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    Published on: September 7, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    I’m always curious about new food trends … and so I was intrigued by this piece in Eater, reporting on a New York City restaurant called Duck’s Eatery that is selling “smoked watermelon ham” for $75 per portion … and is sold out until November.

    Why is it sold out? Because “it’s such a time-intensive process to make it. It’s cured for four to six days, dried, smoked for eight hours, and then finished in a pan — ultimately taking around a week to make in the tiny, 600-square-square foot restaurant.” They can’t make more than two per night, despite demand that seems largely driven by social media.

    Chef and co-owner Will Horowitz, the Eater story says, “seems frustrated with the obsession with the specific dish. The chef, who opened Ducks in 2012 with his sister Julie, has become known for smoked foods, and the watermelon was an experiment in hopes of changing the whole playing field of how people view meat, not for people to gawk at a fun-looking watermelon. It’s a sustainability play, he says. Besides Ducks and East Village sandwich shop Harry and Ida’s, Horowitz is also the chef behind a food startup manufacturing kelp jerky, a way to think about non-traditional proteins.”

    And I think that’s the Eye-Opening point. While I’m sure it can be frustrating to be thought of as faddish, the point is that one of the ways in which businesses compete - especially with online retailers - is by doing things that are non-traditional, that try to change the playing field. Those moments are to be treasured … they’re just moments, but moments can combine to become a strategic direction - turning a place into a venue that draws people in because they offer a differential advantage.

    By the way, if you can’t get a reservation at Duck’s to try the smoked watermelon ham, there’s always the “smoked cantaloupe burger, a $16 sandwich where the melon is smoked in the same process as the watermelon.”

    Sounds delicious.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a group of Whole Foods workers sent an email to their fellow employees at most of the chain’s 490 stores, urging them to support a unionization drive.

    The letter cites a changed corporate culture and diminished compensation since Whole Foods was acquired by Amazon, and asks for better pay, benefits and profit sharing.

    The Journal writes that “the unionization push presents a potentially high-profile challenge to Amazon, which has opposed past organizing efforts by warehouse workers and other employees that are less visible to customers than grocery-store clerks … Amazon workers in Germany, Spain and Poland held strikes around Amazon’s Prime Day promotion in July to demand better health protections and job-safety measures. Germany’s powerful service-workers’ union has held a number of job actions over pay and working conditions in recent years.

    “Amazon has fought those efforts. The e-commerce company has said that it treats its workers fairly and that reports of inhospitable conditions at its facilities are untrue.”

    The unionization move comes as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has introduced legislation that would require large employers such as Amazon, Walmart and McDonald’s to fully cover the cost of food stamps, public housing, Medicaid and other federal assistance received by their employees. In other words, if such an employee got $300 in food stamps in a given year to supplement a low wage, the employer would be taxed $300.

    Sanders is taking direct aim at Amazon with the bill: he calls it “the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies” bill … or the “Stop BEZOS” bill.
    KC's View:
    The fact is, the bigger Amazon gets, the bigger a target it is going to be … and it has to be prepared to suffer the slings and arrows that traditionally have been aimed at companies like Walmart.

    I don’t have a lot of confidence that this will happen, but wouldn’t it be interesting if Amazon, which has been so disruptive in how it approaches so many problems and industries, brought that same level of innovation and creativity to how it works with the labor force. When the ultimate boss is touted as being the richest person on the planet - ever - maybe it isn’t beyond imagination to come up with some sort of profit sharing plan that makes everybody feel like they have some skin in the game.

    As I think about this, I must admit that I expect Amazon to be different - and better - when it comes to employee relations. Mostly because it has established that benchmark in so many other areas.

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    CNBC reports that a new study from eMarketer suggests that “more than 20 percent of adults who use their smartphones to shop will use an app to order groceries by 2019,” though the study also points out that grocery shopping still lags in terms of overall e-commerce numbers. “Even at its current growth rate, food and beverage retail sales will make up only 2.8 percent of all U.S. e-commerce sales in 2018 at $14.94 billion,” the story says.

    According to the story, “Apps that deliver perishable food items - including meal kits - are rapidly increasing in popularity. The eMarketer forecast predicts that the number of U.S. adults who order groceries at least once a month with an app will increase by 49.6 percent to 18 million adults this year compared to last year.”

    To a great degree, the study suggests, this growth is being fueled by Amazon, which keeps pushing other retailers forward with every incursion it makes into the grocery business.
    KC's View:
    Here’s the smart bet … that the trend only is going to gain momentum. To bet the other way would be foolish, I think.

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    Axios has a story about Amazon’s still-uncompleted search for a second headquarters city - dubbed HQ2, where it has pledged to invest $5 billion and hire as many as 50,000 employees - has given the company some enormous benefits.

    The story notes that Amazon “got reams of data from the 238 entrants — enough to learn details of the cities' future plans that a lot of their residents don't even know about … The information effectively provided Amazon with a database chock full of granular details about the economic development prospects of every major metropolitan area in the United States (and some in Canada). For a rapidly-expanding tech behemoth like Amazon, that database could help it make expansion decisions that go way beyond the new headquarters.”

    Amazon is "not just looking for HQ2,” Joe Parilla of the Brookings Institution tells Axios. "They're looking for where they're going to put the next data center, the next logistics center, the next R&D facility.”

    Parilla notes that “much of the quantitative data that Amazon picked up from cities is publicly available … What matters is the qualitative data cities offered up — they let Amazon in on their wildest dreams.

    “The sort of details that might be in a typical HQ2 application include plans for new train stations or shopping complexes — information the city's own residents wouldn't have, he says.”
    KC's View:
    Data, in so many ways, is the stuff that Amazon’s dreams are made of … they get data that nobody else has, and then they act on it.

    Compete with that.

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    The New York Times has a story about how, “as students return to campuses,” branded companies are “turning to many of them to promote products right alongside photos of family, friends and the new puppy” on social media accounts such as Instagram and Snapchat.

    “For busy students,” the story says, “it is an easy, low-pressure way to make extra money or get free products. For marketers, it is a simple way to reach young people — a supplement to their other social media efforts, including hiring full-time promoters.”

    While there isn’t any reliable data about how big this trend is, the Times writes that “interviews with university officials, marketing consultants, brand representatives and students make it clear that the social media platform is big business on campus.” There are even marketing agencies - both on and off campus - that specialize in identifying and hiring appropriate college students to promote products.
    KC's View:
    I had a student a few years ago at Portland State University who was the on-campus brand ambassador for Subaru. (I’m told that Subaru is the de facto state vehicle in Oregon.) At the time, I had no idea that such a position existed … and it only makes sense that the concept would expand and permeate college campuses.

    BTW … my one concern here would be about authenticity. I can see this getting to the point where these endorsements would become both ubiquitous and meaningless.

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    Media Post reports that a new study from Jumpshot’s Competitive State of eCommerce Marketplaces suggests that during the second quarter, Amazon accounted for 54 percent on online product searches, while Google dropped to second place.

    According to the story, “The findings suggest about 90% of all product views on Amazon result from a product search and not merchandising, ads or product aggregators. Amazon search result placement is vital for product views. In fact, the fourth-ranked product spot generates more views — 7% of all clicks — than the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked spots at 5.7% and 5.2%, respectively.”

    • While Amazon’s usage as a search engine may be up, that doesn’t mean that things can’t go down.

    USA Today reports that “thousands of users reported issues searching the online retailer for products on Wednesday,” which most of the trouble reported between 4 and 5:30 pm EDT. The outage apparently affected desktop, mobile and app users.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    • The Times of San Diego reports that Albertsons and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “have taken steps that could lead to settlement of a lawsuit over an alleged policy at the San Carlos store to keep employees from speaking Spanish to customers.” While “Albertsons had been facing an Aug. 23 deadline to respond to the accusations that the grocery store violated federal law when some Hispanic employees were subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment amid a no-Spanish policy,” the story notes that the two sides have asked for and been been granted an extension until October so they can work on a possible resolution.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    Burt Reynolds, who during the ’70s and ’80s was one most of the most popular actors in movies - often turning out films that, while dismissed by critics, were embraced by audiences because of his panache and evident glee at being paid to drive cars fast, kiss beautiful women, and crack wise (not necessarily in that order) - has passed away. He was 82.

    In his appreciation in the New York Times, film critic A.O. Scott writes that Reynolds “may not have lived up to his full potential as an actor — he often said so himself — but he was one of the great drivers in American popular culture. This isn’t a minor accomplishment. The pride he took in performing his own stunts was partly the bluff machismo of a former athlete and partly a commitment to screen acting as a physical rather than a cerebral or emotional undertaking. He could play romantic leads, detectives and football players: The range was always there, even if he didn’t always use it. He was sometimes clean-shaven, and not always southern. But if you grew up in the prime of his stardom, you most likely remember him, with a mustache and a cowboy hat and maybe a pair of aviators, behind the wheel of a car.”
    KC's View:
    I always have been a Burt Reynolds fan, while at the same time believing that his was a classic case of a career being inhibited by bad decisions. He could’ve had the same kind of career as Clint Eastwood - they both started directing movies at around the same time - but instead seemed to choose the easy paycheck and the less challenging projects, usually while wearing increasingly unbelievable toupees.

    Reynolds also is well-known for the roles he supposedly turned down - like the Jack Nicholson roles in both Terms of Endearment and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (To make, in the first case, Stoker Ace? Geez…) Plus, the Richard Gere role in Pretty Woman. An, the opportunity to replace Sean Connery as James Bond.

    That said … Reynolds has the distinction of having made at least two movies that will stand the test of time and be defined as great - Deliverance and the original The Longest Yard. (The less said about the execrable remake, in which Reynolds took a small role, probably for a paycheck, the better.) And, he made a bunch of movies that I think were very, very good - Semi-Tough, Starting Over, Boogie Nights, Hooper, and Sharky’s Machine would be the ones that would make my list.

    I was thinking about this recently after reading the Ace Atkins novel, “The Sinners,” which was dedicated to Burt Reynolds. There are a ton of testosterone-driven characters of various ages populating the book, which is set in the deep south. I may be wrong about this, but it seemed to me that Reynolds could’ve played many of them at various points in his career … and he would’ve been great.

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    Yesterday, MNB took note of the opening by Starbucks of its third Reserve Roastery, in Milan, located in the former post office in Palazzo delle Poste on Piazza Cordusio, an ornate 1901 building designed by architect Luigi Broggi.

    I commented that “the pictures certainly make the spot look bellissima, and I’m certainly up for a trip to check it out.

    Which prompted one MN reader, the wonderful Beatrice Orlandini, who lives in Italy, to write:

    Well, today is the big day and there is a lot of excitement.

    They picked a great location and the preview snaps are stunning. We’ll see how it works out.

    Later on, she offered this update:

    The whole square had been closed to traffic and an evening party was due. The rain dampened hopes and party, which was then held inside.

    Consumer associations are already protesting heavily for what are deemed to be outrageous prices:

    1.80 euros for an espresso (average price for same service in a bar in Milan: 1 euro 10 cents).

    3.50 euros for an American coffee.

    4.50 euros for a cappuccino (average price no more than 1.60 euros).

    No comparisons yet for the price of muffins, croissants etc…

    But, she did have one problem with my comment:

    It's bellissimo (masculine); whichever term you choose to translate Spot into Italian with, it's always masculine. Bellissima is the feminine.

    Molte grazie. (I hope.)
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    I’ve always been a bigger fan of the movies made from Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels than of the novels themselves. For me, the movies stripped away a lot of the technobabble and focused on the drama; especially the first three - The Hunt For Red October (with Alec Baldwin in the role), Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger (with Harrison Ford) - were smart, well-made movies made for grownups. I was less enthusiastic about the last one, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, featuring Chris Pine in the role; Pine was good, but the writing wasn’t very good. And I was not at all a fan of Ben Affleck in the part, in The Sum of All Fears.

    This is a long way of getting around to say that I was very much looking forward to the new Amazon eight-part series, “Jack Ryan,” which features John Krasinski in the title role, a far cry from the part he probably is best known for in the American version of ‘The Office.” The good news is that I was not disappointed, and had an enormously good time binge watching the series.

    One of the things that I think “Jack Ryan” does well is allow for the ability to wander the occasional narrative detour or scenic route; these moments, which often are rooted in characters like a cynical French police detective or a US military man plagued by guilt because his job is to kill people via drone, give the series a texture that the movies simply did not have time to explore.

    Krasinski is excellent in the role - he allows the audience to see him thinking, which is no small feat for an actor, and yet he is physical enough to pull off the action scenes. As the character grows in confidence, moving from a desk bound CIUA analyst to reluctant field agent, Krasinski gets better and better. And, he’s matched by the wonderful Wendell Pierce as his CIA boss, James Greer, who has been disgraced and is seeking a kind of redemption, and yet is skeptical of the insights that Ryan brings him. Trust between Ryan and Greer comes slowly and painfully, but it is great fun to watch these two pros at work.

    The series concerns Ryan’s hunt for a man who he believes as the potential to become the next Bin Laden, and to discern the terrorist’s plans before they can be put into action. Ali Suliman is excellent in the role, as is Dina Shihabi as his wife; the actors - and the structure of the series - allows us to understand their motivations, which is important as the story reaches its denouement.

    Great stuff. Find some time, and watch “Jack Ryan.” To me, it bookends perfectly with Amazon’s “Bosch,” based on the Michael Connelly novels.

    One of the real pleasures of my summer was my discovery of a series of mystery novels by Warren C. Easley - all set in the Portland, Oregon, area. (Actually, to be fair, I didn’t just “discover” them. A friend in the publishing business, Michael Barson, alerted me to their existence, knowing of my enduring affection for al things Portland.)

    The novels, featuring a former LA prosector named Cal Claxton who, after the suicide of his wife, moves to Oregon to start a small law practice and ends up doing a lot of pro bono work among the city’s homeless and disenfranchised population.

    There’s non question that one of the reasons I like to read about Claxton is I know the area he’s writing about from my seven summers there. I jog where he jogs, I go to a number of the restaurants he goes to, and we drinks some of the same wines and beers. So I identify. (Plus, he has a great dog. What’s not to like?)

    The latest and sixth in the series, “Moving Targets,” is just out, and it is a fun and entertaining read as Claxton investigates the murder of a woman who was prominent in the city’s real estate business, and who, her daughter thinks, may have been murdered before she could prevent the building of an upscale riverfront development that some see as ruining the city’s unique culture. This allows Easley to write expertly about politics and gentrification, which gives “Moving Targets” a strong narrative spine on which to build its mystery.

    I’ve always thought that this is what the best mystery novelists do. They’re sometimes dismissed as being genre writers, but in fact they are using the form to comment on a wide range of issues and the human condition. You can see that in Easley’s work - I read “Moving Targets” first, but have now gone back and bought and read the entire series. I find Cal Claxton to be good company, and I look forward to the next one.

    I have three lovely rosés to recommend to you this week.

    First, the 2016 Alfresco Rosé, from California, which is a surprisingly supple lend of chenin blanc and syrah.

    Second, the 2017 Hecht & Bannier Rosé 2017 from France’s Provence region, which is both crisp and medium bodied.

    Third, there is the elegant 2017 Cistercien Rosé, from the Schloss Gobelsurg vineyard, which is a terrific blend of Zweigelt, St. Laurent and Pinot Noir grapes from the Austrian Danube area.

    The weather has been really hot, and so we’ve been enjoying these various rosés with seafood and salads and just snacks of cheeses and crackers. They’re all wonderful, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 7, 2018

    In the opening game of the new NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Atlanta Falcons 18-12.
    KC's View: