Pizza Al Taglio Doesn’t Cut Corners

The Wall Street Journal: “A number of New York pizza makers are now offering the classic treat with different geometry: Their ‘pies’ aren’t pie-shaped. Instead, they are based on a rectangular-shaped style, known as pizza al taglio, that is popular in Rome. Further distinguishing this version: Slices are often served at room temperature. And when it comes to cutting the pizza, forget about the traditional wheel-style cutter. This is a pizza best divided with a scissors.”

“To some extent, the interest in pizza al taglio speaks to the appetite New Yorkers have for a broadening array of pizza styles, circular or rectangular-shaped. The city has seen restaurants offering everything including Detroit-style pizza and the classic Chicago deep-dish version. And that is not to mention the Sicilian pie, another rectangular style, that has been a mainstay at New York pizzerias for decades.”

“Moreover, other Roman styles are also finding their way to the city. Pinsa Lab, which opened earlier this year in Brooklyn, specializes in an crispy circular style, known as pinsa, that is said to date back to ancient times … But pizza al taglio has special appeal for a host of reasons, say fans. Some like the fanciful toppings that are often used: At Fornino, for example, the pizza al taglio comes in versions with everything from heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese to radicchio and figs.”

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Blue-Corn Pixza Helps Homeless Kids

Fast Company: “For every five slices of blue corn pizza sold at Pixza, a piece of paper denoting a sixth slice is set aside. Once a week, those slips are counted up, and the corresponding number of slices are made and brought to a nearby homeless shelter, where Pixza representatives–many of them who once lived in the shelter–distribute them to the youth and have a conversation about Pixza’s program, and how it could lead to a job offer at the pizzeria.”

“Next, the youth are set up with a haircut, a shower, a T-shirt, a doctor’s appointment, and a life-skills course; Souza has set up partnerships with local hairdressers, medical students, and doctors who volunteer their services to the program. When the youth make it through all of the steps–their progress is recorded via a bracelet in which each step is hole-punched as it’s completed, like an analogue Fitbit–they are offered a job at Pixza.”

“Once employed at Pixza, the youth are matched up with a dedicated coach, who walks them through life planning and securing necessities like housing … The youth and mentors meet at Pixza during closing hours to plan: how to use the two-month stipend doled out to the kids to help them secure an apartment, how to source furniture, how they might want to direct their career beyond the pizzeria.”

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Applebees: What Is (not) Hip

Quartz: “It turns out, Applebee’s perhaps isn’t cut out to be a sophisticated, modern bar with a menu that sports chicken-wonton tacos and Sriracha lime sauce shrimp. Since the beginning of the year, the company’s stock price has plummeted by nearly 50%. It’s currently sitting at its lowest point in more than five years.”

“In a recent conversation with investors, Applebee’s executives were blunt about what went wrong. They called out the brand’s overt attempt at attracting a younger, affluent crowd as a strategic misstep that wound up alienating boomers and Gen-X consumers. Even worse, the rebrand never succeeded in luring younger diners.”

“By contrast, Texas Roadhouse made a conscious decision to avoid a rebrand and found success. It stuck to its straightforward menu, designed for those who enjoy the routine of sticking to the same dishes.”

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The Spotted Cheetah: A Cheetos Restaurant

The Wall Street Journal: “The Spotted Cheetah, a pop-up restaurant specializing in dishes made with Cheetos, has sold out all of the roughly 300 reserved slots for its three-day run, say officials with PepsiCo ’s Frito-Lay division that makes the snack … Spaces were gone within six hours of last week’s announcement of the opening, officials said, adding that there is currently a waiting list of more than 1,000 people should anything become available.”

“The Cheetos restaurant, helmed by celebrity chef Anne Burrell, will feature several varieties of the snack in close to a dozen dishes … Menu items, priced from $8 to $22, include Cheetos meatballs, Cheetos grilled cheese with tomato soup and Cheetos-crusted fried pickles. There are even desserts made with Cheetos, albeit the Sweetos variety of the snack.”

“Ms. Burrell, a fixture on the Food Network, said the challenge was to ‘elevate’ Cheetos, but not get too fanciful. ‘There’s a fine line to walk,’ she said.”

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Kellogg Story: The Battle of Battle Creek

Bryan Burrough: “If by chance you are reading this over your morning cornflakes, be warned … it turns out that the turn-of-the-last-century origin and evolution of the cereal industry was a very nasty and unpleasant bit of business, as Howard Markel chronicles in The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek … Dr. Markel, a professor of medical history at the University of Michigan, tells the story not only of two titans of American commerce and medicine, the brothers John Harvey and William Keith Kellogg, but of the institutions they founded, John’s Battle Creek Sanitarium and Will’s Kellogg cereal colossus—not to mention their long-running feud, one of the more spectacular in the annals of business.”

“Many of John’s patients struggled with the age’s great scourge, ‘dyspepsia,’ a medley of gas, diarrhea, heartburn and upset stomach. An American diet long on animal fat, salt and sugar produced what one historian called ‘the great American stomach ache’ … The Kelloggs (and others) thought that an easily digestible corn cereal might solve all the problems.” However, John “refused to aggressively sell the Kellogg cereal because he thought it unseemly for a medical doctor, and his increasingly famous sanitarium (“the San”), to sell a commercial product.”

Will “made a deal with John to leave the San and start a cereal company of his own, which in time became a global conglomerate. Litigation between the two brothers began almost before the first Corn Flakes box could be shipped from Will’s factory. John sued. Will countersued when John finally sold a cereal of his own. The litigation went on for years, finally ending only in 1920, by which point the damage was irreparable … In the end, the Kellogg brothers’ fortunes reversed. Will, dour and lonely, became one of the country’s wealthiest men … John, though internationally famous well into the 1930s, slowly lost many of his holdings, including, in 1920, the sanitarium itself.”

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Disney Machine-Learns for Laughs

Quartz: Disney “is using machine learning to assess the audience’s reactions to films based on their facial expressions, it wrote in a new research paper. It uses something called factorized variational auto-encoders, or FVAEs, to predict how a viewer will react to the rest of a film after tracking their facial expressions for a few minutes.”

“The FVAEs learn a set of facial expressions, such as smiles and laughter, from the audience, and then make correlations between audience members to see if a movie is getting laughs or other reactions when it should be—a much more sophisticated version of how Amazon and Netflix make suggestions for new things to buy or watch based on your shopping or viewing history.”

“By placing four infrared cameras and infrared illuminators above a theater screen, the researchers were able to identify 16 million facial landmarks, or expressions, from more than 3,100 theatergoers during 150 screenings of nine Disney movies … the data was then analyzed with a computer. (Before this gets too creepy, Disney isn’t tracking your every move at your local theater. The experiment took place during screenings at one particular 400-seat theater. And audiences likely had to choose to participate.)”

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Consumer Culture & The Ikea Catalog

Quartz: “Beginning July 31, IKEA’s highly-anticipated catalogue will appear in millions of mailboxes around the world … This year, it took the Swedish company 18 months and a hundreds-strong army of photographers, art directors, copywriters, proofreaders, prop masters, carpenters, photo retouchers, programmers and CGI specialists to produce the catalog’s 1,400 pieces of art and 24,000 texts. While the text remain basically the same worldwide, IKEA’s team does go the extra mile to swap out subtle, tell-tale details in 72 different region-specific editions.”

“Knowing that kitchens in China are much smaller than the US for example, catalogue designers crop into a photograph and reposition elements in post-production, to illustrate a cozier cooking space … Last February, members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community received a 67-page, all-male product catalogue with challah boards, Shabbat candlesticks, tables set for the Sabbath meal, and Billy bookcases propped with volumes of the Talmud and Bible, the Jerusalem Post reports.”

“The annual catalogue is also a way for IKEA to set prices for their different markets, factoring in the cost of goods, transport, and tariffs and the foreign exchange rate … IKEA works with five paper suppliers and 31 printers around the world to produce the catalogue each year. In choosing the paper … they even consider how different markets perceive quality vis-a-vis the paper’s brightness and sheen. An Ikea exec comments: “People have a ‘magazine moment’ with a cup of tea, at home, touching the paper.”

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Brick Sh*thouse: It’s not Amazon’s Fault

Business Insider: “Online sales are growing rapidly — up 15% in the most recent quarter compared to 4% for total retail sales. But total e-commerce sales account for just 8.5% of overall retail sales in the US. The other 91.5% of purchases are still made in brick-and-mortar stores, according to the US Census Bureau. So what’s sending mall and store traffic plunging, if most purchases are still made in stores?”

“Retailers expanded rapidly in the 1990s, blanketing the US with hundreds of shopping centers and strip malls under the expectation that demand would follow. Demand never quite caught up and then the recession hit, resulting in a sharp contraction in discretionary spending … Too much excess retail space has led to a drop in retail sales per square foot in the US.”

“Many retailers expected sales to bounce back after the recession. But that never happened for a majority of mall-based stores, primarily because people changed their shopping habits … Specifically, shoppers are buying more experiences than things … this trend, which has been particularly devastating to apparel retailers, is due in part to the rise of social media.” Consultant Doug Stephens comments: “Experiences make a better story on social media than things.”

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Sephora Studio: Where Small is Beautiful

Fast Company: Sephora “is tinkering with a new kind of store: an intimate boutique embedded in a neighborhood. The very first of these stores, which will be called the Sephora Studio, is launching on Newbury Street, the charming upmarket shopping street in downtown Boston, full of historic brick and stone buildings … While most Sephora stores make a big statement with their large storefronts, this small store attempts to blend into its locale.”

“At the center of the store, there are eight makeup stations where customers can book personal consultations. The product assortment is much smaller, focused on makeup, although there is a small selection of perfumes and skin care. Staff members will be well-versed in Sephora’s broader product range and may direct customers to products that can be shipped to them for free.”

“There are no cash registers, since staff members can process payments digitally, on their phones. At makeup stations, beauty advisers can take pictures of the client, then note all the products they test together, which is then emailed to the client and added to their online profile.”

“The brand is about to launch other small-format stores in similar shopping streets in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Hoboken in New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. These stores will not replace the bigger store format, but rather complement them.”

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