retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In addition to doing MNB this week, I’ve been in Southern California with my 16-year-old daughter looking at colleges. Having spent her entire life in New England, she’s resolved to move someplace sunny and warm for her four years of college; after just a few days in Los Angeles, it may be tough to get her back on the plane so she can finish her last year-and-a-half of high school.

Parents who have taken their kids on college tours may recognize the following sensation. I’m walking around these campuses with her, listening to the person giving the tour, hearing about all the offerings that were not available when I went to school, and my first reaction is the heck with my daughter, I want to go to college. Why not? It’d be fun - I’d learn a lot, and there’d be nothing to prove - I already have a degree and a career, and I could just do it for the education, and maybe study abroad for a year, and get a couple of internships...

One of the colleges that my daughter is considering is Loyola Marymount University, which happens to be where I went to school. (No pressure from dad on this, though it does give me immense pleasure.) Walking around the LMU campus - which is in one of the most beautiful settings I know of, overlooking Marina del Rey and much of Los Angeles, with the Hollywood sign visible in the distance on a clear day - I had this strange feeling of deja vu. I can vividly remember walking many of those same paths 35 years ago, but the thing is, I don’t really feel any different now than I did then ... I feel like the same person, capable of the all the same things, with a limitless future in front of me...

And then I look around, and I see the students moving from class to class, engaged in easy conversations, with actual limitless futures in front of them. And I realize that I’m old.

When did this happen?

We’ve been staying with my brother and his wife in Redondo Beach, which has gone a long way toward convincing my daughter that California is the home she’s been looking for all her life; who wouldn’t want to move to a place where one can go for daily walks along the beach or along the Strand to Hermosa Beach? (I’m trying to remember why I left...)

Unlike me, my brother actually worked in a supermarket when he was in high school. (I worked in retail - clothing stores and a winery tasting room - but never in a supermarket.) While we were visiting him, he was doing some garage cleanup, and I noticed that he had a ton of stuff in old supermarket milk cartons that were labeled “Dellwood” and “Daitch” - talk about a blast from the past! And talk about sustainability - you don’t have to worry about what is going to happen to things when they are thrown out if they are so strong and durable that they never get thrown out.

My daughter has a passion for hamburgers, which combined with a less than adventuresome palate, means that there are only certain kinds of places that we visit for meals. It also means that we’ve been visiting joints that we don;t have access to back home in Connecticut, which has led to a highly subjective series of rankings:

1. In ‘N Out. Simply her favorite hamburger place, bar none - though we agree that their fries are not the chain’s best feature.

2. The Counter. Excellent hamburger - a little pricier than the fast food places, but she thought it was delicious ... and she loved the parmesan-coated french fries.

3. Brewco. The former Manhattan Beach Brewing Company has a new name and no longer makes its own beer, but it has the same ownership and the front wall has been replaced by a large garage door that rolls up and gives diners a full view of the ocean and pier. It also makes a great, great burger.

4. Original Tommy’s. There seem to be a bunch of them around now, but I took her to the real original, on the corner of Rampart and Beverly, downtown. I used to hit this place at 2 in the morning when I had a craving during late night study sessions, and I enjoyed reliving the memory with her. I loved the chili cheeseburger with everything, though I cannot imagine how I used to eat double chili cheeseburgers when I was young; I also recognize that as delicious as it is, I probably should only eat one a year. (I probably rank Tommy’s higher than my daughter does, for sentimental reasons.)

5. Fatburger. A good burger, made fresh, but not quite on par with the others ... and too expensive for what you get. However, Fatburger gets extra points for great fries and for having one of those fantastic Coca-Cola vending machines that allow you to customize your soda with a wild variety of flavors - one of the best vending ideas I’ve ever seen.

6. Barney’s Beanery. I remember going to the original in West Hollywood when I was young, though we visited a new outpost on the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade. The burger was disappointing, and the rest of the food was lackluster.

As you read this, we have about 24 hours left - and a trip to San Diego - so I have no ideas what new burgers we may end up trying. But I’ll keep you informed.

This being filed from California, I cannot help but comment on one story out of Hollywood - that Kevin Costner and Diane Lane will be playing Ma and Pa Kent in the new Superman movie.

Kevin Costner and Diane Lane?

I’m sure they’ll be terrific ... but aren’t they too young to be playing Kal-El’s adoptive parents? I mean....they’re my age.


When did this happen?

One of the real pleasures of this week was spending one morning speaking to the Food Industry Executives Program at USC that is run out of the Marshall School of Business by Bob Hermanns and Mike Prouix - a great bunch of folks from a group of retailers and suppliers that understand the critical role of continuing education in organizations that want to enjoy a high level of thought leadership and sustainable growth. My congratulations to all of them .... and to all of you, a recommendation. If you get the opportunity to take one of these kinds of sessions, or to speak to one of these kinds of on-campus groups, take it. There is nothing so reviving as being in a classroom, and you end up getting far more than you give.

BTW...the newly renovated Santa Monica Place mall is a sight to behold, and worth a visit. They’ve converted to former indoor mall to a gorgeous outdoor facility that opens up onto the Promenade and becomes part of it - the architecture is gorgeous, the layout inviting, and my daughter loved the stores. A great example of how to turn a shopping trip into something exciting through the use of fabulous design.

I keep making my daughter crazy by putting Randy Newman on the iPod as we’ve been driving around. But I can’t help myself - this place and the song make me happy:

Rollin' down the Imperial Highway
With a big nasty redhead at my side
Santa Ana winds blowin' hot from the north
And we was born to ride

Roll down the window put down the top
Crank up the Beach Boys baby
Don't let the music stop
We're gonna ride it till we just can't ride it no more

From the South Bay to the Valley
From the West Side to the East Side
Everybody's very happy
'Cause the sun is shining all the time
Looks like another perfect day

I love L.A.

My wine of the week - the 2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah, which is smooth and ripe and oh so good.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

KC's View: