The A5 Ozaki: Lunch as $180 Sandwich Caper

Jason Gay: A $180 steak sandwich is an indefensible purchase. It is a foodstuff strictly for vulgarians, a decadent symbol of 21st-century gluttony and the over-luxurification of everything. To buy it is to wallow in one’s privilege, one’s shameless indifference to the plight of humankind. Other than that, it’s pretty tasty … This $180 Katsu sandwich can be found in lower Manhattan, around the corner from Wall Street, at a hole-in-the-wall establishment called Don Wagyu. Don Wagyu is a spartan place with a small bar counter, a partly-open kitchen and a half-dozen stools. It is visible from the outside thanks to a red neon sign of a cow smoking a cigarette, a nod to the vaguely-illicit goings-on inside.”

“How could a sandwich cost as much as a plane ticket to Florida? This is, after all, the type of thing that makes the rest of the planet think New Yorkers are out of their minds. Was the $180 sandwich (aka the A5 Ozaki) a legitimate food experience or some kind of commentary on late-stage capitalism? … Ordering the A5 Ozaki is not a showy experience. The lights do not dim, the kitchen does not clap; it does not require much more of a wait than a turkey club at a diner. A slice of beef is encrusted with panko, fried, placed on toasted white bread and served quartered, like a preschooler’s PB&J. Nori-sprinkled french fries and a pickle spear are the only accompaniments.”

“But the A5 Ozaki was light and buttery to the point of being almost ethereal, as if the sandwich knew the pressure of delivering on its comical price. Which, of course, it does not. There is no sandwich that is possibly worth $180. But that’s the thrill (and the crime) of extravagance, is it not? Eating this thing felt right and completely wrong—more like a caper than a lunch.”

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Airlines Adjust Menus for Long-Haul Flights

The Wall Street Journal: “Airlines and scientists are studying the effects of spending 20 hours or more in an arid cabin at high altitude. They’re beginning to change everything from food service to cabin lighting and temperature to combat dehydration, jet lag and the sedentary effects of being belted into a seat for a day binge-watching movies … Singapore Airlines is working with nutrition and health experts at Canyon Ranch here to devise new menus and onboard wellness programs for its 9,534-mile nonstop trips between Newark, N.J., and Singapore, which will be the longest flights in the world when they launch in October. The airline will also add the long-distance wellness program to existing San Francisco and Los Angeles flights.”

“Out go potatoes; in comes cauliflower. Beverages are being selected to not only improve hydration but also promote bathroom trips to make sure people get up and move around to stimulate blood flow and stretch muscles … To learn more about passengers on long flights, Qantas enlisted volunteer frequent fliers to wear monitors on wrists and legs. It turns out there’s huge variation in passenger movement: Some passengers are active, others remain sedentary the entire trip.”

“Changes are already happening, such as delaying dinner on the evening departure from Perth to begin moving body clocks to London time. When it’s time to go to sleep, cabin lights turn amber and red, which facilitate rest. Blue and white lighting helps wake passengers up … Another area under review with Canyon Ranch: exercise. Singapore, like many airlines, already has a video suggesting some in-seat stretching to relieve tension and stimulate blood flow. The airline is updating the video with input from Canyon Ranch and is considering whether to do more … Qantas says it hasn’t ruled out having a trainer onboard to lead exercises.”

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Online Feels ‘Off’ to Most Shoppers

Supermarket News: “Going by the trends in retail grocery, online ordering of groceries and meal kits likely stand near the top. But by the numbers, the vast majority of Americans are doing neither, a new Gallup poll finds. Of 1,033 U.S. adults surveyed, 84% said they never order groceries online and 89% never order meal kits, according to Gallup, which released the study results this week.”

“The small percentage of consumers that do order groceries or meal kits online don’t do it very often. Just 11% reported they order groceries online for pickup or delivery twice a month or less, and 4% said they do so once a week or more. Meanwhile, 9% of respondents order meal kits for home delivery two times monthly or less, and only 1% do so once weekly or more.”

Lydia Saad of Gallup comments: “Services like PeaPod, Instacart, Shipt and Amazon Fresh that cut out the trip to the grocery store appeal mainly to those short on time: parents with children younger than age 18 and employed adults. Higher-income Americans are also bigger adopters of grocery delivery, either because higher income means they can afford more groceries or they have greater access to mobile technology like smartphones and tablets that make ordering online easier.”

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Rothman Index: Quantifying Gut Instincts

The New York Times: “The Rothman Index is a commercial product that uses data from standard electronic health records — including lab values, vital signs, cardiac rhythms and key aspects of nursing assessments — to monitor hospital patients. It tracks their status as a graph that falls into a blue, yellow or red zone, based on whether they are at low, medium or high risk of an acute event … The goal is to identify those patients who might look stable but are in fact fragile; applied correctly, it allows medical teams to intervene well before a crisis hits. This saves lives, and money.”

“The Rothman Index empirically validates nurses’ gut feelings by showing that nursing assessments — what nurses see and document when they “lay eyeballs” on patients — offer crucial information about patient stability. It validates what nurses have known all along: that well-honed clinical instincts matter.”

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Craft Beer Lightens Up

The Wall Street Journal: “While mega breweries flaunt puny carb counts, microbrew fans tend to assume that ‘lite’ means flavorless. Lately, however, craft brewing has been quietly losing weight, squeezing into macro-brew territory with beers as low in alcohol and calories as mass-made lagers—only deceptively, defiantly flavorful. Small-scale breweries have, historically, produced big, bold brews … But a strange thing happened in 2007 when Dogfish Head Brewery released Festina Peche, a slightly sour, peach-infused wheat that barely tipped the scales at 4.5% ABV and 8 IBUs (International Bittering Units): It sold.”

“While Dogfish still sells truckloads of crushers such as 120 Minute IPA, the brewery’s SeaQuench Ale, a 4.9% gose released in 2016, has been the fastest-growing beer in the company’s history … Lagunitas and other breweries like them are retooling accordingly. Yes, Lagunitas, makers of boozy bruisers like aptly named Maximus (8.1% ABV) and Hop Stoopid (8% ABV) is releasing light beer … Tuning down their brews shifted Dogfish Head‘s source of inspiration, too, from American hop fields to the European grain belt.”

For “Dogfish Head’s latest light beer, Grisette About It! (3.5% ABV and under 100 calories) … the brewers chose grisette, an old-timey French wheat-beer style. To emphasize its grainy character without carb-loading, they used a low-sugar, 17th-century oat variety from Columbia, S.C., granary Anson Mills, along with malted wheat and a little honey.”

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How Text & Chat Gets Satisfaction

The Washington Post: “The biggest shift in customer service since the 1-800 number is underway. Some 20 million businesses now use Facebook Messenger each month to talk with customers. Apple is leading companies as diverse as Lowe’s, Marriott and Wells Fargo into taking service queries, scheduling deliveries and even paying for purchases over iMessage. And Facebook’s WhatsApp, already used by 3 million businesses, including many outside the United States, is building a business around charging companies to better serve us over chats.”

“Business messaging isn’t the same as chatbots, which are programs that try — and often fail — to provide automatic answers to questions. This is about talking to real people, though some companies blend both automation and humans. Messaging a business can bring new kinds of frustrations. Not every company is prepared for 21st-century customer service; some put the newbie employees on chat duty — others rely too much on robots.”

“LivePerson, a company that makes support software used by 18,000 companies, says when given the option, 70 percent of people chose a “message us” button over a “call us” button on a company website or app. And it says customer satisfaction rates are 25 percent higher for chatting and messaging than for calling.”

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Study: Inclusion Begets Innovation

The Wall Street Journal: “Companies that welcome ideas from all employees have better growth prospects than those with a less-inclusive approach to innovation, a new study finds … Employees were asked how often they were included in larger, strategic decisions, whether they felt management was interested in their ideas and whether they were encouraged to try new approaches to their work. It found that companies where more people said they felt their ideas were sought out and valued tended to yield more revenue growth and employee productivity.”

“The analysis—which split companies into three tiers based on how many employees said they got opportunities to innovate—found workers at firms in the most inclusive group were 14% more likely to say they want to stay at their company long term than those in the least inclusive group. Those employees were also 32% more likely to describe themselves as willing to put extra effort into work, compared with the least-inclusive group.”

“At Quicken Loans Inc. … employees are given four hours each week of focused “bullet time.” During those hours, they are able to step away from day-to-day responsibilities and explore new skills and parts of the company’s business not directly related to their own work, said Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner … Wegmans Food Markets Inc., a family-owned regional grocery chain with 48,000 employees, says it has ‘innovation teams’ made up of frontline workers in Wegmans grocery stores and employees in the company’s main office. These teams come up with new programs and improvements that are tested at select stores with the prospect of being applied companywide.”

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Branching Out: Former Banks = Cool Stores

The New York Times: “Former bank branches have been reincarnated as pizza parlors, fast-food outlets, health care sites, massage chains, credit unions, educational institutions, churches and mobile phone stores. Some serve as locations for Starbucks, CityMD Urgent Care, CVS and other chains.”

“Attributes that were attractive to banks in the first place are now selling points for the converted properties. Many occupy corner locations on busy streets with heavy retail traffic. The buildings are often free-standing and well maintained, with sturdy brick construction. Depending on municipal zoning restrictions, canopied drive-throughs can be converted to other uses, such as fast-food pickup, side entrances or patios.”

“Part of an Apple Bank in Manhattan was converted to condos in 2006, and CVS moved into at least two banks in New York with high ceilings and marble columns … In the small tourist community of Lake Tomahawk, Wis., Tina Rydzik saw a marketing opportunity after she found it impossible to remove the vault from a former bank she took over and converted into a pizza house. She christened the enterprise Pizza Vault, and named nearly all the entrees after famous bank robbers.”

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Swedish Samosas: Ikea in India

The New York Times: “Ikea’s opening in India — and its subsequent success or failure — is likely to become a case study for other international retailers. India’s retail landscape is complex. With a growing middle class, its 1.3 billion people buy about $30 billion a year of furniture, lighting and household items like bed linens and cookware … But despite the efforts of a few local chains, 95 percent of those goods are sold through small shops that offer custom-built products, usually specializing in one category such as wooden furniture or lamps, and offer free assembly and delivery.”

“Ikea stores are the polar opposite. Part showroom and part warehouse, they are sprawling outlets that are far from city centers with mazes of giant bins and floor-to-ceiling shelves. Ikea’s brand signals affordable, mass-produced and functional, and its design aesthetic is lightweight and lean, in contrast to the heavier, bulkier furniture traditionally favored in Indian households … All of this has forced Ikea to rethink its product lineup and store operations for India. Although the Hyderabad store has the classic Ikea layout, what’s on display is somewhat different.”

“Given India’s lower income levels, the store features hundreds of products — from dolls to spice jars — priced at less than 100 rupees, or $1.45 … Indian families spend a lot of time together, with relatives frequently popping in, so the company added more folding chairs and stools that could serve as flexible seating … Some items popular in the United States, such as untreated pine furniture, do not endure in south India’s hot and humid climate … Even the cafeteria caters to Indian tastes, with biryani, samosas and vegetarian Swedish meatballs on the menu and 1,000 available seats, more than any other Ikea in the world, to accommodate the more leisurely dining style of Indian families.”

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