Terminal C: This Restaurant is Classified

The Wall Street Journal: “You’re a top-dollar flier. Would you fly an airline more if it secreted you into a speakeasy-like restaurant hidden in a back corner of the airport—and handed you the bill? United Airlines is betting you might. United and airport concessionaire OTG Experience have opened an invitation-only restaurant inside Newark Liberty International. To pump up the air of exclusivity, there are no signs for Classified: It’s behind an unmarked blue door in the back of another restaurant in Terminal C.”

“Classified can entice premium passengers to fly out of Newark rather than Kennedy or LaGuardia, says Praveen Sharma, United’s vice president of loyalty, merchandising and digital channels … The airline won’t say how it decides which customers get invitations. It’s not all about frequent-flier status or fare paid. Long layovers may increase your chances. CEOs and celebrities get invites. United officials can walk-in VIPs or even angry customers left stranded by flight problems … Try as it might to be swank, Classified remains an airport restaurant. The knives are plastic, per TSA regulations … Comments are mixed on frequent-flier forums like FlyerTalk. Some road warriors like it. Others find the food overpriced and the seemingly random invitations annoying.”

“United isn’t the only U.S. airline trying to make downtime at the airport more memorable. American now has Flagship First white-tablecloth restaurants open only to people who buy first-class tickets for international or New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco flights.” Kurt Stache, American’s senior vice president for marketing, loyalty and sales, comments: “It’s for that small, small percentage of customers that generates a disproportionate amount of revenue.”

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Klatch: The $55 Cup of Coffee

The Wall Street Journal: “Earlier this year, Extraction Lab, a coffee shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., that is connected to Alpha Dominche, a manufacturer of brewing equipment, began selling an $18 cup of coffee. It is made using a $13,900 Alpha machine that controls every aspect, from water temperature to timing. The brew is a Panamanian-sourced variety, called Gesha, sometimes spelled Geisha, once described by Don Holly, a veteran of the gourmet-coffee industry, as seeing ‘the face of God in a cup’.”

“In Southern California, $55 is what it will cost to get a special cup at Klatch Coffee, which plans to roll out a particularly prized version next month, dubbed Esmeralda Geisha 601. The ‘601’ refers to the price per pound that the coffee sold for at auction … The store is set to offer it at ticketed events. But for those who can’t attend, Klatch will ship the coffee out—for the same $55—in 15-gram packages of pre-roasted beans, good for making one cup. A souvenir mug will come with mail orders.”

“Some Starbucks enthusiasts have created their own price-be-damned drink by ordering extra shots of espresso and bringing their own oversize vessel … William E. Lewis Jr., a political consultant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said he once paid $148.99 for a Starbucks Flat White coffee with 170 extra shots. Mr. Lewis said he didn’t consume it all at once, saying that much caffeine in one sitting might be deadly. Instead, he packed it to go and enjoyed it over a couple of days. ‘It’s all about the hunt. It’s all about doing it’.”

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Free Meals in Coach Make a Comeback

The New York Times: “It seemed to be extinct. The airlines stopped offering it on domestic flights more than a decade ago, along with other amenities that once made air travel an adventure rather than an endurance test. And yet it has reappeared in recent months: a free meal in coach. Continuing their emergence from hard economic times, some airlines have begun adding complimentary breakfast, lunch or dinner on some of their flights in the United States.”

For example: “Delta’s snacks have gotten an overhaul, moving on from ’40 years of unbranded peanuts and pretzels,’ said Lisa Bauer, Delta’s vice president for onboard service, to a variety that includes sweet, salty, healthy and gluten-free choices that will be rotated every six months … The company tried to replicate what the customers would naturally choose for themselves “if they weren’t at 35,000 feet,” Ms. Bauer said. And that includes local and seasonal foods.”

“Ms. Bauer said a free meal alone might not change a customer’s mind. But she said she hoped that given a package of amenities and service, a customer faced with two flights might choose the one run by Delta, even if it costs a little more.”

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Beer Yourself: Self-Serve Suds

The Wall Street Journal: “When customers make their way to the Williamsburg location of Randolph Beer, a brew-centric bar, they will find an impressive 24 choices on draft, from pale ales to stouts to a seasonal Oktoberfest offering. But if they want to do any drinking at the Brooklyn spot, they will have to work the taps themselves sans bartender. As a sign says, ‘Beer Yourself.’The self-serve aspect is actually a selling point for craft-beer buffs. They say they appreciate not only the sheer novelty of it, but also that they can sample new and unusual brews without having to commit to a full pint.”

“The beer is priced by the ounce, from 50 cents for some of Randolph’s house-made brews to slightly above $3 for extremely hard-to-find varieties. Customers are given a ‘beer ATM card,’ as it has sometimes been described, that records all their pours.” A happy customer comments: “You can try a dozen different beers in a night and only spend $30. It’s amazing.”

Self-serve “can bring down costs—not only in terms of needing fewer bartenders, but also in terms of eliminating waste. In most drinking spots, it is a given that bartenders will ‘overpour, either by accident or because they offer customers the occasional freebie.” Yet, not everybody loves the idea: “At some bars, the interaction between customers and bartender is just as important as the drinking itself.” Jeff Isaacson of Ark Restaurants explains: “When you’re getting your own beer and not talking to anybody, you might as well stay home.”

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Starbucks Shutters Digital Store

The New York Times: “As customers increasingly shift their retail shopping toward e-commerce, Starbucks is bucking the trend: It shuttered its online store … Maggie Jantzen, a company spokeswoman, said that the decision to shut down the online store was part of a push to ‘simplify’ Starbucks’ sales channels … The company’s chief executive, Kevin Johnson, spoke on Starbucks’ most recent earnings call about a ‘seismic shift’ in retailing. To survive, he said, merchants need to create unique and immersive in-store experiences.”

Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz told investors last April: “Every retailer that is going to win in this new environment must become an experiential destination. Your product and services, for the most part, cannot be available online and cannot be available on Amazon.”

“Starbucks said it would continue to sell branded products like coffee through grocery stores and some online sites managed by its sales partners. But it broke the hearts of some fans by ending retail sales of a cult-favorite product line: flavored syrups. The mixes used to concoct drinks like the Pumpkin Spice Latte are generally not for sale in the company’s stores, but Starbucks stocked them on its website … On eBay, a jug of Starbucks pumpkin spice syrup could be had on Sunday for $100.”

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Danny Meyer & Enlightened Culture

Fast Company: “How do you persuade your waiters to forgo a 20% tip on each table they serve? Danny Meyer says they never wanted to hire people who would only have been nice to you if they assessed it out of the four tables in their section, you were the richest or you were the most generous.”

“By that he means building a culture where employees focus first on pleasing one another, creating a warm energy that in turn fuels the staff as it tends to patrons, the community, and suppliers. His restaurants offer employees a variety of rewards, from bonuses to birthday cakes. And employees in turn have discretion to give customers free extras, all creating a virtuous cycle of hospitality.”

“Meyer regularly tests his approach to see if it’s is working by asking members of the team to share their understanding and experience of the culture … He says these discussions happen at pre-service meetings and in employee town halls, and through multiple internal channels that employees can use to offer their honest feedback.”

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WorkEatPlay: The Pay-to-Stay Café

Anne Kadet: “There’s long been an uneasy relationship between the city’s cafes and the freelancers who use them as office space. Some joints banned laptops or unplugged the Wi-Fi. But a few are trying a new tactic—charging for table time. Peter Litvinenko, CEO of WorkEatPlay, which currently offers pay-to-stay service at one Hamptons and five New York City venues, describes his business as an Airbnb for restaurants looking to rent their tables as workspace during slow periods, typically on weekdays before the dinner hour.”

“Patrons using the WorkEatPlay website can select an establishment and reserve a day; hours vary depending on the venue. One can pay by the day or buy a package of hours. WorkEatPlay keeps the fee and the restaurant—at least in theory—gets new business. The ideal venue offers a convenient location, a pleasant dining room and decent wireless, Mr. Litvinenko says. Restaurants serving fish are out: ‘We don’t want the aroma to be part of the experience’.”

At Pourt, “which opened this spring on Manhattan’s Cooper Square … there’s a traditional cafe upfront, while the spacious backroom offers a cafe/office hybrid. The workstations feature charging outlets and swiveling ergonomic armchairs, and the décor includes paintings by neighborhood artists … The $10-an-hour rate is steep compared with the $40 that standard co-working spaces typically charge for a day pass. The co-working outfit WeWork, meanwhile, only offers monthly passes. Rates in New York City, which vary by location, start at $300 for a ‘hot desk’ and $650 for a private office. Pourt founder Mike Kruszewski recently tweaked his proposition so guests can apply the entire fee toward food and drinks at the cafe.”

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Extreme Aging: Rotting Beef Commands Top Dollar

The Wall Street Journal: “The hottest menu item at New York restaurants may be a plate of rotting beef. Dining spots around town are offering steaks that have been aged anywhere from 90 to 180 days, pushing the limits well beyond the typical aging period of 21 to 45 days. Restaurateurs and chefs say the added time allows for greater tenderness and depth of flavor than the norm.” Billy Oliva, executive chef of Delmonico’s, describes it as “like the taste of roasted hazelnuts and dehydrated mushrooms.”

“The lower Manhattan restaurant is marking its 180th anniversary by offering a 180-day dry-aged bone-in rib eye, served on a keepsake plate, for $380. The special is offered through Oct. 14. The reason for the high cost? Beef that has been aged loses a considerable amount of its weight over time, Mr. Oliva explains, so diners are essentially paying for that shrinkage.”

“While beef that sits in a meat locker for months on end may sound like a dicey dietary proposition, food-safety experts say it is generally fine for consumption because of how the steak is prepared. Before cooking, chefs trim the exterior of the meat where any bacteria might grow, reducing the safety risk. And the cooking process itself adds another layer of protection … Which isn’t to say the flavor of the steak is one that every carnivore appreciates … ‘It’s like blue cheese on a bone,’ says Michael Lomonaco, chef and owner of Porter House Bar and Grill, a steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan’s Time Warner Center.”

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Amy’s Drive-Thru: Meat-Free Fast Food

Fast Company: “Amy’s Drive Thru is America’s first vegetarian, organic, gluten-free-optional fast-food restaurant, and much to the surprise of the owners, it’s doing more than holding its own against its greasy competitors … Business has been so booming at Amy’s Drive Thru in its two years of operation that it’s beginning a chain.”

“For 29 years, the Petaluma, California-based Amy’s Kitchen has gained a cult following as a purveyor of family-style, vegetarian frozen meals, from macaroni and cheese to burritos, all handmade fresh in three operating facilities across California, Oregon, and Idaho, and shipped nationwide … The drive-through is powered by solar panels, and the tableware is recyclable. Using mostly organic and local produce for ingredients is more expensive, but it’s what customers expect from the company.”

“Whereas a standard fast-food restaurant has around 15 employees per outpost, Amy’s Drive Thru employs over 90 because it takes many more people to prepare the food … A true cross-country empire of Amy’s locations is still far off … The company wants to expand slowly, to ensure that they can partner with local farmers and producers around each location … and to understand where the drive-throughs could have the greatest effect in breaking up health-food deserts.”

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Sey What? A Nordic Coffee Experience

The New York Times: “This season, two New York roasters are unveiling shops that are designed to impress. One, the airy Sey Coffee, which opened this month in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is all raw concrete and whitewashed walls, a skylit showcase for a roaster with a following among coffee-heads who favor the bright, clean profile of the so-called Nordic style … Its owners, Tobin Polk and Lance Schnorenberg, started roasting in 2011 in a fourth-floor loft around the corner from the new shop … Mr. Polk built the burnished maple bench that runs along a cinder-block wall himself, and the ceramist Erin Louise Clancy will set up a work space in the back that will supply the shop.”

“A roaster taking a similar tack is Nobletree Coffee, which … is unveiling a shop in front of its Red Hook, Brooklyn, roasting facility that sets out to make a statement, a state-of-the-art coffee bar with all the shiny toys: a gurgling Steampunk brewer, a streamlined Modbar brewer and espresso machine, kegs of nitrogenized cold brew on tap. While the other Nobletree locations are built for speed, this is a place to nerd out, a destination coffee bar. It helps that the roaster is in a mid-19th-century warehouse, on a pier with a postcard view of the Statue of Liberty across the harbor.”

“Eric Taylor, the general manager of Nobletree, says the purpose of the coffee bar isn’t to make sales but to create a tasting room, a place where you can refine your palate. Nobletree is a part of FAL Coffee, which owns coffee farms and a processing mill in Brazil. Some of the beans that make it to Brooklyn are the cream of those crops — the baristas behind the counter are familiar with every link of the supply chain.”

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