June 24, 2021

The Gospel of Rebecca Minkoff

Over the years, she said, people have expressed confusion that she identifies as both Jewish and a Scientologist.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion when people hear the word ‘religion’ — immediately you hear that I pray to L. Ron Hubbard,” she said. “I study it, I take classes and that’s the extent of it, and it’s helped me stay centered. I don’t have all the answers. When I needed someone, it was a place for me to go get some answers.”

Like other prominent Scientologists — some, such as the actress Jenna Elfman, are mentioned in “Fearless” as Ms. Minkoff’s early supporters — the designer refers to what she believed to be “horrific misinformation” about the church and its belief system, which she considers “more of a self-improvement philosophy.”

But her interest in self-improvement is also one reason her book exists, with assurances like: “Fear can be overcome. You have the power to take action.”

Over the years, Ms. Minkoff has embraced the world of entrepreneurship, gradually identifying more as a woman in business than a woman in fashion — the kind of woman who imbues her tough-love “real talk” with business-school vocabulary and Girlboss aplomb.

She hosts “Superwomen,” an interview podcast with guests like Jessica Alba and Barbara Corcoran, and in 2018 she co-founded a network of business owners called the Female Founder Collective. She once tried, unsuccessfully, as she writes in her book, to create a label to stamp on products made by women, inspired by those that certify products as cruelty-free or organic. (When the effort stalled in state government, she said, she ended up creating her own symbol through the Female Founder Collective.)

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/23/fashion/the-gospel-of-rebecca-minkoff.html

A Los Angeles Tech Flex

Nikil Viswanathan, a founder of Alchemy, a blockchain developer platform that recently raised $80 million, showed up in a sailor suit. (He was attending a theme party afterward.) Austyn J.R Brown, a TikTok star and card game developer with nearly five million followers, and Eric Wei, a founder of Karat, a credit card for influencers, were also there.

There were also more traditional Hollywood types, including a Netflix executive and Arturo Castro, who appeared in the series “Narcos” and “Broad City.” Staffers from Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube mingled as well.

Los Angeles has long had a thriving technology industry. TikTok and Snapchat have headquarters in the city, and many tech executives, including Elon Musk, call it home. But more recently, Gen Z and millennial tech leaders have emerged, building hyped-up start-ups like Dispo, Poparazzi, PearPop and more.

Many moved to the city and established their companies during the pandemic, and LA Tech Week was their first opportunity to gather in person.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/22/style/los-angeles-tech-week.html

Grocery-to-Table Is a Challenge for Restaurants in the Pandemic

By last summer, Nick Wiseman, a founder of Little Sesame, a small chain of hummus shops in Washington, D.C., had made all the expected “pivots” to save his business. He’d offered delivery, meal kits and pantry items, and worked with local nonprofits to feed the hungry.

But with both of his shops in downtown business districts — and no signs that office workers would be returning — he needed something else to keep the business afloat. The obvious solution: selling his hummus in grocery stores. “We have a great brand and a great product,” Mr. Wiseman remembered thinking. “How hard can this be?”

As it turns out, it took almost a year for three chefs at Little Sesame, each with experience cooking at Michelin-starred restaurants, to make a hummus that looked and tasted the way they wanted it to, with the necessary shelf life and food safety certifications. Along the way, they created a mini-food laboratory, equipped with a magnetic stirrer (to draw uniform hummus samples) and a pH probe, and became experts at the art of high-pressure pasteurization, which kills bacteria by applying isostatic pressure at levels six times those found at the bottom of the ocean. This month, their hummus finally arrived on the shelves at Whole Foods Market.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/21/dining/levain-bakery-little-sesame-grocery-store-products.html

The American Renaissance Has Begun

After decades in which consumption took preference over savings, Americans socked away trillions of dollars in 2020, reducing their debt burdens to lows not seen since 1980 and putting themselves in a position to spend lavishly as things open up.

The biggest shifts, though, may be mental. People have been reminded that life is short. For over a year, many experienced daily routines that were slower paced, more rooted, more domestic. Millions of Americans seem ready to change their lives to be more in touch with their values.

The economy has already taken off. Global economic growth is expected to be north of 6 percent this year, and strong growth is expected to last at least through 2022. In late April, Tom Gimbel, who runs the recruiting and staffing firm LaSalle Network, told The Times: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.” Investors are pouring money into new ventures. During the first quarter of this year U.S. start-ups raised $69 billion, 41 percent more than the previous record, set in 2018.

Already, this era of new creation seems to be rebalancing society in at least three ways:

First, power has begun shifting from employers to workers. In March, U.S. manufacturing, for example, expanded at the fastest pace in nearly four decades. Companies are desperate for new workers. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the number of unemployed people per opening plummeted to 1.2 from 5.

Workers are in the driver’s seat, for now, and they know it. The “quit rate” — the number of workers who quit their jobs because they are confident they can get a better one — is at the highest in two decades. Employers are raising wages and benefits to try to lure workers back.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/17/opinion/covid-economic-boom.html

Weddings Took a Big Hit in 2020. Enter the Micro-Wedding.

Rocket Science Events, founded in 2010 in Minneapolis, specializes in elaborate, imaginatively designed weddings held in nontraditional venues, like an airplane hangar or boxing gym. At the start of 2020, Gretchen Culver, its founder, had three part-time employees, a handful of independent contractors working events and revenue projected to be slightly below $500,000. Then, the lockdown hit Minnesota.

“It was terrible for us,” she said. “All my weddings postponed and I waived the fee for changing a date. That meant, essentially, zero revenue for Rocket Science in 2020 and most of 2021.”

A few years before the pandemic, however, Ms. Culver began noticing that guest counts for many weddings were decreasing. Instead of 200 to 300 people at weddings, many clients wanted 100 or less. “I could sense priorities were shifting,” she said. “In the back of my head I’d been wondering if there was a way to make small weddings, with a smaller overall budget, work for my business.”

The pandemic offered an opportunity for her to find out. She consulted a planner in Birmingham, Ala., doing multiple micro-weddings a day and that conversation sparked a light-bulb moment for Ms. Culver. She created a separate business, Minne Weddings, which offers highly stylized, all-inclusive wedding packages on Sundays.

Several time slots are available on each date for a 90-minute wedding that can accommodate up to 32 guests. The package includes the venue, rentals, décor, digital invitations, flowers, photos, videography, cake, sparkling wine and an officiant; prices range from $5,000 to $7,000. Couples booking the last slot of a particular day can pay to extend the wedding to three and a half hours and add extras like special dances, speeches and more food. Everything is done through the website; in most cases Ms. Culver doesn’t even meet the couple until the day of the wedding.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/14/business/wedding-planning-pandemic.html

Breaking Her Way Out of the ‘Shecession’

Ms. Morin’s own entrepreneurial journey started at 25, when she quit her product marketing job at Google to start Brit + Co. She also hosted a podcast called Teach Me Something New” and helped found Offline Ventures, a seed fund that invests in early stage technology companies.

Enrollment in Brit + Co’s classes spiked after Ms. Morin made them free. Soon after, she designed Selfmade, in part to address the particular self-doubt that haunts some female entrepreneurs. The program’s first week is led by Ms. Molfino, who teaches students how to undo the social conditioning of being good and perfect instead of powerful.

“Women disproportionately don’t think they can do it,” Ms. Morin said. “They think they’re not experienced or smart enough, they don’t have the right ideas, have too many ideas, or it has to be perfect.”

That lesson was invaluable for Teralee Armbruster, 50, a user experience design consultant in Northfield, Minn., who realized that perfectionism and putting everyone before herself was holding her back. “Once I became aware of that and let my guard down, things started to happen for me,” she said.

When Ms. Armbruster’s consultant work slowed in 2020, she focused on a side business, Punchy Magnolia, which makes Canadian toque hats made from old cashmere sweaters. “I thought no one was going to buy a $140 cashmere hat in a pandemic, but fall 2020 was my busiest season ever,” she said. She is enrolling in Selfmade again for her next venture: a CBD-infused fruit snack called Salty Birch.

For Candice Walsh, 40, a medical device sales executive from Atlanta, Selfmade not only gave her a confidence boost, but also a sense of community. Last April, when her sales work came to a halt, Ms. Walsh decided to use the time to focus on one of her small-business ideas: a travel organizer for children’s toys that she calls NugLug.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/12/style/breaking-her-way-out-of-the-shecession.html

How China’s Tencent Avoided an Antitrust Push, For Now.

That’s glossing over the huge power imbalance between Tencent and the many satellite companies in its orbit. Colin Huang, founder of Pinduoduo, hinted at that in a 2018 interview, in which he groused that WeChat declined to help censor accusations about fake merchandise on his shopping platform.

“Tencent won’t die when Pinduoduo dies,” he said, “because it has tens of thousands of sons.”

No matter how decent or humble Tencent may act, it’s a giant conglomerate with $24 billion in profit last year and spends much of it on investment. It picks winners and losers, but the winners won’t always be the best out there, thus harming innovation and efficiency.

It limits user access to other products and services. Its WeChat app doesn’t allow users to share links for merchandise on Alibaba’s Taobao online marketplace or for short videos on Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister company. (Other platforms block Tencent’s services.) When three social messaging apps were launched in January 2019, they were blocked on WeChat immediately.

Douyin’s parent, ByteDance, shows the possibilities when a company goes it alone. In its early days, ByteDance’s founder, Zhang Yiming, took a small investment from Tencent to fend off the company but resisted tighter ties. In a response to rumors that Tencent would invest in ByteDance in 2016, Mr. Zhang wrote that he didn’t start ByteDance to become a Tencent employee. He posted the lyrics of the song “Go Big or Go Home.”

ByteDance’s independence paid off. It’s now valued at nearly $400 billion with a few hugely popular online content apps, including TikTok, the first Chinese internet product that became a global phenomenon.

Tencent doesn’t just court the industry. It has also long tried to get close to the government. Compared with the sometimes defiant Alibaba, Tencent has long publicly underscored its willingness to comply fully with rules and regulations.

“Now I think it’s important for us to understand even more about what the government is concerned about, what the society is concerned about, and be even more compliant,” Tencent’s president, Martin Lau, said in a January earnings call. Tencent executives used the word “compliant” six times in the call.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/02/technology/china-tencent-monopoly.html

A Black Whiskey Entrepreneur Will Help Bankroll Others Like Her

In 2016, Ms. Weaver, then a Los Angeles-based author and real estate investor, traveled to Lynchburg, Tenn., to research a potential book about Nearest Green, an expert distiller whose real name was Nathan. Mr. Green, while enslaved there, had mentored a young Jack Daniel.

Ms. Weaver’s ambitions quickly grew; she persuaded Brown-Forman to formally acknowledge Mr. Green as the brand’s first master distiller, and the following year she created the whiskey in Nearest’s name.

She said her fruitless search for a Black master distiller led her to fully comprehend the overwhelming whiteness of the world of American spirits. Margie A.S. Lehrman, the chief executive of the American Craft Spirits Association, said that the lack of diversity has long been an issue for the industry, and that only a handful of American distilleries are Black-owned or Black-run.

“It’s not that people of color don’t have an interest. It’s that we find that they have no path of entry into the industry, no connections where others may,” Ms. Lehrman said. “It’s a very, very tough industry to break into, and if you’re a woman or a person of color, it’s even harder.”

In the summer of 2020, Uncle Nearest and Jack Daniel’s announced a joint $5 million initiative intended to bring more Black entrepreneurs into distilling, in part by offering resources and mentorship to one Black-owned spirits company each year. So many Black entrepreneurs reached out for help that Uncle Nearest began its own side project, the Black Business Booster program, to help 16 companies at once.

Ms. Weaver said she quickly realized that no amount of support with branding, strategy and publicity would make a difference if these entrepreneurs continued to be shut out from capital. “Fund-raising is all about relationships,” she said. “If you don’t have those relationships, only a tiny fraction of people pitching investors will see funding.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/01/dining/drinks/uncle-nearest-whiskey-black-owned.html

Island Residents Protest at the Willows Inn After Workplace Allegations

About two hours into the protest, a man and a woman came out of the restaurant and got into a heated exchange with protesters, with the man yelling an expletive at the crowd. Some protesters yelled to them, “Enjoy that exploitation” and “You have no backbone.” In response, the man said, “Prove it,” presumably referring to the accusations in the Times article.

According to three people who have worked at the restaurant, and who requested anonymity for fear of professional consequences, 10 staff members — nearly half of the total — resigned soon after that report was published; hundreds of reservations were canceled, and those customers’ deposits, usually in the realm of $500, were refunded with no comment.

Local businesses that made custom products for the Willows — Camber Coffee, Constant Crush winery and Wander Brewing — said they had immediately ended their collaborations.

Loganita Farm has long been the cornerstone of Mr. Wetzel’s claim that he cooked only with ingredients from Lummi Island. Though he often referred to Loganita as “our” farm, it has never been part of the Willows and is separately owned by Steve McMinn, a former Willows investor.

In a phone interview, Mr. McMinn said he sympathized with the former employees but considered the protest “a tempest in a teapot.” He said Loganita would continue to grow vegetables for the restaurant. “I like producing local ingredients and local jobs,” he said.

Mary von Krusenstiern, the head farmer, worked on the farm for nine years and has lived in the area her whole life. Although Loganita was not implicated in any of the sourcing allegations, she resigned a few days after the allegations were published.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/29/dining/willows-inn-protests-lummi-island.html

Still Here and Still Queer: The Gay Restaurant Endures

Scott Frankel’s favorite memories of New York gay restaurants aren’t about food.

Universal Grill cranked “Dancing Queen” on birthdays. There was that incredibly hot Italian waiter at Food Bar. Florent was around the corner from a notorious sex club in the meatpacking district. Manatus was so gay, it had a sobriquet: Mana-tush.

Gay restaurants, said Mr. Frankel, the Tony-nominated composer of the musical “Grey Gardens,” “made you feel like you belonged.”

But all those places he so fondly remembers are long closed, as are Harvest, Orbit’s and several others listed in an article, headlined “Restaurants That Roll Out the Welcome Mat for Gay Diners,” that ran in this newspaper 27 years ago. It now reads like an obituary.

Restaurants fold all the time, perhaps nowhere more so than in New York, and perhaps never as much as during the Covid era. The pandemic hit the country’s urban gay restaurants especially hard, said Justin Nelson, the president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. MeMe’s Diner, a popular queer restaurant in Brooklyn, permanently closed in November, citing shutdown measures and a lack of government support.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/28/dining/gay-restaurants.html