Friday, November 27, 2020

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The Dish

Food in the year of the virus

4/1/2020

Things got really crazy in the restaurant world last month. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling for a two-month ban of congregations of more than 50 people and for maintaining more than 6 feet of distance between people, The Wu Han virus claimed victory in the Pearl Harbor stage of the new war of the world. Gov. Reynolds ordered all restaurants and bars closed till at least March 31. Simultaneously, Bloomberg warned that national labor laws prevent employers from asking a worker if he’s tested positive for the virus, from asking one to take a test, or from asking infected workers to go home and quarantine. We really hope that changes before restaurants reopen. Surely, with emergency powers being used to cancel and limit so many things, even an iron clad labor law can be ditched in the interests of public health.

The idea of restaurants only serving at drive-up windows blew minds. Anyone who has ever used a drive-up window knows that they are only designed to serve one person at a time. They will not get faster. Or will they?

Restaurant and catering margins are tiny, and any enduring drag on business will surely cull the herd. Remember, every Iowa restaurant has at least one food safety manager who is certified. And Iowa Restaurant Association chief Jessica Dunker reminds that Iowa restaurants will always come to your car with orders.

Restaurants, and particularly bars, were more upset with the timing of the state’s decree. St. Patrick’s Day, the biggest of the year for many bars, was shut down at noon on the very day. A few days’ notice would have helped a lot. Inventories had been bought and paid for, from the state, no less, in the case of booze. No word yet if the state is refunding. Restaurants were generous with their perishable inventories. Flying Mango donated all theirs to shelters. Sodexo at 801 Grand gave them to employees and shelters. The Bristol in Chicago gave them all to employees. Table 128 prepared meals for the many medical workers in their neighborhood and fed their staff.

SOME GOOD NEWS

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Joe Tripp of Harbinger was once again the only Iowa semifinalist in the James Beard Awards voting. That was despite an expansion of the number of chefs chosen. Tripp was selected as one of the Midwest’s best chefs. The second and third rounds of voting were delayed, till summer in the case of the final announcements… Lynn Pritchard worked toward an opening for a new restaurant. It will be in the former Red Rossa a couple bays east of his popular Table 128.

SOME MORE BAD NEWS

Maria’s Mexican Restaurant in West Des Moines closed its 24-hour Grand Avenue shop permanently. The venue, a long time Burger King, will be replaced with a new building… Salad bars began disappearing from the local scene. This is usually explained as a safety precaution, but the self-service stations created a lot of waste, and the new virus might be a catalyst for their permanent demise… Granite City closed its Clive store. Famous Dave’s will buy some assets… Steak & Shake postponed the opening of its West Des Moines store by several months.

THE BIG NEWS

Hy-Vee announced the closing of all the system’s Market Grille cafés. They will transition to Wahlburgers, the Planet Hollywood of the new millennium. Hy-Vee already had an interest in the Wahlburgers chain, and Market Grille seemed a little redundant. But Hy-Vee so rarely makes a bad move, and this was a 21-store miscue, that it took people by surprise, even though the crowds never seemed to be there at stores. Hy-Vee said that Wahlburgers will offer counter service, and that Market Grille will still offer its menu for pick-up and delivery through their app. ♦

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