Info Gluttony

A Starbucks in Every Hood

Posted in fud, san francisco, thinking about cities, Uncategorized, urban planning by echan on June 4, 2012

Even though I concur that Starbucks coffee tastes burnt, I’ve never been as down on Starbucks as other coffee snobs are wont to do. But my jaw drop 15 minutes ago when I learned that Starbucks is about to purchase the local La Boulange empire for $100 million. Part of me worries that Starbucks will mess with it, the same way it shuttered Torrefazione Italia, which used to make a pretty good latte. But the huge thing that jumped out at me was what this means for Starbucks’ real estate holdings in SF.

The La Boulange web is everywhere in the City, from the Crocker Galleria Farmer’s Market to the original location on Pine St.  Starbucks will now own all of these. For some locations, such as Pac Heights, or the FiDi, or Laurel Village, this won’t matter much, because Starbucks already has a presence in the neighborhood.  But there are bunch of locations, including Hayes Valley, Cole Valley, and the Lower Haight, that have fought a little bit harder to preserve their neighborhood character and to keep Starbucks out.  In one stroke, Starbucks now has a toe-hold in these ‘hoods. I must admit that this is a huge coup for Starbucks, but it’s akin to Amazon buying out Amoeba records.

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Addendum: Business people used to always cite La Boulange / Bay Bread as an example of a local business hurt by San Francisco’s anti-chain ordinance. This purchase shows how attractive a local chain can be to a major national corporation, looking to make their way into SF. There’s nothing stopping McDonald’s from purchasing the SF Soup Company.

Addendum 2: I completely forgot to list North Beach on the list above of anti-Starbucks neighborhoods, but a comment on this InsideScoop piece reminded me of this notable omission.

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“Creativity is a challenge against yourself”

Posted in books, fud, personal by echan on October 13, 2011

This is a quick fire post, but I wanted to transcribe my notes, at least in bullet-point form from Monday’s Ferran Adria talk at the Castro. This was definitely my favorite talk of the year, if not of the last five years. I walked away completely mesmerized.

  • Adria is no Anthony Bourdain. He is not there to make you laugh with funny anecdotes or foul language. Adria is there in his messianic way to: 1. guide you to create, and 2. point you towards the future of food.
  • Adria opened up by stating, “In order to cook well, you must think well, and in order to think well, you must be humble.”
  • Adria used the fable of the omelette and the mini-skirt to illustrate that it’s not important to be the first person to create something, but to be the person who conceptualizes it. We don’t know who invented the first omelette, but now most cookbooks devote 5% of their content to omelette recipes. Similarly, miniskirts date back to ancient Greece, but it took Mary Quant in the 60s to pair it in such a way to emphasize the female form. The evolution of the recipe is key.
  • We know nothing about cuisine and everything about food is subjective. The Spanish eat the second most fish per capita, but they hate raw fish. Adria’s own parents did not like sushi, when he brought them to a Japanese restaurant.
  • Back before his restaurant was big in the 90s, chefs guarded their recipes. But recipes are meant to be shared, so that people can improve them. Essentially, Adria was advocating open source cooking.
  • Fruits are an alphabet. When you cook with them, you create a language.
  • Adria showed us a clip of how his kitchen can make 2 meters of cheese spaghetti. When we eat a plate of spaghetti, we eat 60 meters of spaghetti.
  • I can’t find a good video online of the El Bulli Foundation masterplan, but it’s going to be on a nature preserve, and it definitely puts forth Adria’s utopian vision.
  • Finally, this event was also a book signing party of Adria’s The Family Meal. This is simply one of the most stunning cookbooks that I’ve ever opened.
Finally, while I’ve never had the fortune to dine at El Bulli, I had a chance to eat at another temple of molecular gastronomy, Arzak. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the level of technical skill that went into the tasting menu, but when he explained spherification and other techniques, I had an “A-ha! That’s how they made it” moment with some of the dishes I tried this spring.
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Repurposing Space

Posted in fud, It's the Economy, politics, thinking about cities, urban planning by echan on May 15, 2009

The unsurprising announcements from Chrysler and GM that they plan to collectively shutter (or rather cut off the supply of cars) to around 2,000 dealerships has lodged this question in my head, “What can we do with this space?”

When I picture a car dealership, I picture a giant lot, sitting next to a noisy freeway (usually on an ugly strip of multiple dealerships called “Auto Row”).  While it’s a substantial amount of space, it’s location doesn’t make it prime residential development, but these are still relatively big tracks of land.

Along with foreclosed McMansions, these dealerships represent ugly bits of space and are a legacy of our decade-long credit binge.  They force me to wonder, “How can we prettify the land? How can we make these plots/showrooms useful?”

Perhaps like another 1990’s failed business model, the Metreon*, they can be turned into suburban farmers’ markets?  Imagine if each dealership could somehow be turned into slow food show rooms in communities all across America (my memory from the Michael Pollan talk is hazy — did he propose this at his talk? My notes show that he referred to “Farmers markets as the new public square.”).  If we can turn parking spaces into parks, this could be a possibility, no?

Just a thought.

Stewart Parnell is Lucky He Doesn’t Live in China

Posted in fud by echan on February 11, 2009

Parnell, the owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, testified before Congress today.  Of course, like Dave Chapelle, Parnell invoked the Fifth Amendement repeatly, and most noticeably in these excerpts from the article:

“Did you or any officials ever place food products into inner state commerce you knew to be contaminated with salmonella?” asked Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

“Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, on advice of my counsel, I respectively decline to answer your questions based on the protections afforded me under the U.S. Constitution,” said Parnell.

Moments later, as Parnell sat stiffly, his hands folded in his lap at the witness table, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., held up a clear jar of his company’s products wrapped in crime scene tape and asked him if he would be willing to eat the food.

Again, Parnell invoked the Fifth Amendment.

I don’t believe in the death penalty, so I don’t think that Parnell’s conduct warrants the Chinese solution to food contamination scandals. I really, hope, however, that he goes to prison for a long long long time.

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While we are on the topic of food, I guiltily eat sushi with the firm belief that due to overfishing, my grandchildren will either: (1) only have the opportunity to eat it on rare occasions; or (2) never be able to eat it at all.  I’m not sure if it will be any good, but I’m excited to see Casson Trenor’s Sustainable Sushi (link to Monday 2/16 book signing in SF) because it gives me hope that perhaps I am wrong.