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Abe Beame is going to be upset when Lil Dicky shows up in a Wes Anderson movie.
The Follow is an interview series I plan on putting out occasionally, or frequently, or maybe never again, in which I basically just talk to the people I enjoy following online who are willing to talk to me for a while. It will be about what they come to Twitter for, how they cultivate their online personas, the things they feel passionate enough to contribute to the infinite discourse on this app, and why they feel the need to do it. And on a basic level, it will be two people on Zoom shooting the shit.
What does the future of the restaurant industry look like? Whatever most people with intimate knowledge of the business might tell you today, it’s a different answer than the one they would have offered four years ago. When the pandemic hit, it presented both an immediate crisis for the restaurant industry, and a paradigm shift moving forward. The immediate crisis- barely addressed by our government- will go down as one of the great exchanges of wealth on a grand scale in American history. An entire sector of the economy was forced to shutter for- in many cases- months if not years without rent protection. Some made it back, many either didn’t or are still coping with the ramifications of months or years of rent without revenue.
The paradigm shift is a question the industry is still grappling with. It speaks to the sustainability of what is perhaps the world’s second oldest profession. Working in a restaurant, generally speaking, has the potential to be a lot of fun. It’s a tailor made gig for a twenty something new to a big city. Your coworkers are all writers, artists, poets, and musicians. Passionate, fascinating weirdos making ends meet by making drinks or bussing tables. You’re surrounded by good food and good wine (in some fortunate cases), the money can be fast and plentiful if you work front of house at the right place, and after work there’s…… let’s say, always a party.
But the party couldn’t last forever. When the pandemic forced many restaurants to close, their young, uninsured, unprotected employees were left without jobs and no timetable to come back. Many were forced to reflect on the nature of the work and the industry as a whole. Restaurants, like most industries in America, are a dictatorship run primarily by exploitative white men. Cooking as a profession is extremely f*cked up. You work long and hard hours in a confined space with spectrumy assholes who take your labor for granted. Front of house is beholden to the largesse of their tables, rich assholes more concerned with the lighting for their TikTok videos than the food in front of them or the young person working a slammed station, doing their best not to unravel before the end of their shift. The result was a sudden, violent walking away by a workforce once seen as eternal and bottomless. The industry now faces a mandate: Adapt or die.
here’s some of the things I’ve made and worked on. I have thousands of pictures. let me know what else you would like to see or if I can answer anymore questions. https://t.co/3MZmhBKbCE pic.twitter.com/dhEwHTMgLm
— eric rivera (@ericriveracooks) April 15, 2023
The voice of this resentment, this hungover anger that the workforce woke up to, is perhaps best articulated by the Seattle native, Chef and raconteur Eric Rivera. He owned one of the tens of thousands of restaurants that had to turn over their keys in the wake of the pandemic. He suffered nightmare scenarios at the hands of racist, abusive, sadistic chefs throughout his career. He’d spent over a decade sacrificing his lifeblood to make money for dickheads, and finally said “Enough.”
His Twitter account is one of my favorites. He is alternatingly angry and hilarious: speaking out in passionate threads when it comes to the common restaurant sins of exploitation, ignorance, and appropriation, as well as hilarious running bits, serving as an armchair critic, peanut gallery scold and food comedian with the either brilliant or unfortunate TikTok videos he reposts and flames.
When I reached out to Eric, I referred to him as “Chef,” which I’ve always looked at as an earned sign of respect. He asked me not to call him that, which I chose to interpret as a rejection of the brigade system, and the old world European hierarchy of the kitchen. He’s proudly Puerto Rican and interested in promoting talents and voices of color in the food world. He currently doesn’t have a restaurant and doesn’t seem particularly interested in opening another one anytime soon, as his pop up business is now direct, and personal. He has an entire encyclopedia of food ebooks on his website that blends his culture’s cuisine with many other global cuisines I’d strongly recommend. He has a big, engaging personality which comes across through social media.
In short, his approach to his career is dynamic, mobile, and muti-faceted, and he just might be innovating what a way forward could look like, so I wanted to discuss his history and how it shaped his perspective on if there is a future for restaurants, and what that future might look like.
(Author’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed to make me sound like less of an asshole)
Every restaurateur after receiving two rounds of PPP and an RRF grant not realizing that money is supposed to go to pay employees not them. pic.twitter.com/kCc34rdeSS
— eric rivera (@ericriveracooks) July 23, 2021