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#foodbeast Culture FOODBEAST Opinion Restaurants The Katchup

5 New Things You’ll See At Buffets As They Re-Open

The bounty of a buffet has always been the crux of its appeal: all-you-can-eat, get your money’s worth, it’s the American way. Whether it be the high end flourish of a Las Vegas buffet or the comforts of a local Hometown Buffet or Golden Corral, folks have always used the linchpin of a seemingly unending feast to maximize their dining experience. Yet 2020’s pandemic has crippled the restaurant industry, and with the restrictive nature of the new norms, the buffet concept has fallen victim to it.

With social distancing and forcibly limited dining capacities being implemented as the U.S. slowly reopens different segments of business, the future that buffets face has been bleak. Dwindling interest among millennials pre-pandemic already had buffets trying to steer themselves into relevancy by experimenting with different models. But a covid-19 reality these days has universally constrained restaurants, forcing them to take-out and delivery options only, a pivot that doesn’t fit the model of a buffet at all, though places like Golden Corral and Old Country buffet have turned to them for their survival.

However, the challenges the pandemic has brought on buffets have been insurmountable to some, namely the company Garden Fresh Restaurants, owner of AYCE salad bar concepts Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, who recently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

In the latest episode of Foodbeast’s The Katchup Podcast, hosts Elie Ayrouth and Geoff Kutnick, along with myself, wax poetic and eulogize just how much Souplantation meant to them, while also exploring the immediately unfortunate prospects buffets have post-pandemic.

Though Souplantaion and Sweet Tomatoes did not decide to give it a go at pivoting to new business models to keep afloat, other buffets have turned to such alternatives, all with varying results. The following are a number of adjustments they’ve done just to survive. Which begs the question: Would Garden Fresh Restaurants have been able to stick around if they tried to maneuver with the times as well?

Cafeteria-Style

Big buffet chain, Golden Corral, has been slowly reopening locations across the country with a new cafeteria-style service model. So think restaurant employees directly serving diners menu items at what otherwise would have been various buffet stations. Also, stanchions are set up as a perimeter around buffet areas, with floor markers indicating where customers can stand safely away from one another. This model also eliminates the prospect of multiple diners touching utensils at once.

Take-Out

Take-out has been the new standard these past couple of months for restaurants to survive. A reliance on third-party delivery apps and their exorbitant fees have proved to be difficult for restaurants to deal with, yet has been enough to keep them afloat, a conundrum in itself that’s brought on separate ethical discussions on the business practices of these apps. Curbside pick-up has also been a helpful option for diners to enjoy their offerings through modified menus designed to coincide with the efficiency of the pick-up.

Family-Style

In this service model, servers treat customers to an “endless buffet” from a selection of menu items. What immediately comes to mind to compare to this would be Brazilian steakhouses, also known as churrascarrias, such as Fogo De Chao, who serve a constant of meats until the diner indicates to stop via a red coaster flipped up. Turning it over to the green side tells servers that they’re welcome to offer more meats to the customer.

Different Payment Options

Before the pandemic, Golden Corral tried to address the waning interest millenials had in buffets by dabbling with different pay systems, namely dropping the pay-one-price model. Further, it was being tested where customers pay at their table, while also being offered three buffet options: soup and salad only, a single trip to the food bar, or unlimited trips. Could experimenting with different pay systems work even better in post-pandemic dining?

Stay As-Is

Fifteen locations of Golden Corral have opted to stick with the old service model. They plan on adhering to the traditional buffet format with an implementation of rigorous cleaning standards and other precautions such as adding hand sanitizing stations and checking diners’ temperatures before being seated. It’s worth noting that 12 of the 15 locations sticking to the original buffet model are in Florida.

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#foodbeast Culture Features FOODBEAST The Katchup

Chef Jose Andres’ Charity Is Re-Activating Closed Restaurants To Feed Seniors

“So World Central Kitchen had to pivot its mission once again in the face of COVID-19. Can’t do a pop-up kitchen, can’t bring thousands of people together, so [the question was] how are we still [able to] get meals to those in vulnerable populations. José Andrés, being a restaurateur, really thought of entrepreneurs, people who were chefs, people who really took risks to cook for people and set up restaurants… And thought this is a perfect way to kickstart the economic engine of the restaurant industry,” outlined Tank Rodriguez, the project lead for a pilot program in Long Beach, California that re-activates closed restaurants and feeds at-risk seniors.

With rejuvenated energy and newfound focus, World Central Kitchen, the non-profit, non-governmental organization founded by world renowned chef, Jose Andres, set out to continue their mission to feed disaster areas globally. As recent guest on the Foodbeast podcast, The Katchup, Rodriguez outlined the encouraging and intimate details into an operation that was able to reactivate closed local restaurants and serve thousands of meals to at-risk seniors.

“In Long Beach, I heard a lot of people getting food to kids that weren’t getting them from school. — incredible work. People who were getting meals to women in shelters — incredible work. I didn’t hear about seniors, which is why I chose the senior population in Long Beach.”

It’s the city he holds two businesses in — a renowned tattoo parlor and a law firm — so the want to help resonated and propelled Rodriguez to go the lengths to make things work logistically and efficiently, all while properly feeding at-risk senior citizens, and restaurants that had to shut down during the pandemic. From him initially cold-calling hundreds of businesses to try and employ their participation to these participating businesses given the opportunity to hire back their staff and re-open to even UPS lending a helping hand by allowing Rodriguez and World Central Kitchen access to their trucks as a means of delivering the meals, details of what they’re doing in Long Beach shed light on uplifting acts of kindness that go above and beyond for their fellow person.

“I believe that things will come back. I believe in the American economy. I believe in the business models that we’ve set up… I don’t know what a month from now is going to look like, but I do know that today, we’re going to get people fed.”

Conversations and quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast: “#115: Jose Andres Is Re-Activating Restaurants To Feed Seniors,” out now on Spotify, the Apple Podcasts App, and most major platforms where podcasts are heard.

Feature photo: The Q Speaks
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Features Opinion

Our Eating Habits May Never Be The Same After The Pandemic

As self-quarantining has led many of us to do awful things to keep busy, I found myself watching TMZ the other night.

It wasn’t all bad though, as chef Giada DeLaurentiis was interviewed and gave some interesting food-based insight on the current global pandemic.

“I think our whole life is going to change. Instead of complicating food, we’re going to stick to the basics,” Giada told TMZ. “I think you’re going to start to realize that certain ingredients can be used in many many different ways.”

Which is interesting, because with the way aggressive shoppers have made certain foods scarce, those who are trying to cook at home, probably have to get creative and work with what they have available.

With groceries going like crazy, it’s a little hard to dig into a cookbook right now and try to use all of Gordon Ramsay’s 17 ingredients to cook a beef wellington.

With that in mind, DeLaurentiis has even simplified her own recipes for the public. Fully knowing that ingredients are a luxury at the moment, she said on Instagram Tuesday:

“Adapted a lot of my recipes on @thegiadzy to use pantry ingredients & omit ingredients that are hard to find in grocery stores right now. I hope it’s helpful for everyone staying in & cooking at home.”

We’ve already seen this unfold, as people have been using what they have or what they can snag at the store, leading to things such as makeshift French onion soup ramen, low effort banana bread, and microwave risotto.


While off-the-cuff recipes are being done out of necessity of the moment, it’s fair to predict that home cooking could be the new norm, as the way we eat out will be changed.

The combination of both restaurant closures and budgeted spending from consumers after extended work stoppages could very well mean that eating out will become a luxury.

Jonathan Maze, Editor-in-Chief at Restaurant Business Magazine pointed out some of the post-quarantine struggles saying:

“Once this things clears up, we’re probably going to be in an economic recession, and it’s going to be a while before the economy recovers from that. Then you get into a situation where people are really cutting back.”

Record-setting claims for unemployment have been filing in, as business closures have forced a lot of layoffs.

In the restaurant industry alone, the current business shutdown regulations could affect an estimated 5 to 7 million employees over a three month span, according to the National Restaurant Association.

And even as restaurants try to rebuild in the aftermath, Maze added that they will now have to worry about rehiring its employees, assuming they haven’t found a job somewhere else. On top of that, bringing customers back and letting them know they are open again will be a process that could add another couple months as they try to get back in the flow of things.

We can only hope our favorite restaurants can get through this, and as much as we might want to keep patronizing them, our own personal financial situations will ultimately dictate that. So there’s a chance you’ll want to get used to cooking at home, and getting creative, as that could be the new norm.

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The Katchup

This Pizza Has Peanut Shells To Prevent Allergic Reactions

Conversations and quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast: “#112: Building Theme Parks inside Pizza Parlors w/John’s Incredible Pizza,” out now on Spotify, the Apple Podcasts App, and most major platforms where podcasts are heard.

John’s Incredible Pizza is a birthday party staple in California, as they quite literally have built theme parks within their pizza parlors. From actual rides like bumper cars and tilt-a-whirls, this place is like Chuck-e-Cheese’s on steroids.

Even with the glitz that comes from its entertainment, its bread and butter its pizza, and one of its most popular pizzas for decades has been their Spicy Peanut Butter pizza.

Fans of the pizza place have surely tried the spicy PB pizza, and have probably wondered why there’s a smattering of whole peanuts sitting atop the pie.

Founder John Parlet actually let us into his thought process for putting shelled peanuts on his hit pizza while on the the Foodbeast Katchup Podcast.

Parlet said his thinking behind it, was to make sure there is never any confusion of what kind of pizza it is, and specifically keeping people with nut allergies away from it.

“I want a peanut plugged on every slice,” Parlet said on the Katchup podcast. “There’s no parent that’s going to make that mistake that way.”

Parlet created the pizza 27 years ago, and thanks to his nifty little whole-shell peanut presentation, there has never been an issue from anyone with allergies.

 

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If you ever do find yourself at John’s Incredible Pizza and see the peanut parked on your pizza slice, you now know that it has a purpose and isn’t just a novelty.

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Culture

Why I Hide My Favorite Restaurants From Others

Conversations and quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast: “#107: Becoming A Foodie Influencer at 50 Years Old,” out now on Spotify, the Apple Podcasts App, and all major platforms where podcasts are heard.

Working in food media, I get asked for restaurant recommendations fairly often, but even as I’ve enjoyed and have had the privilege to enjoy various type of food in Southern California, I’ve caught myself hesitating to recommend Mexican taco shops and trucks, in particular.

It’s not that I don’t want you to enjoy these places, but more so that I fear you won’t understand or connect with the experience in the same way I would, and therefore not enjoy it as much as I do.

Growing up in a Mexican household, with Mexican food, and Mexican traditions, it can be heartbreaking for someone to put down an eating experience you cherish.

Sure, everyone loves tacos, but even then, my favorite trucks will be sprinkled with Yelp reviews that hit you with the, “It’s good, but they cook all the meats in the same griddle,” or “They had some weird meats, and we had to eat standing up.”

I kind of get it, but that’s just how we eat tacos, baby girl!

Turns out, I’m not alone in withholding eats that I hold close to my heart.

On the Foodbeast Katchup podcast, Connie Aboubakare, AKA @OCcomestibles, brought up the subject of keeping a restaurant secret, for cultural reasons.

“I don’t want any negative reaction or comments from people who don’t know what it is,” Aboubakare said. “It’s not what you’re accustomed to, so it can have backlash on that place.”

 

It brought up an interesting conversation about “protecting” cultural restaurants that might not fit the mold of your everyday Yelp Elite.

If your favorite Oaxacan restaurant serves crickets or your favorite Laotian restaurant serves the pungent Thum Mak Hoong dish, they might not sit well with the everyday person, leading to unfavorable reviews, simply for them being unfamiliar with the cuisine.

That similar sentiment had been powerfully shared by our own Foodbeast staffer Peter Pham, who had often shared meals with us at a traditional Southeast Asian restaurant he loves, but with preconditions.

We agree to not check in on Yelp, tag the location on social media, or even post photos of the place. We all respect his wishes, enjoy the little mom-and-pop restaurant, and appreciate the traditional dishes from an often overlooked Asian region.

Further in the Katchup podcast conversation, host Elie Ayrouth expressed that he had a Lebanese restaurant he is often terrified to tell people about, as Middle Eastern dishes aren’t exactly American mainstays.

Tripa taco from Tacos El Venado/Peter Pham

Withholding our favorite restaurants from others is a real thing, and it intensifies with restaurants of other cultures that are unfamiliar to the masses.

You probably know some people like this. You probably are someone like this, but just know: Yelp reviews don’t always tell the whole story, but if you open your mind, the dishes will.

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#foodbeast Culture Food Trends FOODBEAST Now Trending Opinion The Katchup

If You’re Offended Over A Whole Camel Being Roasted, Then Hop Out Of That Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Line

“I’m never eating meat again.”

“This is truly sick.”

“I see why people are eating less meat. This looks sick.”

“Unfollowing”

“No one wants to see this shit.”

And this was just a sample of the 791 comment avalanche that hit the Foodbeast account the other week after we posted footage of Turkish restaurant, Ercan Steakhouse, smoking a whole camel.

The outrage was puzzling, though. Aren’t we the same country that does whole hog barbecue, whole roast pork, and salivates over whole roasted ducks with nary a peep of backlash or vitriol aimed at anything and anyone? Isn’t there a viral epidemic going around of folks lining up and acting an outright fool over chicken sandwiches? What difference is there that millions of chickens are plundered for specific parts just to meet the demand for a Popeye’s chicken sandwich these days? Yet here we are — I myself included because that sandwich slaps — without an ounce of guilt accompanying the satisfying crunch of it.

In the immortal words of Nate Dogg: “I’ve got 21 questions, and they’re all about us.”

Sure, it’s a heady topic over some chicken sandwiches, but in the latest episode of The Katchup, hosts Geoffrey Kutnick and Elie Ayrouth dive into the hypocrisy this situation exposes.

Yet I must admit, the sight of a whole camel being pushed into a smoker large enough to accommodate the size of the animal was jarring at first. But the initial shock gave way to curiosity, fascination, and awe. It’s not everyday you see a camel being consumed in such a way — at least to mine, and so it seems a lot of our audience’s Western eyes. And I get it, camels aren’t exactly the most common protein we’re eating regularly in our part of the world. Key words: our part of the world. Imagine the audacity to think that how we eat is the same as how other folks eat in various parts of the world. Step into another region in your own state and they’re even dining differently. What’s shocking to some may be the norm to others; the availability of different food and ingredients relative to its location is ultimately affecting how we eat, after all.

Besides the indignation shown for the actual animal being consumed, another point can be made that we just aren’t ready to see where our food comes from. That sandwich we’re lining up for? Imagine the visual of the thousands of dead chickens needed to fulfill our viral cravings.

This now brings up the issue I never wanted to think about — where does Popeyes source their chickens? Frankly, it’s a conversation that we’re not ready to delve into. I don’t have answers, and I know that Popeyes chicken sandwich tastes just as good as the ignorance to those facts.

The same lot of us up in arms over the sight of an entire camel being cooked, are often the same ones waiting in line for a chicken sandwich. Nothing wrong with eating said sandwich at all, but if we’re still appalled by that, then maybe we shouldn’t be elbows deep in some Popeyes sandwiches.

Conversations and quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast: “#102: Camel Meat and Popeyes, We’re All Hypocrites,” out now on Spotify, the Apple Podcasts App, and all major platforms where podcasts are heard.
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Fast Food The Katchup

Why Popeyes Needs To Raise Its Sandwich Price, ASAP

Conversations and quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast: “#102: Camel Meat and Popeyes, We’re All Hypocrites,” out now on Spotify, the Apple Podcasts App, and all major platforms where podcasts are heard.

There is not a single fast food menu item that has been hotter than Popeyes’ chicken sandwich this year. From McDonald’s, to Chick-Fil-A and even Taco Bell, none of the world’s top fast food restaurants have created the type of buzz that Popeyes has.

With this much buzz around their crunchy, juicy sandwich, they have the attention of the world, and with that attention, could really turn the industry on its head. Again.

At least that’s the argument made by Uproxx Life editor Steve Bramucci, who made a radical suggestion that almost makes too much sense.

“First of all, if they said, ‘We’re making so much on these chicken sandwiches, we’re actually going to bump the price up $1. If you don’t want it fine, but we’re willing to bet you’ll pay an extra $1. Here’s exactly where our dollar’s going to go… 50 cents of that dollar is going to… the rate we pay our employees. The other 50 cents of that dollar is going to go to better sourcing for our farmers.’ Those two things for a $5 sandwich, I am in that line with all those maniacs.”

Raise the price of the coveted chicken sandwich by $1, in order to give the employees a better wage, and to be more transparent about their chicken sourcing.

Popeyes has a gold mine in its hands, and a pretty affordable one at that. Bramucci believed that Popeyes is selling so much volume of that sandwich, that it would not be crazy to invest in those two keys.

Now would Popeyes actually do something like that? It isn’t something that has been done in the past, but if they were the first, it would change the industry.

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Hit-Or-Miss

The Sugary Prison Pie That Inmates Make Behind Bars

Photo by Peter Pham/Foodbeast

Quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast, now on Spotify and the Apple Podcasts App.

A pie that’s completely made with snacks, may or may not sound like the most appealing dessert, and definitely won’t be served at any 5-star restaurant, but we have been told that “Peckerwood Pies” are all the rage — at least in prison.

The term “peckerwood” was once used as a slur for white people, as the Anti-Defamation League explained the term originated with Southern blacks, covertly using it to describe rural southern white folks. It eventually became a term that was primarily used in prisons, which explains why you’ll hear it casually thrown around in prison-based shows or movies.

 

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Entrepreneur and ex-con Andrew Medal, whose “Don’t Drop the Soap,” book is filled with insights on life behind bars, brought the vulgar word to our attention through something called a “Peckerwood Pie.”

Yes, that’s what the recipe is actually called, and it is actually revered, according to Medal.

Further expanding on these prison terms, Medal jumped on the Foodbeast Katchup podcast, sharing his story as an entrepreneur-turned-ex-con-turned-entrepreneur again.

His comments on prison diets and recipes were pretty mind-blowing, and he expanded on the popularity of the “Peckerwood Pie,” in particular.

While the pie’s origins aren’t exactly something you can just find at your local library, we can imagine it was started by the prison-based gang of the same name.

Medal described “Peckerwoods” as a prison-based gang, originally formed as a subset of the Aryan Brotherhood, which is already terrifying in itself.

Maybe just as terrifying, is the amount of sugary foods that go into making this thing.

Either way, the pie has become a staple for inmates, and doesn’t seem to be exclusive to any one prison demographic, at least according to Medal (who also explained that he never cliqued up with any gangs while behind bars).

We’d like to think there might be some pushback on the name’s usage, but these are Medal’s truths and personal experience.

“Peckerwood Pie… from county to prison, everyone loves this recipe,” Medal explained. “You go bananas for Peckerwood Pie.”

Medal continued on how he basically lived off food from the commissary, which was like a prison Walmart for those who could afford it. For the commissary, money is put on an inmates name by friends and family, and they are allowed to use that money to purchase food, clothes, and everyday items.

“State inmates are allowed to put what’s called ‘Money on their books.” He continued, “… usually once a week, inmates are allowed to order commissary.”

Through snacks in the commissary, the “Peckerwood Pie” is produced within cells across the US, as well as other recipes that Medal provides in his book.

Medal said there are several iterations of the pie, but the general idea of it is simple: build a carb foundation, typically with Honey Buns, then stack it with even more snacks.

His official recipe consists of 2 large cookies, 2 glazed Honey Buns, 1 brownie, 1 Butterfinger bar, 1 chocolate pudding pouch, 1 pouch of peanut butter and jelly, and a bag of peanuts. During the podcast he added that he likes to mix in Oreos and Pop-Tarts, as well.

From there, Medal would use the Honey Buns as the bottom base, and sandwich the brownie between the two cookies, just before smashing everything together and getting it as flat as you can. He’d then add the creamier elements such as the pudding and peanut butter and jelly. The last step is just sprinkling pieces of crushed Butterfinger and peanuts atop for an extra layer of crunch.

Video proof that we’re not making this stuff up.

Medal went on to say that these pies are generally constructed on a cell’s floors, with brown paper bags serving as a makeshift table.

In his book, he adds that it is common for the Peckerwood Pie to be enjoyed on birthdays and to celebrate release dates, because prisoners are still human and not just trying to kill each other all the time like we see on TV.

If you’ve ever wanted to experience a prison recipe for yourself, it doesn’t get much easier than the Peckerwood Pie. It has the perfect balance of sketchy origins, and childish exuberance of smashing together a bunch of snacks.