Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Guaranteed Income

 On August 20th, we had a social to celebrate Excel and Durham Neighbors, two organizations dedicated to the idea of guaranteed income. The following piece of visual art was created by Jaclyn Gilstrap as the event went off. Click to enlarge.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Wild'n Out

Niceties Averted

Much has been make of the seeming breakdown of the fabric of society during Covid. Shootings, robberies, homicides, domestic violence, road rage, flight rage, etc. If morality is more like a language, and less like an inherent biological code, we seem to building a Tower of Babel. I have had numerous testy exchanges with customers, vendors, and staff over the years, but nothing quite prepared me for this deranged coffeeshop owner from Raleigh who ceased doing business with us and then refused to pay his remaining bills.

Go into your average food service establishment today, and you see chaos and dysfunction. Hiring, retaining, training, and supervising workers has all become exponentially harder. Is it because of the Great Resignation? Is it because workers are now paid more and have more power? Is it because our cell phones and social media have made us both productive and distracted to the point of schizophrenia? I'm not exactly sure. But a brief look into this conversation will convince you that we live in a scary society that is capitalism on hyperdrive. The toughest moments for me are when we have a wholesale customer that has clearly lost touch. I tried to reason with them, but this one really hurt and stuck out in my mind as emblematic of this period in time. I was really shook. I post here for future researchers and historians of the 20's. A is the owner of the Raleigh cafe, and R is his wife and co-owner.

On March 20, 2022 at 9:36:22 PM EDT, Ninth Street Bakery <info@ninthstbakery.com> wrote:

Good evening,

We've attempted to run your card on file, but it was declined. Please call us with updated payment information at your earliest convenience. Thank you for your business! 

- S

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Everybody cries

In March 2020, the world tipped upside down, and no one knew if Covid was going to kill us all, and quickly. One employee, K, decided to take it upon herself to stop Bakery production and shut things down to save us all. She felt like unless we closed immediately, people would die. I tried to reason with her, but her heart was steadfast. At 2pm on Monday, March 16th, she began banging together pots and pans and collecting staff around her. Her voice would not be stopped, and I couldn't get a word in edgewise. She continued to rant about the dangers of Covid while I pleaded with her that we should try to discuss this in a more civil, reasonable manner. Our head artisan baker walked out. Customers watching from the cafe were scared. Eventually, we locked the door. Finally, we had to call 911 to have her removed from the premises, fired, and given a trespass. Having a background in social action, I suppose she was prepared for this, or maybe this was the statement she wished to make. We carried on with our day, but I was shaken up. The possibility of hurting our staff or customers was indeed great. We had little information on how the virus was transmitted (this was pre-masking), or how prevalent it was at the time in Durham (very low). It was when my head of artisan came back and we debriefed in the office that I broke down and cried from the stress of it. Not great big gobs of tears, but little ones, a muffled sob. "Everyone cries in this office," I said, "And now I suppose it's my turn."

Bon Appetit

Bon Appetit ran a story by a hip 24-year-old Durham grad student potter and waitress who shops at the Co-op making $18K/yr. In many ways, this story is as aspirational as the rest of the magazine's glossy food photos, but does it say something about our collective future as broke gourmands? Do we have to scrimp and save and wait for Daddy Warbucks to take us out to Dashi for a nice weekend meal?


Service surchages

With inflation hitting owner's budget waistlines, hard, it appears many restaurants and cafes are trying to find ways to make a buck / save a buck. Not surprisingly, it is on the backs of laborers, their front line staff.

In place of tipping, they have installed service surcharges to bring effective wages in line with expectations of workers. This is the new service charge economy. They do it saying that this provides a more steady source of income for their previously tipped (and sometimes untipped) workers, but in reality, it is just an angle to subsidize wages without paying more. To my mind, wages should be increased by the employer, and tips should be taken. Employers often do this because they fear raising prices, but that is what they effectively do via the surcharges, only under the guise that it is so the employees can make a more livable wage. With tips, our front line workers make approximately $21/hr currently, sometimes more depending on the day.

Another way owners pass off the labor costs is by paying low, sometimes as low as minimum wage, and "guaranteeing" a base wage paid via tips, again effectively shifting the labor cost to the consumer as in a traditional waiter/waitress model.

On (Canned) Seltzer

In the Fall of 2014, I thought LaCroix was only a drink for hipster ladies. Little did I know seltzer (is it seltzer, is it sparkling water?) was about to invade America. Let's break down the major brands:

Chief criteria: Carbonation strength; Artificial flavor vs natural; Real Juice vs flavoring. 

Bubly: Very medium carbonation, with not overly artificial flavoring. My favorite of all the seltzers for its balance. Also gets credit for the most grapefruit forward (sour) of all the pamplemousses, though honestly not my preferred flavor.   

Food Lion brand: High carbonation, weird flavoring, not thoroughly integrated into the water prior to carbonation, but added almost as an artificial afterthought. Pretty trash overall. 

Harris Teeter brand: Remarkably crisp, not too artificial tasting. Maybe the best of the store brands. Medium-high carbonation.

LaCroix: The OG. Very crisp and refreshing when ice cold, after a workout, or post-romp, very high carbonation. In great enough quantities could take the enamel off your teeth. Flavorings are artificial-tasting.

Spindrift: With "real" juice, Spindrift is the juiciest and most natural tasting of the seltzers. Strikes me as weak tea though, and leaves one unfulfilled both on the refreshment and juice sides of things. It is liquid that you pour down your gullet when there is nothing else, that is all.

Topo Chico: I went to Austin in 2019 and learned Topo Chico was catching on, fast. With citric acid, Topo Chico and its flavored varieties have that kind of slightly effervescent mouth pucker that makes you want another sip, but inevitably leaves you thirsty afterwards.

Polar: Back in the old days, this is what flavored seltzer was. It is a true seltzer in the sense that the (lime) flavor is very very subdued. medium carbonation. A very mild, inoffensive drink. It's likely not updated in profile since the 80's.

Trader Joe's Sparkling Water: Not bad for a generic brand. The seltzer tasted watery, and the lime is natural flavor rather than juice (like Spindrift), but it’s blended in a way that it has a juicier taste than Polar. Bubbles are very medium. Soft mouthfeel. Maybe some calcium carbonate or other salts added.

Do you remember in 2011 when everyone wanted to open a food truck?