September 19, 2020

Surviving Fashion’s Summer From Hell

“She gets in the dressing room with them, tucking and untucking and scrunching up sleeves,” Ms. McMullen said. “She does it with such ease that women feel connected to her, like they know her.”

Beginning in late March, weeks went by without payments from some of Tibi’s stores, Ms. Smilovic said. When the layoffs came, the only team Tibi kept intact was finance, which scrambled to secure government support, renegotiate bills and rent — Ms. Smilovic’s single biggest source of stress at the time — and rigidly monitor cash flow amid the wave of bankruptcies and order cancellations.

She spent April crunching numbers, “gripped with fear,” she said. In May, when some stores and offices reopened in early, that fear ebbed slightly. She’d signed a fashion-industry open letter calling for a more sensible seasonal shopping calendar. She felt good that Tibi had donated 1,300 pieces of clothing to front-line workers.

She was also inspired to work on Tibi’s internal stylebook, articulating the rules for the creative pragmatist’s wardrobe, which she’d been sharing during the live styling sessions and on her own blunt Instagram account. Like: The best pieces can adapt from work to home to evening to weekend. A good outfit has three textures. Don’t match your shoes to your top. Don’t wear skinny jeans with stilettos.

“It’s showing people who we are,” she said on a Zoom call in May. “I don’t know where or how it will pay off, but it feels like the right thing to do.”

Then, on May 25, George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, catalyzing Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Some of those reopened stores closed again, boarding up windows to prevent vandalism.

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Inside the Social World of Shift-Scheduling Apps

Amber Hitchcock, 27, who works at a steakhouse in Florida, said that most employees use the app for its intended purpose. “But then people are like, ‘Hey, I have a pressure-washing business,’ or, like, ‘Here’s a cat I found.’”

How people use the service is largely a reflection of workplace culture. A restaurant worker in South Carolina, who was granted anonymity by The New York Times to protect his job, described how a male co-worker once used the app to send inappropriate messages to a woman he worked with; when the co-worker was let go, he sent a message to the entire staff lashing out at his managers.

HotSchedules is, at its core, a tool for managers, and so managers dictate how, and how well, it’s used. “I’ve used HotSchedules at four to five different restaurants now,” said Sierra Cordell, a supervisor at a restaurant in Denver. “I’ve worked places where it was discouraged to use it for anything other than strictly scheduling,” Mx. Cordell said, “but at other places, we’ve set up our fantasy football league through HotSchedules messaging.”

In March, when local restaurants were ordered to close for in-house service, Mx. Cordell’s employer told the staff they wouldn’t be working for a while. “One server sent out a lot of very detailed information about unemployment in Colorado and sent over some helpful tips regarding getting contact with the unemployment office,” Mx. Cordell said.

Chatter shifted to Facebook and group texts until June, when workers started getting their first notifications from HotSchedules: Shifts were once again available. Since then the app has been key as a hub for weekly updates about changes to service, coronavirus precautions and staffing issues.

In the early days of the pandemic, Sara Porcheddu, a bartender and server in Cambridge, Mass., was similarly encouraged by how communicative her employer was on HotSchedules. When she and her colleagues were furloughed in March, the communication continued: messages about “local emergency funds we could apply for, unemployment insurance tips, when and how we could pick up our final tip and wage checks, as well as being generally warm and supportive,” she said.

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A Covid Surcharge on Restaurant Checks? Some Owners Are Wary

He has raised his prices by about 5 or 6 percent, he said, and has noticed that other places have done the same. Unless new, unforeseen costs arise, he said, “it kind of feels like price gouging.”

Philippe Massoud, the chef and owner of Ilili, a Lebanese restaurant in the Flatiron district, has not yet raised menu prices, though he says he has spent nearly $16,000 on outdoor-dining infrastructure and several thousands of dollars more on masks and gloves, which have risen in price. “I’m going through them like there’s no tomorrow,” he said. Mr. Massoud is also paying two employees just to manage compliance with all the safety guidelines related to Covid-19.

So he is thinking about adding a 1 to 3 percent charge. He likes the idea of the surcharge, he said, because he can use the mention of it on the menu to explain the need to customers.

That’s exactly the point, said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which has about 2,500 members — mainly more established restaurants, hotels and bars — and lobbied for the surcharge. “This bill is only meant to be one tool restaurants can apply to try to survive right now,” he said.

While the surcharge is a temporary fix during the pandemic, the hospitality alliance and others have long demanded that the City Council allow it anytime. The current rules were put in place to combat billing shenanigans during a beef price spike more than 40 years ago, Mr. Rigie said.

“They finally did the right thing, now they need to make it permanent,” said the chef Russell Jackson, a veteran of restaurants on both coasts and the owner of Reverence, a tasting-menu restaurant in Harlem. He compared the new surcharge to a small one he imposed while running a restaurant in San Francisco, after that city made restaurateurs responsible for some extra health care costs.

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The Perfect Moment for Vegan Tacos

For years, taco culture has been revised like this, through experimentation in kitchens, and in backyards, its subgenres expanding and shifting with the availability of ingredients, and flourishing in the hands of creative cooks.

Vegan tacos are often left out of the conversation, but if there’s a taco that illuminates this moment in Los Angeles — the uncertainty, the constraints, but also the resilience of the cooks working through them, eager to nourish and sustain their businesses and their communities — it might be a black vegan taco al pastor. It floats on a soft, freshly made corn tortilla, seasoned with a little guacamole, onion and a dribble of life-affirming salsa.

Vegetarian and vegan taco fillings aren’t new. You can trace their lineage back through Indigenous cuisines, and the cooks who worked with regional flowers, fruits and vegetables, long before the introduction of pork, by colonists.

The genre has a history here in Los Angeles, too — Plant Food for People started selling jackfruit carnitas a decade ago, and in 2018, the vegan tacos from Taqueria La Venganza won a fierce citywide taco competition hosted by the local publication L.A. Taco, beating out more well-known meat tacos.

“That was a pivotal moment,” said Javier Cabral, who scouted contestants for the battle that year, and is now the editor in chief of L.A. Taco. “That was the first time the city, and the food media, saw that vegan tacos weren’t just a fad, and they weren’t just something hipsters were eating.”

Vegan taco stands were concentrated in more gentrified neighborhoods, with a mostly white customer base. But Mr. Cabral notes that their audience has slowly expanded, in part thanks to vendors like Vegatinos, making hulking vegan versions of regional Mexican foods — tacos de suadero and chicharrón, pozole and Jalisco-style birria.

“That’s been key in winning over the old-school demographic,” Mr. Cabral said. “Nothing fancy.”

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Beard Foundation Undercut Integrity of Its Awards, Panel Says

The awards, considered the most prestigious and influential in American culinary circles, are presented in a black-tie ceremony in Chicago each May. This spring, as the coronavirus pandemic brought the restaurant business to a near-standstill, the event was postponed until September.

Then, in August, the organization, a nonprofit group, made an unusual decision: It would name no winners for its restaurant and chef awards, beyond a handful that had already been announced, citing the pandemic, among other reasons. Next year, there would be no awards at all. The foundation would use the down time for an audit that would look for ways of making the awards more inclusive of people and groups who had often been left behind by the restaurant industry. The awards are supposed to return in 2022.

Last month, though, several committee members, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a confidentiality agreement, told The Times that the foundation’s decision had come after several weeks of behind-the-scenes turmoil. After a vote, in May, on a ballot that listed about five nominees in each category, the foundation received accusations against several of the nominees, varying in seriousness and specificity.

On a phone call in July that was arranged to discuss the new allegations, “a Foundation employee revealed that there were not any Black people among this year’s winners,” the statement from the restaurant-awards committee said. “Apparently in response, the Foundation proposed a revote.”

The proposal was to strike nominees who had come under fire, and to send a revised ballot to a much smaller group of voters than before. Ballots would go to the awards committee itself and the 200 or so regional judges they select, but not to the largest bloc, the hundreds of past awardees whose vote is a perk of having won.

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In Louisiana, Love for a Chinese Restaurant and Its Magnetic Owner

“I love Champagne,” Mr. Lim said before the meal, “and also pinot noir and Bordeaux and all of it.”

Mr. Lim remains engaged with his restaurant’s wine service, from a distance. Customers text him for wine-pairing advice “all the time,” he said. In January, he wrote a mission statement for his staff, detailing the wines he wanted to emphasize with diners in 2020, including wine from the Jura region of France, German riesling and cru Beaujolais, all of which he believes offer good value and complement Lucky Palace’s food.

Joe Davis, the winemaker at Arcadian Winery in Santa Barbara County, Calif., said Mr. Lim’s unbridled enthusiasm is unique. “Lim is generous to a fault. He’ll open up anything for you to try,” he said. “He’s going to convince you one way or another to love wine as much as he does.”

Fine wine was not on Mr. Lim’s mind when he and his wife, Evelyn, opened Lucky Palace 23 years ago. They had met in the 1980s as students at Southern Illinois University. He was born in Batu Pahat, a town in Peninsular Malaysia; she is from Taiwan.

The couple were en route to San Antonio to look at a restaurant to buy when they stopped in Shreveport. They decided instead to open their Chinese-American restaurant in a Ramada Inn in Bossier City.

For the first few years, Mr. Lim woke at 4 a.m. to cook for the breakfast buffet. He was also the delivery driver. “I went to the gas station and bought a map, and just started driving,” he said. “The first delivery took me two hours, so I comped the meal.”

Lucky Palace’s evolution — it no longer serves breakfast or a buffet — began about a year after it opened, when an employee from one of the nearby casinos advised Mr. Lim to carry more expensive wines to sell to money-flush gamblers.

“I said, ‘What do you mean? I have a white zin and a few other things,’” Mr. Lim recalled. His favorite wine at the time, he said, was Blue Nun.

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This Vertical Farm Was Born in the Pandemic. Sales Are Up.

Others, like the Vegetable Co., sell directly to customers.

“I was very ‘kan cheong’ during the lockdown period,” said one of Mr. Ng’s regular customers, Ayu Samsudin, using a Cantonese word for anxious. “Having fresh vegetables delivered to your doorstep was such a relief.”

The Vegetable Co. consists of a 320-square-foot shipping container on the edge of a parking lot in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city. It opened for business, with just a handful of customers, about a month before the country’s restrictive lockdown took effect in mid-March.

Revenue grew by 300 percent in the first few weeks, and the shipping container is now approaching production capacity because of high demand, said Mr. Ng’s business partner, Sha G.P.

Apart from the gas station, the shipping container’s other neighbors are a driving range and an oil palm plantation. Inside, tightly packed shelves with hydroponic lettuce, sprouts and other vegetables grow under LED lights.

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The State Fair Is Canceled. Deep-Fried Oreos Are Not.

Now, 500 to 600 cars show up each week for food from Crazy Taters and her parents’ stands, All American Grill and Turkey Time. An acoustic guitarist plays on a flatbed trailer as drivers roll down their windows to accept handoffs of pickle dogs, turkey legs and deep-fried Oreos.

“I started this thinking, if I could just make my rent and my car payment, I’m good with that,” said Ms. Smith Parish, 46. “I didn’t expect this.” She has made nearly as much money as she would have in her typical season at the Iowa State Fair, Tulsa State Fair and Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market, all of which were canceled, though the Farmers’ Market started its own drive-through in early August.

Many vendors aren’t doing as well. Russell Goetze and his two brothers usually tow all five soft-serve trailers for Goertze’s Dairy Kone (their father added the “r” when he founded the business in 1967, to help customers pronounce the name) to six state fairs a year, mostly along the East Coast.

This year, Russell Goetze, 58, has been able to park one Dairy Kone trailer and his sausage stand, Lenny’s, at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, Md., selling cones, shakes, corn dogs and sausage sandwiches, but is making barely enough to cover basic bills. “It’s a very trying time,” he said.

The Dallas chef Abel Gonzales said he usually earns 80 percent of his annual revenue in just 24 days in September and October, selling deep-fried foods at the State Fair of Texas. His signature is deep-fried butter: Wrap bread dough around a slab of butter, freeze it and fry it. The dough crisps and the butter liquefies.

“You bite into it, and the butter gets all over the place,” said Mr. Gonzales, 50. “It’s fun.”

Mr. Gonzales is offering a few fair-food items, including fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches, at Cocina Italiano, his restaurant in the city, but he knows the math won’t add up. Last year, the State Fair of Texas pulled in 2.5 million visitors.

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Corporate America Agrees Black Lives Matter. What Comes Next?

Corporations should be looking at the people they’re hiring, the people they’re promoting, if they are using their power to help Black businesses to get a foothold in the economy. All of those things are very important.

But what’s much more important to me is: How are corporations using the power that they have in Congress? The power that they have to force the mayors of cities to do things to make the cities more equitable?

What would it mean if major corporations decided that they were going to join the fight for school integration? It’s actually a good recruitment strategy that you don’t have to have your executives forking over $30,000, $40,000 a year for private school because you’re fighting for quality public schools.

So I’m thinking much, much bigger than, you know, “Can we raise our Black staff from 6 percent to 10 percent?” That’s very minimal, if we’re talking about a moment of reckoning. There are much, much bigger societal issues that corporations often drive and that corporations certainly could be pushing at a bigger level.

Let’s talk about one of those, perhaps the biggest, which is reparations. What role you think that businesses can or should play in that dialogue and debate?

What racism was designed to do was actually justify the economic exploitation of Black Americans, first through slavery, then through our system of legal segregation. Because of that, Black Americans have 1/10th to 1/100th of the wealth of white Americans.

What the polling shows is the vast majority of white Americans are opposed even to the idea of reparations, and in order to get Congress to take this issue seriously, you have to be able to move the needle on how Americans are thinking about it. We know that corporate lobbying can be very effective in that way.

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One Mask Rule Most New Yorkers Ignore

The appeal of this approach is clear. Masking and unmasking repeatedly can be awkward, particularly when you’ve got a fork in one hand and a knife in the other. Besides, conversing in a mask is a bit like swimming in a jumpsuit. It can be done, but it takes more effort. If you have reason to believe everybody at your table is healthy, the temptation to talk the way you used to do, employing the full range of lower facial contortions from the closelipped smirk of an inside joke to the slack-jawed gape of astonishment, can be very strong.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has chided restaurants that flagrantly disregard social distancing and masking rules. A state task force has cited hundreds of establishments for violations, and suspended the liquor licenses of some, frequently when unmasked customers were standing in tight clusters.

Much less has been made of the official guidance on wearing masks while seated. It’s rare to find a restaurant that enforces, or even mentions, the advice, despite the preponderance of signs instructing diners how to pay through Venmo or bring up a menu by scanning a QR code. The downtown restaurant Frenchette is unusual for having a note on its website asking diners to wear masks “when any staff is table-side.” I went the other night. The only people in masks were the ones who worked there.

Another restaurant downtown, King, asks customers in person to wear masks while talking to servers. “We get the occasional rude response,” Annie Shi, one of the owners, wrote recently on Resy, “but most guests appreciate that we are taking care of our staff, and as result, of them.”

Other restaurant owners may not be aware of the health department’s advice. Or they may have heard about mask-hating thugs who’ve threatened mask-wearing workers in other parts of the country. Most likely, though, restaurateurs are simply afraid to do anything that might keep customers away. In a summer when a thunderstorm can wipe out a night’s revenue, every table counts.

The writer and editor Corby Kummer, whose Food and Society Program of the Aspen Institute collaborated with the James Beard Foundation to prepare detailed Covid-19 safety protocols for restaurants, is now working on what he calls a “code of conduct” for diners. The rules, which could be made a condition of placing a reservation, would be simple and few: Whether sitting indoors or out, don’t crowd the host stand or the restrooms, wear a mask when away from the table and comply with polite requests from the staff. Even these modest requests can make some owners nervous.

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