Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly." -- Touchstone
At least, that's what I make of Safeway marketing an Oroweat product described as "Jewish rye bread" with a sticker that suggests using it to make sandwiches of ham and cheese. Gastronomically it's a fine idea, but theologically it leaves something to be desired.
When I first saw this story a few months ago, I mistakenly thought it was a bit of British whimsy, cooked up by the people who brought us Monty Python and Bertram Wilberforce Wooster as a way to poke fun at their Continental counterparts.
It's real. The European Union has banned marketers of bottled water from claiming that their product (water) can fight off dehydration (lack of water). Great Britain's government doesn't like the EU edict, but can't stop it from going into effect in their nation.
The water that the English appreciate most may not be the overpriced stuff that comes in plastic bottles, but the 20 miles of the English Channel that still separate them from their daffy European neighbors.
I'd like to propose that our next attorney general take a few moments from investigating fraud and corruption, supervising charities, and advising state bureaux to submit an amendment to the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act that would prohibit a grocer or restaurant from passing off as a bagel any bread item that has not been first boiled and then baked.
Eleven months ago when Bob Moore (pictured here, the founder of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods, the Milwaukie purveyor of stone-ground whole grain products) announced that he and the other shareholders were transferring their stock to an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) so that his employees would all have the chance to become owners of the company, a few skeptics (see the comments here) pointed out that he and his wife Charlee weren't making a gift to the employees; the ESOP would be paying the Moores for their shares over time.
Last week the Clackamas Reviewreported on what Mr. and Mrs. Moore are doing with a large chunk of their proceeds: they're giving $5 million to Oregon State University to establish a program on nutrition and encourage healthy eating. (Bob, who turns 82 next month, is himself the best advertisement for the diet he encourages. Don't ask him what he thinks of the Atkins diet if children are present.)
Bob and Charlee Moore are a class act. We're lucky to have them in our community.
The October 25 Sunday Oregonian carried a story about the company that two years ago bought the Stanford's restaurant chain and the others under common ownership, including the Portland Steak and Chop House, Manzana, and Newport Bay restaurants. The gist of the story was that the buyer (a private-equity firm and not a restaurant company) has at last figured out that it drove away the loyal customers by jacking up the prices and changing the menu. The author says that Stanford's removed from its menu the cheese bread, the house salad, and the prime rib sandwich, favorites of its regular customers.
I hadn't noticed those changes, but I had noticed one other that irritated me: they changed the mints. The hallmark of the restaurants in the Stanford's group was their after-dinner mints: not the little disc-shaped peppermints that have the peppermint color but not much flavor, and not the even smaller things that are so small as to be barely noticeable, but stout barrel-shaped red and green mints that no other Portland restaurant served. Stanford's and the Chop House kept them on display in gargantuan brandy snifters, and I never left the restaurant without pocketing three or four for later. They were the best restaurant mints in town; no one else came close. And they were famous: if I put one or two on my desk, my co-workers would nod knowingly and say, "Stanford's for lunch again?"
With the buyout went the barrel mints, replaced by the smaller and presumably cheaper little discs. It was a little thing, but enough to tell me that the new management cared about cost and not about value. I went from 15 visits a year (always with guests) to one.
The lesson for restaurateurs, and in some form for anyone in business, is that if you become known for doing something (in this case mints) better than all of your competition, don't change it just to save a few cents.
The salmonella outbreak, tied to contaminated peanut products from a Georgia processing plant owned by Peanut Corporation of America, has produced one delicious irony. In 2005, the Bush administration appointed the owner and president of the company, a man from Lynchburg, Virginia named Stewart Parnell, to serve on the Peanut Standards Board. The Peanut Standards Board is part of the Department of Agriculture that advises the USDA on how to grade and classify peanuts. It also helps set quality-control and safe-handling standards for peanuts. Mr. Parnell must have done well, because the Bush administration reappointed him in 2008 to serve another three-year term. Things work differently in the current administration; Tom Vilsack, the new Secretary of Agriculture, removed Mr. Parnell from the Board on Thursday, and banned his company from receiving any more federal contracts.
The company's website, which used to describe the company's history and included quotations from Mr. Parnell, has been revamped. As of this morning it includes only the press releases about the contamination and the recall. Actually it includes one more practical bit of information: the name and address of the company's agent for service of process in Georgia -- the address where, if you are suing the company, you're to send the summons and complaint.
Years ago I read a cartoon showing a doctor visiting a patient in the hospital. Doctor and patient were each smiling broadly and holding a wineglass, and an opened wine bottle was on the bedside table. As doctor and patient lifted their glasses as if toasting, the doctor said, "Mind you, only one doctor in nine recommends this."
I thought of that happy cartoon when I got the report that the very venerable Uncle Farmer has recovered sufficiently in the hospital, not to the point of being released, but to where his physician has allowed his family to bring him beer every day. His physician is sensible: first, because a beer or two in the hospital isn't going to lead his nonagenarian patient down the path of ruin; and second, because the malt and hops make the hospital food more palatable. Beer isn't what I would think of drinking if I were myself hospitalized, but it occurs to me that if I should be fortunate enough to pass my 80th birthday, I should lay in a supply of Bordeaux for my family to bring to me if I'm similarly institutionalized.
Not only is America getting coffeed out (Starbucks announced last month that it's closing hundreds of its stores) but we're getting cookied out as well. The owner of the Mrs. Fields chain announced that it's filing a Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy petition, showing that it's not only its customers that need to slim down.
I received a pack of promotional postcards this week, one of which proudly proclaims that the restaurant Oba, in northwest Portland, is now open for lunch. The reverse offers a $10 discount for lunch for 4 or more persons.
Someone at the advertising agency wasn't thinking. Down at the bottom of the card, it proclaims that Oba offers dinner only, and doesn't open until 4:30.
Some brewers name their beer or their company after their home town. One brewer in California proudly advertises its home town (named after the town's founder, a California state senator of long ago) on its bottle caps, but the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (part of the federal Department of the Treasury) wants the brewer to stop.
Why? The brewer's home town is named after Abner Weed, and its bottle cap slogans include "Try LEGAL Weed" and "A friend in Weed is a friend indeed." The Treasury Department doesn't like the slogans, for two reasons: (1) they promote the use of illegal drugs, and (2) they falsely suggest that the beer contains marijuana.
Here's a paradox: the federal government doesn't want sick Oregonians to smoke marijuana, but it complains that California beer drinkers are missing out.