Slow Sizzle: Raising The Peak Steak

The Wall Street Journal: “There are cows that eat only grass and roam free. There are Kobe cattle, whose muscles are massaged for months to tenderize the meat they eventually produce. And then there are José Gordon’s oxen. An animal lucky enough to be part of the restaurateur/rancher’s herd in northwestern Spain gets to laze about in mountain pastures redolent of thyme and other fragrant herbs. It is stroked with metal brushes. It might even get a pedicure … the cattle in Mr. Gordon’s herd are allowed to live for years, sometimes close to their life spans of nearly two decades, before being turned into steaks for his restaurant.”

“Mr. Gordon, proprietor of Bodega El Capricho in Spain’s Castille-Leon region, believes he knows when an animal in his herd has finally reached its peak condition and is ready for the abattoir. He decides this by the look and feel of the animal. It’s a matter of instinct, Mr. Gordon says. A few weeks too long or too short can mean less-than-perfect meat … The current king of Mr. Gordon’s herd is 16-year-old Divino, a majestic animal of 3,700 pounds, nearly triple the weight at which most beef cattle go to market. Mr. Gordon has nicknamed him El gran jefe—the big boss—for his haughty manner.”

“Such care doesn’t come cheap. Mr. Gordon estimates each animal costs nearly $3,000 a year, in a combination of its feed, hoof care and vet bills, which is at least twice the cost of traditional ranching. A steer like Divino, who will probably go to slaughter this year, will have cost more than $30,000 to raise. Mr. Gordon says he breaks even on most animals, charging €120 a kilo (about $63.50 a pound) for a premium chuleta steak that he says is more delicate than regular beef … Mr. Gordon admits he loses money with some of the animals he keeps longest.” He comments: “I believe that what I do is mystical, magical. It goes beyond profitability. This is my work and my world. I would never change it.”

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Why America Screams for Ice Cream

Boston Globe: “From the tables of European royalty to a bag of 10 Hoodsies for $2.98 at Market Basket, the story of ice cream echoes that of the American experiment — democratization, fueled by technology, ingenuity, and mass marketing. In the three centuries since the first ice cream recipe was published in English, this frozen food has become an integral part of American identity. Ice cream forms the slushy bedrock of our childhood nostalgia; it’s what people are supposed to eat after a break up because it makes you feel better; it’s the thing that Americans replaced drinking with during Prohibition. It looks great on social media (31 million #icecream photos on Instagram and counting), and, of course, it tastes really good.”

“Ice cream is now a nearly $60 billion a year global industry, expected to grow to nearly $75 billion by 2024. Americans are no longer the world’s top consumers of ice cream — that crown goes to China — nor do we consume the most per capita (that would be Norway, that dark horse). But although we are eating less of it than we did even five years ago, Americans still love ice cream, consuming 13 pounds of the stuff per capita in 2016 and spending $6.6 billion on it in 2017. The ice cream industry in the United States has remained stable in large part because we’re willing to pay more for it when we perceive it as ‘premium’.”

Margaret Visser “writing in ‘Much Depends on Dinner,’ noted that ice cream has become ‘invested, in European and American cultures, with what amounts to mythic power.’ Though ice cream has become cheap, it has never been quite cheapened. It remains ‘a sound and tasteful alternative to the empty vulgarities of junk food,’ Visser wrote. It exerts a pleasant nostalgic pull, for that lost childhood, for an old-fashioned time past, for a golden era that doesn’t exist now and probably never really existed, for what Visser describes simply as ‘elsewhere,’ — the country, the holiday, the seaside. Or to put it another way, as Vora said, ‘Ice cream is just fun’.”

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Lightbox Jewelry: Lab Diamonds via DeBeers

The Washington Post: “De Beers, the diamond giant that for years has promoted gemstones as pricey and precious, said it will begin selling man-made diamonds that cost about a tenth of the price of a mined gem. The line of pink, blue and white laboratory-grown diamonds, which De Beers will sell under a new brand, Lightbox Jewelry, is designed to persuade shoppers to think of synthetic diamonds as a ‘fun piece of fashion jewelry’ instead of a lifelong investment, executives said. Prices will start at as low as $200 to appeal to a new generation of shoppers.”

“The lower-priced jewelry is as much about changing consumer habits and preferences as it is about economics, industry experts say. Today’s 20- and 30-somethings — bogged down by heavy student debt loads and stagnant wages — have less spending power than their predecessors did, but they have different values, too: A recent study by De Beers found that millennials would rather splurge on overseas holidays, weekend getaways and electronics than on diamonds.”

“Lab-grown diamonds — which are created in hot, pressurized chambers over weeks, instead of a billion years underground — have been growing in popularity as Americans spend less on traditional diamonds. The stones are increasingly marketed to younger shoppers as a cheaper, ethically sourced alternative to mined diamonds. But their chemical makeup is the same (all diamonds are made of just one element: carbon), and experts say they are indistinguishable to the naked eye.”

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The Truck Surf Hotel: Waves on Wheels

Fast Company: “The Truck Surf Hotel is exactly what it sounds like: a hotel. For surfers. On a specially designed, expandable truck … When it’s not in motion, the vehicle uses hydraulics to extend its interiors beyond the truck bed with moving walls, increasing the available interior space … every individual or couple–up to a maximum of 10 people–has their own private double room with a key card, a comfortable bed, air conditioning, and wireless internet.”

“On the truck’s first floor there’s a common area where the owners serve a breakfast buffet every morning. The rooms are on the top floor and each of them has wide glass windows that give each room plenty of natural light and views. The toilet and the shower are common for all guests. The two-floor hotel on wheels travels to the best surfing spots in Portugal and Morocco. “

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Slow Tickets: Swift ‘Reputation’ for Empty Seats

The Wall Street Journal: “The biggest pop star’s current concert tour isn’t a sellout. And that’s a good thing, according to some in the concert industry. Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’ tour, which kicked off last week in Glendale, Ariz., is a test case in squeezing out scalpers and capturing more profits from ticket sales. The strategy … is to use aggressive pricing to limit the ability of scalpers to purchase tickets and later sell them at higher prices. In addition, a program from Ticketmaster is aimed at giving passionate fans earlier access to tickets at discounted prices.”

“One downside to the plan: empty seats at some of the roughly 36 stadiums on Ms. Swift’s 53-date tour. However, even if those seats remain unsold, the ‘Reputation’ tour already has grossed more on its North American leg than Ms. Swift’s previous tour in 2015 … For decades, artists and their teams have claimed ‘sold out’ shows as a badge of honor showing the high demand for their music. The new approach is raising questions in the music industry about whether an end is nearing for the days of instant sellouts.”

“The best seats—some with added VIP perks—cost $800 to $1,500 at face value for a given show, with those immediately behind them at $250 each. Spots in the back of the house go for about $50.”

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Lord & Taylor’s New ‘Flagship’: Walmart.com

The New York Times: “Lord & Taylor is teaming up with Walmart to create an online store on Walmart.com that will offer about 125 fashion brands, including Tommy Bahama, La La Anthony, H Halston and Effy. Billed by both companies as a ‘premium’ shopping destination, the new online store reflects Lord & Taylor’s desire to reach a wider audience and Walmart’s hope to attract a different type of customer.”

“For Walmart, the partnership is the latest attempt to reach a more urbane shopper. As part of that effort, Walmart has made a string of acquisitions over the past year, purchasing the clothing sites Bonobos and Modcloth and starting its own bedding and mattress line, sold exclusively online.”

“The Lord & Taylor online store on Walmart.com is expected to open in the coming weeks. Lord & Taylor will be responsible for shipping the clothing to customer’s homes. It will continue to sell the same brands in its stores and on its own website at the same prices as it does on Walmart.com … Lord & Taylor executives referred to their site on the Walmart website as a new kind of ‘flagship’ store.”

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Stadium Goods: Getting Kicks From Luxury

The New York Times</strong>: “To walk into the 3,000-square-foot Stadium Goods store in SoHo is to be confronted by rows and rows of pristine, shrink-wrapped athletic footwear. Look closely and you might be a little stunned by the price tags. On a recent afternoon, for instance, a pair of white Nike Jordan 1’s by the fashion designer Virgil Abloh (Off-White, Louis Vuitton) originally priced at $190, was selling for $2,750 … Nearby was a rare pair of Adidas PW Human Race NMD TR, designed by the musician Pharrell Williams. Price tag: $12,350.”

“Sneaker fanatics have been around for decades, with swaps and buys largely happening on eBay or as personal transactions. But it’s only in the last few years that the reseller market has accelerated and gone sharply upscale. John McPheters, who co-founded Stadium Goods with Jed Stiller, says the shift has been driven by ‘men who are now learning from childhood how to treat fashion as a sport — the way that women have always treated fashion’.”

“The partners believe the future of sneaker retail will be a hybrid model combining traditional channels and aftermarket selling. ‘We’re a microcosm of what’s hot,’ Mr. Stiller said, noting that in the sneaker world what’s trending is not necessarily the newest item. ‘Where a lot of retailers are dependent on what brands are releasing at the moment, we’re not. Ninety-five percent of our stock are styles that are no longer on the market’.”

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The Caviar Sandwich is Back!

The Wall Street Journal: “The caviar sandwich at the Grand Central Oyster Bar is back … the under-$15 sandwich, a novelty item that served as a kind of low-rent riff on the luxury lifestyle, disappeared from the menu several months ago. The reason? The cost of the bowfin caviar, a cheaper variety of fish eggs used for the sandwich, had suddenly soared. That left the restaurant with two options: Increase the price for the sandwich threefold or nix it from the menu altogether. Given that the whole point of the sandwich was the caviar-on-the-cheap aspect, the Oyster Bar chose the latter.”

“And Oyster Bar executive chef Sandy Ingber figured the situation would remain that way because he wasn’t finding any caviar purveyors cutting deals … The menu item, a fixture for more than 15 years, had never been a huge seller, as a typical day saw up to 10 orders. But those who liked it really seemed to like it, Mr. Ingber said. The appeal went beyond the novelty aspect, he added. The dish, with the caviar served on plain white toast and paired with chopped egg with a dollop of sour cream on the side, is a perfect study in contrasting textures and flavors: salty, creamy and crispy.”

“But Mr. Ingber still needed to find a source for low-cost bowfin caviar. Fortunately, one turned up at a trade show in Boston last month. The product is the same quality, he said, and only a tad more expensive when factoring in shipping. Mr. Ingber was able to reinstate the sandwich to the menu two weeks ago, raising the price by only a dollar to $13.95.”

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Hotel Shampoo: Losing its Lather?

The Wall Street Journal: “Those little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash in hotels—icons of travel—are disappearing, replaced by bulk dispensers mounted on shower walls. And some travelers are in a lather … some road warriors say wall-mounted racks look low-class. They’re steamed that removing their prized individual bottles looks like just another in a long string of amenity cuts from hotels, like mouthwash, stationery, sewing kits and pens.” David Lennox, a frequent traveler, comments: “What’s next, getting rid of the packs of coffee and making us scoop out of a can? I think it’s cheap, incredibly cheap.”

“Marriott says its change allows it to offer higher-quality bath products at lower cost and reduce waste … And the landfill waste can be significant, says Liam Brown, who is responsible for Marriott brands like Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn and Springhill Suites in the Americas. Little bottles are never refilled and rarely recycled. The initial 450 properties where Marriott will make the change use 10.3 million little bottles a year, or 113,000 pounds of plastic, he says. When the change reaches 1,500 hotels it means 34.5 million bottles, or 375,000 pounds of plastic a year.”

“Noelle Nicolai, who leads marketing for Wyndham Hotel Group’s upscale brands, likens bath products to bread at restaurants. If it’s mediocre, you forget it. ‘If done right, it can be one of the top drivers of delight and guest satisfaction,’ she says.
Wyndham did extensive research and decided to increase the size of some of its bottles from 30 milliliters to 50 milliliters to encourage guests to take them home. ‘Maintaining that bottle experience…was really important to us,’ Ms. Nicolai says. Wyndham and most other large hotel companies send leftover soap that’s been sanitized and repackaged to a charity called Clean the World for recycling.”

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Airport Lounges: From Perk to Pathetic?

The Wall Street Journal: “Airport lounges were once a perk for business travelers and high spenders, a haven from the chaos of modern travel. Then more rewards credit cards started offering lounge access. And what was once an oasis now is more like a mall food court. Losing that ‘1%’ feeling has been jarring. Grousers say gourmet meals once on offer are now finger foods, and beverages are more likely to be guzzled than sipped. Overcrowding means seats often aren’t available.”

“Travelers say a turning point came in 2016 when JPMorgan Chase & Co. launched its Sapphire Reserve credit card. It became a huge hit, offering big rewards to offset a $450 annual fee. One of those was a Priority Pass membership that provides entry for the cardholder to around 60 lounges at U.S. airports and around 1,200 world-wide—with as many guests as desired.”

“Lounges are trying to rein things in. Following complaints from cardholders, AmEx is expanding some of its Centurion lounges and restricting access to holders of Platinum and Centurion cards, which carry annual fees of $550 and $2,500, respectively, and some business cardholders. Priority Pass, meanwhile, is dealing with the crowds in a new way. It’s offering food and booze credits of around $28 per person, with one catch: People have to leave the lounge to use them at restaurants in the airport.”

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