By Herb Karlitz, CEO and founder of Karlitz & Company
Miss discovering and supporting new chefs and restaurants? Here’s how to do it safely.
Breaking bread with friends over a good meal at our favorite restaurant satisfies us all, and we crave the experience now more than ever. Unfortunately, several states have just cancelled indoor dining, and takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining are not enough to financially sustain a restaurant, especially in winter. Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before many restaurateurs will face the heartbreaking conclusion that there’s no way to make it through until spring, which will bring warmer weather and the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines.
To continue to experience the joys of dining and discovering new chefs and restaurants, while also supporting the industry in its time of need, there are many paths to consider, while staying safe and socially distanced. In addition to traditional takeout orders, in some states and cities, restaurants are now offering takeout meals along with cocktails and wine. This development is one that many hope will continue even after the pandemic is behind us.
One of the most famous and virtually impossible to reserve restaurants is the 124-year-old institution Rao’s in East Harlem, New York. Getting a table at Rao’s is next to impossible, since all are “pre-sold” for the entire year to regulars, who have held their tables for decades and can even pass them down to family members. Karlitz & Company recently helped broker a deal between the foodie blog/e-newsletter Thrillist and Rao’s to offer delivery of some of the restaurant’s iconic dishes for the first time in the restaurant’s history. This opportunity is short-term and limited, and perhaps the only time most people will be able to experience Rao’s. Prior to the pandemic, a dinner reservation for four at Rao’s could be auctioned off for a charity for as much as $20,000!
Many brands which offered exclusive dining experiences to their customers pre-COVID are continuing to provide special access to chefs through online experiences. Since March, Karlitz & Company has produced more than 100 virtual cooking experiences with many of the best chefs in the world. Joining one of these online sessions, which may be offered by your credit card provider, financial institution, or other companies, is a great way to learn some cooking techniques which can help refresh your repertoire. Some of these virtual events even include a box of ingredients, kitchen utensils and/or a cookbook to enhance the experience.
Most of us never heard of Zoom before March. Now it’s become a daily part of life for many. While “Zoom fatigue” is real, the service can be a nice break to schedule a happy hour or meal with friends or clients, in which everyone orders in dishes from different restaurants—sort of a virtual potluck! One of the best services with more than 500 different dishes—from pizzas and burgers to multi-course meals and desserts—is Goldbelly, conceived by Joe Ariel. The selection is incredible, and the food arrives fresh at your doorstep. At last check, Goldbelly had more than 20 barbecue options from the best barbecue spots across the country where you would normally wait three hours just to get in the door, and now you don’t have to leave your home.
Many chefs are hosting or appearing on podcasts, as well as online cooking demonstrations to keep their connection to customers. Most feel very isolated right now. Restaurateurs are all about hospitality and making people happy through their food—something that is getting harder and harder to do. Listen to a few podcasts, including many excellent ones on the Heritage Radio Network. Some favorites are “Speaking Broadly” hosted by Dana Cowin, “All in the Industry®” hosted by Shari Bayer, “Beyond the Plate” with Andrew “Kappy” Kaplan, and “Cooking in Mexican from A to Z,” hosted by Aarón Sánchez and Zarela Martinez. Check to see if any of your favorite chefs—or perhaps someone you don’t yet know—are appearing online; they probably are.
Finally, one of the oldest ways to connect with, and support chefs is to buy their cookbooks. There are so many to choose from. It seems a lot of chefs used this pandemic downtime to write that cookbook they had been putting off. Especially good is David Chang’s Eat a Peach which is not a cookbook, per se, but an amazing, gut-wrenching account from one of the most highly regarded chefs in the world, who bares his soul and delivers a raw and honest account of the culinary industry and his place in it. Another good choice would be The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food: A Cookbook from my Harlem EatUp! festival co-founder, Chef Marcus Samuelsson. The book is long overdue. It does an impressive job of showing how Black chefs have influenced food in America more than most realize or appreciate—and continue to do so.
States are preparing to roll out the much-anticipated vaccines to fight COVID-19, which is the only hope restaurants have to survive; but it’s going to take time. In the meantime, we should view these short-term alternatives as fun, new ways to still experience the essence of the restaurant experience we’re all missing, all from the comfort of your home. Hopefully before too long, we will be able to gather in our old favorite places, as well as some of the new ones we may have discovered along the way.
Herb Karlitz is CEO and founder of Karlitz & Company, (KCO) an industry leader in designing and marketing globally recognized events, that celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2020. Corporate clients include American Express, JP Morgan Chase, EY, Merrill Lynch, among others. Herb founded Karlitz & Company as a marketing firm, however, his passion for food and wine soon influenced the direction of his work, and he became one of the first to recognize and market the idea of “celebrity chefs” long before they became globally recognized names. Karlitz & Company supports many non-profits, including City Harvest, the New York Food Bank, Share Our Strength, and The Humane Society of New York, among others. Follow him on LinkedIn.