minister of Sweden.Bankruptcies fell 40 percent last year in France and Britain, and were down 25 percent on average in the European Union. Without government intervention, including billions in state-backed loans and subsidized payrolls, European business failures would have almost doubled last year, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private American organization.At the Commercial Court of Paris, Judge Patrick Coupeaud, who has handled bankruptcy cases for nearly a decade, sees the difference. “I have about a third fewer people coming to me, because many troubled businesses are being helped by the state,” he said, gesturing to the court’s nearly empty colonnaded marble halls.Judges Dominique-Paul Vallée, left, and Patrick Coupeaud. “Failure is not a word that the French like to use,” Judge Vallée said.Credit…Sabine Mirlesse for The New York TimesBy contrast, Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings in the United States rose in the third quarter to the highest level since the 2010 financial crisis, a trend that is expected to continue in 2021, according to an index compiled by the U.S. law firm Polsinelli.President Biden has proposed a new $1.9 trillion rescue package to combat the economic downturn and the Covid-19 crisis, and last week, the government reported that 900,000 Americans had filed new unemployment claims.Those statistics are shaping a debate over whether Europe’s strategy of protecting businesses and workers “at all costs” will cement a recovery, or leave economies less competitive and more dependent on government aid when the pandemic recedes.“Parts of the misery have only been delayed,” said Bert Colijn, chief eurozone economist at the Dutch bank ING. He added that there would be “a catch-up in bankruptcies” and a spike in unemployment whenever support measures were withdrawn.Analysts say the government programs are already seeding the economy with thousands of inefficient businesses with low productivity, high debt and a high prospect of default once low interest rates normalize.An estimated 10 percent of companies in France were saved from bankruptcy because of government funds, according to Rexecode, a French economic think tank.Letting unviable businesses go under, while painful, will be essential for allowing competitive sectors to thrive, said Jeffrey Franks, the head of the International Monetary Fund’s mission for France.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    It Could Be a Great Year, if Your Business Survives Winter

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesVaccination StrategiesVaccine InformationF.A.Q.TimelineAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyIt Could Be a Great Year, if Your Business Survives WinterTough sacrifices may still be required, but many see a post-pandemic resurgence in the year ahead.Maria Rodriguez mopped the front entry at the Hampton Inn & Suites Herndon-Reston in Herndon, Va., which has seen a significant decrease in guests since the pandemic began.Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York TimesNelson D. Schwartz and Jan. 11, 2021, 10:46 a.m. ETFor Ashlie Ordonez, owner of the Bare Bar Studio, a spa in Denver, vaccinations for the coronavirus can’t come soon enough. While she anticipates better days later this year, surviving until then will be a struggle, and she knows the next few months will be lean ones.“I sold my wedding ring so we could pay the bills and keep the doors open,” she said. “I’m sacrificing everything to make it through this pandemic.”Vinay Patel, who manages a chain of nine hotels in Maryland and Virginia, is looking even further out for a recovery: “2022 is when we’ll see the real true potential of the vaccine.” Mr. Patel added that his biggest hope for the coming year is a measure of stability, if not prosperity.As 2021 begins, business owners big and small confront a rapidly shifting landscape. An end to the pandemic is in sight as inoculations begin, but the slow pace of vaccinations has delayed the turnaround they were counting on. Hanging on is the chief goal for many, even as others look ahead to what they consider to be an inevitable rebound.This year “is not going to be a walk through the park, but I’m optimistic,” said Jimmy Etheredge, chief executive for North America at Accenture, the strategy and consulting company. “The eggs are in the vaccine basket.”Even as he anticipates a turnaround, Mr. Etheredge emphasized that many of the changes wrought by the pandemic, such as working remotely and a shift to cloud technology by companies, are here to stay.“Ten months of pandemic has accelerated technological change by 10 years,” he said. “We’re never going to go back to the way things were before.”In the meantime, it’s clear that there will be winners and losers this year. Restaurateurs, leisure and hospitality businesses and the travel industry will continue to struggle as a surge in Covid-19 cases prompts renewed lockdowns in many parts of the country. Few expect imminent salvation.The biggest companies, on the other hand, are positioning themselves for what could be a surge in consumption when the pandemic recedes. Technology, manufacturing, health care and some other industries are booming.Indeed, the contrast was evident last week as major stock indexes notched new highs even as the Labor Department reported that the economy lost 140,000 jobs in December. It was the first decline in months, with the leisure and hospitality sector alone losing half a million positions as lockdowns are enacted.“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Brian Moynihan, chief executive of Bank of America. “But there’s a side of the economy that’s still in trouble. There’s a group of Americans who want to go to work but can’t because work isn’t open.”Mr. Moynihan said he was pleased that the $900 billion pandemic relief package was passed and signed into law after many fits and starts, and he favors more stimulus if necessary. Roughly 19 million workers are collecting unemployment benefits, and the employment picture remains bleak for many lower-wage workers in the service economy.Ashlie Ordonez, owner of the Bare Bar Studio, a spa in Denver.Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times“I sold my wedding ring so we could pay the bills and keep the doors open,” she said.Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York TimesPresident-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. signaled Friday that trillions of dollars’ worth of fresh stimulus could be on the way, and the imminent Democratic control of the Senate makes that much more likely.As trying as the next few months seem, the economy is in better shape than in the months after Covid-19 first struck, when unemployment soared to 14.8 percent. The jobless rate in December stood at 6.7 percent.Holiday spending by Bank of America customers was 2.5 percent higher than last year, and account holders actually have more in savings than they did before the pandemic. “There’s a bunch of sectors that are doing very well in terms of profits,” Mr. Moynihan added.Even so, these remain times of limbo for many executives and business owners, when the old rules no longer apply but the post-pandemic reality has yet to materialize.The Coronavirus Outbreak More