13 May 2020 – Wednesday – #59

The travel industry isn’t having it! Airlines don’t want a capacity cap to regulate onboard social distancing and hotels don’t want tourists to suffer a 14 day quarantine.

In an echo of the social media frenzy about a packed United flight from New York to San Francisco, Spanish passengers are complaining on social media about social distancing on Iberia flights.

A recent Iberia flight packed with passengers.

It’s not clear to me the travel industry has thought through how many people will sign up for Covid-19 suicide vacations on sunny Spanish coasts. On the other hand, who travels if it’s too expensive in terms of either dollars or time? The trade offs between safety, regulation, price, and profit are trickier than a flashy flamenco.

Welcome to our post-lockdown Covid-19 life! It’s great that things are opening up!

Now what?

The food industry’s Covid-19 flamenco isn’t any easier than the travel industry’s. The C&C Coffee and Kitchen in Castle Rock, Colorado decided things should go right back to normal and opened up for a packed Mother’s Day celebration last weekend. Neither of the Cs checked first with the local health department, which promptly shut down the joint.

Some restaurateurs are reading the Covid-19 handwriting on the wall, right above the hand washing sinks. An Amsterdam restaurant is testing glass houses to serve four course meals. You’ll have to eat vegan at MediaMatic, which is okay by me.

Glass houses at

The restaurant is called Mediamatic ETEN, and is part of the larger Mediamatic organisation, which focuses on the arts and entrepreneurship, with a strong environmental connection. The restaurant serves vegan food, and will be offering diners a four course meal when it reopens in this unique way.

DutchReview, “Amsterdam restaurant to offer four course meal in individual glasshouses,” 3 May 2020

Cincinnati, Ohio is solving the enclosed space problem a different way. The city is closing down certain streets to provide more space for local restaurants to serve al fresco diners. This will help small business owners weather the Covid-19 storm, at least through the fall.

Chef Tom Colicchio, perhaps best known from Top Chef, has laid off over 400 employees at his restaurants at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. In an interview with Terry Gross, he tells how he is re-thinking the food business.

“When we open up, there’s going to be a reduction in our seating, so we’re looking at a combination of probably three things to open up. One would be whatever la carte business is available. Also, doing a combination of cooked food that we’ll deliver, and also a version of a CSA where we can use all of our suppliers to create boxes that can go out to our customers.”

Chef Tom Colicchio, on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 2020

Colicchio also discusses how small restaurants open up again and challenges like decontaminating a table between diners. It’s fascinating to listen to an expert run through trade offs his industry is facing after lockdowns are relaxed. In case you were wondering, things don’t go back to normal.

The worldwide meatpacking Covid-19 infection debacle calls attention not only to the food industry, but also to supply chain management in general. Different supply chains will have different Covid-19 issues and I hope few end up with as many Covid-19 cases as the meatpacking supply chain.

Not surprisingly, one idea to fix the US meat supply chain is deregulation. I think re-regulation may be a better approach to maintain food safety, but it is clear that current FDA regulations work better for economically efficient centralized meat supply chains than for less efficient local meat supply chains.

With regulatory and cost burdens so high, many farmers and ranchers instead choose to utilize much smaller, local “custom” slaughter facilities and abattoirs outside the USDA inspection regime. Those that do so may only sell an interest in a live animal, which forecloses on the option to sell much smaller portions—such as steaks—to grocers and others.

Reason, “To Stanch COVID-19 Meat Crisis, Let Small Farmers Sell Meat to Local Grocers,” 9 May 2020

In its zeal to make regulation difficult, the Trump administration has made de-regulation easy and re-regulation difficult. At this point, it might take congressional action to re-regulate a new local meat distribution system that provides the same level of food safety as current regulation. Congress has bigger fish to fry.

I’ve noted how drug cartels are changing their operations in the face of Covid-19. The mafia isn’t missing Covid-19 opportunities, either. In addition to providing hard-to-find products like testing kits or even food, the Italian mafia is helping out-of-work Italians make ends meet.

According to Italian anti-mafia sources, the Camorra has also started providing loans – but not at its usual high interest rates – of between 50% and 70%. Demand for loans is so high in this period that it is still profitable to offer competitive rates, even lower than those offered by the banks.

The Guardian, “Why the mafia are taking care of everyone’s business,” 25 April 2020

The mafia has leveraged the Italian government’s poor Covid-19 response to gain influence. As the Covid-19 lockdown relaxes in Italy, it will gain more influence by providing loans to businesses desperate to restart operations.

On a happier note, new businesses are helping us live through lockdowns. For instance, if you want to challenge your Zoom and FaceTime friends, check out Sheltered Trivia.

Sheltered Triva

Prices start at $75 for a 1/2 hour with up to 20 of your nearest and dearest. A little pricey, but the next business opportunity I see here is to provide simplified group payments so that your friends can chip in.

Oh, oops, I think Paypal does that already. Or has done that for like, what, 50 years?

Anyway, one business that’s full of imaginative types and is begging for an imaginative way forward is Broadway! If you’re missing your Broadway revivals, you’re in luck. In this Twitter thread Brad found, Mary Neely performs all the Broadway warhorses from the comfort of her Covid-19 lockdown. Enjoy!

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