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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Supreme Luxury: Scarcity is the Best Strategy

The Wall Street Journal: “Supreme, an underground streetwear brand with 11 stores and a cult following, is now worth more than teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co., which has about 900 stores around the globe … Founded in 1994, the seller of skateboarding T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts has tapped into the zeitgeist of teens seeking hard-to-get looks. Unlike traditional retail chains, which aim to sell as much as possible, the label has relied on product scarcity and word-of-mouth referrals to generate hype around its name.”

“Supreme sells merchandise from other apparel brands, but the most coveted items are those with the Supreme logo. A limited number are released throughout the year, and fans frequently check blogs and Facebook groups to learn about the latest offering … Online, the items sell out promptly, appearing later on eBay and other reselling platforms at much higher prices.”

“Supreme’s popularity has surged as ’90s streetwear styles have made a comeback. It ranked as the fourth-most preferred website among upper-income male respondents, after Amazon, Nike and eBay, based on a recent Piper Jaffray survey of 6,100 teens. With so few locations, the brand’s shop in New York City has become a tourist attraction. On a recent Sunday, families with teens and twenty somethings wrapped around three streets to wait for a chance to enter the store.” A fan comments: “Waiting is part of the experience.”

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Rent the Runway Moves Downscale

The Wall Street Journal: Rent the Runway “is introducing a new subscription priced at $89 a month, 35% less than the $139 monthly subscription plan the company launched last year. The new, lower-priced plan limits customers to four items a month and excludes some high-end designers. Jennifer Hyman, chief executive and co-founder of Rent the Runway, said the new plan is aimed at price-sensitive shoppers, not the affluent professionals who make up most of the company’s existing subscribers.”

“Under the new model, customers can rent up to four pieces a month, including dresses, coats or handbags, from labels such as Tory Burch, Vince and Diane von Furstenberg. The items arrive dry-cleaned and in a garment bag with a prepaid postage label; the customer must return them by the end of a month to obtain four more items … With the new price tier, Rent the Runway is hoping to compete with fast-fashion and discount retailers like T.J. Maxx , Zara and H&M , which have bucked many of the problems dragging down traditional clothing chains by luring shoppers with low prices and constantly changing merchandise.”

However: “‘Getting people to change their behavior is difficult,’ said David Bell, a marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Most consumers don’t do the math to determine whether renting or buying is a better deal, he said; others may be turned off by the thought of putting on a previously worn dress.”

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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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Richie’s Guitar Shop: (212-253-7643)

The New York Times: “Got a gig downtown in two hours and there’s no sound coming from your ’68 Stratocaster? Action need adjustment? Are you afraid your bass is possibly haunted? ‘Call Richie’ is the mantra — if you’re connected enough in the music world to have the business card with the phone number for Richie’s Guitar Shop, which has been promoted solely through word of mouth since Mr. Baxt started teaching himself to fix guitars in 1978. Upon calling (212-253-7643), Richard Baxt will tell you where to go — to a modest one-bedroom apartment on East 11th Street.”

“If you are a new customer, you will be handed a single-spaced, double-sided sheet of paper titled ‘The Richie’s Guitar Shop Philosophy.’ These are the rules of engagement, which include both the practical and unexpected — from the importance of appointments, to the $15 surcharge if Mr. Baxt has to clean ‘blood or other bodily fluids’ off the instrument.”

Mr. Baxt says big retailers “‘charge you $100 just to change the strings and make a few adjustments. To me, that’s unconscionable. I try to charge as little as possible’ … Customers’ needs vary. Mr. Baxt recalled a job he performed for a man convinced that there were demons inside his guitar. The man asked Mr. Baxt to carve the outline of a swastika into his pick guard, which he hoped would scare them out. ‘I did it,’ said Mr. Baxt, who is Jewish, with a laugh … The man called several weeks later, swearing that the demons had been exorcised. As it says on the guitar shop business card, ‘Psychotherapy extra’.”

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Down Under: Introducing Vegemite Blend 17

The New York Times: “Vegemite, the classic condiment found on breakfast tables in every corner of Australia for nearly a century, is going posh. Bega, manufacturer of the iconic — if divisive — yeast extract spread, released a new and more expensive version of the product this week, raising questions about whether the brand had abandoned its humble roots in favor of a more affluent demographic.”

“The new variety, Vegemite Blend 17, is sold in achingly artisanal packaging that includes an unnecessary cardboard box, a gold-colored lid and a price tag more than double that of a traditional jar, coming in at 7 Australian dollars, or nearly $5.50 … Anthony Agius, a Melbourne resident who says he has eaten Vegemite for 32 years, purchased the new product out of curiosity … Mr. Agius said he could not easily distinguish the new blend from the original.”

“When asked whether the new product may be a cynical, short-lived marketing ploy to draw attention and stoke lighthearted controversy, (marketing director Ben Hill) simply encouraged Australians to ’embrace the taste.’ The company, he said, did not plan to reissue the product after its initial run of 450,000 units. But if the new blend proved popular, Mr. Hill said, Bega might keep making it.”

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Airbnb Antidote: Hotels Take Aim At ‘Self-Worth’

The New York Times: “With competitors like Airbnb nipping at their heels, hotels are rolling out experiences to their most faithful customers that go far beyond extra nights and room upgrades. Want to improve your cooking skills? How about a class with a Michelin-starred chef? Or snorkeling in Hawaii with Jean-Michel Cousteau? Or basketball tips from the N.B.A. standout Dwyane Wade? … In offering such exclusive experiences, hotels are looking to establish deeper connections with their customers in the face of growing competition from start-ups.”

“Marriott is trying to differentiate itself by focusing on self-improvement activities, in part because its own research suggests this is how people will increasingly spend their money when traveling … Such experiences not only increased travelers’ self-worth and satisfaction, the research found, but travelers sought to share the interactions with experts on their social channels.”

“The large hotel brands are mindful that right over their shoulder, Airbnb, in particular, is reinventing what travelers expect from a local stay by introducing smaller-scale experiences and classes, which people can bid on through its site even if they are not staying in an Airbnb rental. One in Paris, for example, offers to teach patrons how to sculpt a head from clay, taught by an artist who studied at the Louvre museum. Another offers a class in San Francisco on creating a French macaron.”

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Amazon: A Bad ‘Hood For Luxury Brands?

The Wall Street Journal: “Amazon is courting companies across the retail spectrum, but one sector is still mostly holding out: the world’s club of luxury brands. Swatch and others in the luxury industry say Amazon’s online marketplace undermines the strict control they say is key to maintaining a sense of exclusivity—and keeping prices high. While some makers of luxury products have decided to join Amazon, many of the industry’s biggest players—including Swatch, Gucci owner Kering, luxury-watch maker Cie. Financière Richemont SA and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE —are staying away for now.”

“The absence of high-end products has hampered Amazon’s push to be a force in the fashion industry, despite years of working to expand the merchandise it sells officially though its website. Adding luxury goods would help Amazon boost margins and build loyalty among customers of Amazon Prime, its premium service favored by higher-income shoppers that offers faster delivery and other perks, according to former executives familiar with the company’s shopper base.”

“One of the biggest worries for these luxury companies: The difficulty of segregating their product listings from the rest of the goods sold through the site. That means a $5,000 suit from luxury Italian menswear company Brioni, a subsidiary of Kering, can appear next to a $200 suit from Kenneth Cole.” Jean Cailliau, executive adviser at Paris-based investment bank Bryan, Garnier & Co., comments: “That contradicts the essence of luxury selling and shopping, where the product is the product also because of its environment.”

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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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