Author: grievingferret73


She Built a Baltimore Restaurant Empire, but She Still Works the Stove


Ms. Wolf and Mr. Foreman are aware of their position as high-end restaurateurs in a city beset by poverty and racial inequities. Ms. Wolf talks proudly of nurturing the careers of Everardo Florentino, Charleston’s chef de cuisine, and Mario Cano Catalán, the executive chef at Bar Vasquez, both Mexican immigrants first hired as teenagers.

The partners describe the unrest after Freddie Gray died in custody of the Baltimore police in 2015 as a transformative experience, for themselves and the city. Of the Black Lives Matter signs posted at all of their restaurants, Mr. Foreman said, “Cindy and I both think the same about that: Let’s just tell them how we feel.”

At Charleston, Ms. Wolf set out to bring Lowcountry cuisine to a wider audience, and to draw connections between the cooking of the coastal Southeast and the Mid-Atlantic. An April menu struck the balance the restaurant always has between Southern dishes developed outside professional kitchens (many, like shrimp and grits, with African roots) and French haute cuisine, like pan-roasted sea scallops with fresh peas and fava beans.

A new soup fuses the styles: Sea Island white rice and red peas, cooked in guinea fowl stock and enriched with fresh black truffles. Ms. Wolf said she was considering making the soup a permanent menu item. She is proud, even protective, of dishes that make the cut. She was upset to discover that cornmeal fried oysters — a Charleston staple, the same recipe she made for Julia Child — were on the menu at Johnny’s.

“I don’t want them serving my oysters there,” she said. “That’s my signature dish.”

Ms. Wolf traces her interest in Southern cooking to the childhood years she spent in North Carolina. When she was 9, her family moved to northern Indiana. Soon after, her father, Robert, a restaurant-chain executive, began taking her to prestigious French restaurants in Chicago, like Le Perroquet and Le Francais.

“Most cooks don’t have the opportunities I had growing up,” Ms. Wolf said. “I know to be grateful for that.”

Her parents moved to Charleston, S.C., when Ms. Wolf graduated from high school. She followed them after dropping out of University of Evansville, having decided that she wanted to become a chef.

2021-05-27 08:20:13


Island Residents Protest at the Willows Inn After Workplace Allegations


LUMMI ISLAND, Wash. — Carrying hand-painted signs with slogans like “Take Sexism Off the Menu!” and “Racism is NOT a Local Ingredient,” about 50 protesters gathered Friday night outside the Willows Inn, a world-renowned restaurant on this tiny island near the Canadian border.

The protesters, mostly island residents, were calling for the resignation of Blaine Wetzel, the restaurant’s chef, who has been accused by 35 former employees of creating a workplace riddled with homophobic and racist language, verbal abuse, sexism and sexual harassment.

Mr. Wetzel, 35, who built his reputation touting the Willows’ pristine ingredients as coming from Lummi and its environs, is also accused of deceiving customers — who pay at least $285 for dinner with tax and service, not including drinks — by regularly using supermarket and commercial ingredients, and ordering restaurant staff to lie about it.

Since April 27, when The New York Times published an article detailing the allegations, which Mr. Wetzel largely denied, he has made no public statements.

Because of that, protesters said, and because many of the sexual harassment charges came from women who grew up on the island, local resentment has flared against the Willows’ management: Mr. Wetzel; Reid Johnson, the longtime manager, who also remains in place; and Tim McEvoy, the inn’s co-owner. None of the three men responded to request for comment on the protests.

David Young, an organizer, tacked back and forth in his sailboat in the bay across from the inn, his sails bearing giant red letters that read: “Can 35 lie?” and “Bye bye Blaine and Reid.” He said the failures of accountability made public action necessary. “It’s too late for them to change their ways now,” he said.

The restaurant’s diners had been moved from the outdoor deck to the dining room, and large black curtains had been put up, obscuring the bay and its famously spectacular sunsets.

As patrons pulled into the parking lot, where two security guards checked reservations, a few protesters yelled “Shame,” and asked the customers if they had seen the Times article. One woman in a car said, “Yes,” and continued into the restaurant.

About two hours into the protest, a man and a woman came out of the restaurant and got into a heated exchange with protesters, with the man yelling an expletive at the crowd. Some protesters yelled to them, “Enjoy that exploitation” and “You have no backbone.” In response, the man said, “Prove it,” presumably referring to the accusations in the Times article.

According to three people who have worked at the restaurant, and who requested anonymity for fear of professional consequences, 10 staff members — nearly half of the total — resigned soon after that report was published; hundreds of reservations were canceled, and those customers’ deposits, usually in the realm of $500, were refunded with no comment.

Local businesses that made custom products for the Willows — Camber Coffee, Constant Crush winery and Wander Brewing — said they had immediately ended their collaborations.

Loganita Farm has long been the cornerstone of Mr. Wetzel’s claim that he cooked only with ingredients from Lummi Island. Though he often referred to Loganita as “our” farm, it has never been part of the Willows and is separately owned by Steve McMinn, a former Willows investor.

In a phone interview, Mr. McMinn said he sympathized with the former employees but considered the protest “a tempest in a teapot.” He said Loganita would continue to grow vegetables for the restaurant. “I like producing local ingredients and local jobs,” he said.

Mary von Krusenstiern, the head farmer, worked on the farm for nine years and has lived in the area her whole life. Although Loganita was not implicated in any of the sourcing allegations, she resigned a few days after the allegations were published.

“I felt ethically and morally compromised by the association, and I did not want to sit around and wait for him to resign,” she said of Mr. Wetzel. “I wasn’t about to be on the wrong side of history in my hometown.”

A week after the Times report, the Willows sent a statement to its email list saying that the team was “saddened” that the workplace had caused “undue stress”; that no sexual harassment had ever been reported to managers; and that its hiring, training and human resources efforts had improved in recent years. But as individuals, Mr. Wetzel, Mr. Reid and Mr. McEvoy remained silent.

Last week, the three men contacted the organizers of the protest and asked to meet in person. David Young, whose boat bore the sails at the protest, said the group refused to meet with Mr. Wetzel and Mr. Reid, but did sit down with Mr. McEvoy on Sunday. They said he described in detail the company’s plans to improve transparency, accountability and employee support, but would not discuss asking Mr. Reid and Mr. Wetzel to leave.

The Willows’s website now has a “Responsibility” section, which contains a “Workplace Action Plan 2021”; descriptions of the inn’s community outreach initiatives; and a sourcing guide that lists Costco among its dozens of local producers.

When Mr. Wetzel took over the Willows in 2010, he remade it from a local restaurant and inn to a global destination. He did so in part by replicating many elements of Noma, the lauded restaurant in Copenhagen where Mr. Wetzel worked for two years under the chef René Redzepi — from its hyperlocal sourcing of ingredients to its leather aprons to its kitchen culture of verbal abuse. That kitchen, like many at the highest echelon of fine dining, was then a notoriously toxic workplace. Mr. Redzepi is one of very few top chefs who has acknowledged his own role in that abuse.

“I know I have been part of the problem,” Mr. Redzepi wrote in an email last week. “My anger issues have affected my team and have been part of diminishing the culture of our industry.”

But, he said, a decade of conscious effort has now gone into making kitchens more equitable and supportive. “I decided I don’t want to be part of passing this on to yet another generation.”

Some of the Willows protesters said that regardless of who is in charge, there is simply no place on the island for an expensive destination for the global elite.

One woman cooked hot dogs and baked beans in front of the restaurant for the protesters, with a sign that said, “Who needs $500 plates. Free wieners for ALL.”

Sarah Perry, a pediatrician, came with her three daughters, husband and mother, who has lived on the island for 55 years. She said that she had fond memories of working at the inn as a teenager, but that the current management’s exploitation of employees was “unacceptable”

“To me, the tragedy is this could be this beautiful symbiosis, it really should be, and it’s become a parasite,” she said. “They are just sucking every beautiful thing about the place and not giving back in any meaningful way that doesn’t have their brand all over it.”

Julia Moskin reported from New York, and Hallie Golden from Lummi Island, Wash.

2021-05-31 03:51:36


How China’s Tencent Avoided an Antitrust Push, For Now.


That’s glossing over the huge power imbalance between Tencent and the many satellite companies in its orbit. Colin Huang, founder of Pinduoduo, hinted at that in a 2018 interview, in which he groused that WeChat declined to help censor accusations about fake merchandise on his shopping platform.

“Tencent won’t die when Pinduoduo dies,” he said, “because it has tens of thousands of sons.”

No matter how decent or humble Tencent may act, it’s a giant conglomerate with $24 billion in profit last year and spends much of it on investment. It picks winners and losers, but the winners won’t always be the best out there, thus harming innovation and efficiency.

It limits user access to other products and services. Its WeChat app doesn’t allow users to share links for merchandise on Alibaba’s Taobao online marketplace or for short videos on Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister company. (Other platforms block Tencent’s services.) When three social messaging apps were launched in January 2019, they were blocked on WeChat immediately.

Douyin’s parent, ByteDance, shows the possibilities when a company goes it alone. In its early days, ByteDance’s founder, Zhang Yiming, took a small investment from Tencent to fend off the company but resisted tighter ties. In a response to rumors that Tencent would invest in ByteDance in 2016, Mr. Zhang wrote that he didn’t start ByteDance to become a Tencent employee. He posted the lyrics of the song “Go Big or Go Home.”

ByteDance’s independence paid off. It’s now valued at nearly $400 billion with a few hugely popular online content apps, including TikTok, the first Chinese internet product that became a global phenomenon.

Tencent doesn’t just court the industry. It has also long tried to get close to the government. Compared with the sometimes defiant Alibaba, Tencent has long publicly underscored its willingness to comply fully with rules and regulations.

“Now I think it’s important for us to understand even more about what the government is concerned about, what the society is concerned about, and be even more compliant,” Tencent’s president, Martin Lau, said in a January earnings call. Tencent executives used the word “compliant” six times in the call.

2021-06-02 07:00:09


Opinion | The American Renaissance Has Begun


In 1982, the economist Mancur Olson set out to explain a paradox. West Germany and Japan endured widespread devastation during World War II, yet in the years after the war both countries experienced miraculous economic growth. Britain, on the other hand, emerged victorious from the war, with its institutions more intact, and yet it immediately entered a period of slow economic growth that left it lagging other European democracies. What happened?

In his book “The Rise and Decline of Nations,” Olson concluded that Germany and Japan enjoyed explosive growth precisely because their old arrangements had been disrupted. The devastation itself, and the forces of American occupation and reconstruction, dislodged the interest groups that had held back innovation. The old patterns that stifled experimentation were swept away. The disruption opened space for something new.

Something similar may be happening today. Covid-19 has disrupted daily American life in a way few emergencies have before. But it has also shaken things up and cleared the way for an economic boom and social revival.

Millions of Americans endured grievous loss and anxiety during this pandemic, but many also used this time as a preparation period, so they could burst out of the gate when things opened up. After decades of slowing entrepreneurial dynamism, 4.4 million new businesses were started in 2020, by far a modern record. A report from Udemy, an online course provider, says that 38 percent of workers took some additional training during 2020, up from only 14 percent in 2019.

After decades in which consumption took preference over savings, Americans socked away trillions of dollars in 2020, reducing their debt burdens to lows not seen since 1980 and putting themselves in a position to spend lavishly as things open up.

The biggest shifts, though, may be mental. People have been reminded that life is short. For over a year, many experienced daily routines that were slower paced, more rooted, more domestic. Millions of Americans seem ready to change their lives to be more in touch with their values.

The economy has already taken off. Global economic growth is expected to be north of 6 percent this year, and strong growth is expected to last at least through 2022. In late April, Tom Gimbel, who runs the recruiting and staffing firm LaSalle Network, told The Times: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.” Investors are pouring money into new ventures. During the first quarter of this year U.S. start-ups raised $69 billion, 41 percent more than the previous record, set in 2018.

Already, this era of new creation seems to be rebalancing society in at least three ways:

First, power has begun shifting from employers to workers. In March, U.S. manufacturing, for example, expanded at the fastest pace in nearly four decades. Companies are desperate for new workers. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the number of unemployed people per opening plummeted to 1.2 from 5.

Workers are in the driver’s seat, for now, and they know it. The “quit rate” — the number of workers who quit their jobs because they are confident they can get a better one — is at the highest in two decades. Employers are raising wages and benefits to try to lure workers back.

Second, there seems to be a rebalancing between cities and suburbs. Covid-19 accelerated trends that had been underway for a few years, with people moving out of big cities like New York and San Francisco to suburbs, and to rural places like Idaho and the Hudson Valley in New York. Many are moving to get work or because of economic distress, but others say they moved so they could have more space, lead slower-paced lives, be closer to family or interact more with their neighbors.

Finally, there seems to be a rebalancing between work and domestic life. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom expects that even when the pandemic is over, the number of working days spent at home will increase to 20 percent from 5 percent in the prepandemic era.

While this has increased pressures on many women, millions of Americans who could work remotely found that they liked being home, dining every night with their kids, not hassling with the commute. We are apparently becoming a less work-obsessed and a more domestic society.

In 1910 the educator Henry Van Dyke wrote, “The Spirit of America is best known in Europe by one of its qualities — energy.” That energy seemed to be fading away in recent years, as Americans came to move less and start new businesses less frequently. But the challenge of Covid-19 has summoned forth great dynamism, movement and innovation. Labor productivity rates have surged upward recently.

Americans are searching for ways to make more money while living more connected lives. Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban studies at Chapman University, points out that as the U.S. population disperses, economic and cultural gaps between coastal cities and inland communities will most likely shrink. And, he says, as more and more immigrants settle in rural areas and small towns, their presence might reduce nativism and increase economic competitiveness.

People are shifting their personal lives to address common problems — loneliness and loss of community. Nobody knows where this national journey of discovery will take us, but the voyage has begun.

2021-06-17 23:00:09


A Los Angeles Tech Flex


LOS ANGELES — On Saturday evening, over 250 people crowded into a midcentury modern mansion in the Hollywood Hills for a party at the end of LA Tech Week, a six-day event series held across the city.

The party was hosted by, a collective for entrepreneurs, and Mirra, a telehealth start-up. “We incubate companies, we invest, and we party,” said Robbie Figueroa, 27, one of’s founders.

Just before sunset, the first wave of guests arrived. A D.J. played soft EDM music by the pool throughout the evening. Dozens of boxes of Domino’s pizza, a packed cooler of Dezo spiked coconut water and a Dippin’ Dots ice cream machine were on hand to keep attendees refreshed.

And who were those attendees? “It’s nerds, including myself, who have been clogged up at home for the past six months letting loose,” Mr. Figueroa said. “Everyone is referring to each other by their Twitter handles.”

Nikil Viswanathan, a founder of Alchemy, a blockchain developer platform that recently raised $80 million, showed up in a sailor suit. (He was attending a theme party afterward.) Austyn J.R Brown, a TikTok star and card game developer with nearly five million followers, and Eric Wei, a founder of Karat, a credit card for influencers, were also there.

There were also more traditional Hollywood types, including a Netflix executive and Arturo Castro, who appeared in the series “Narcos” and “Broad City.” Staffers from Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube mingled as well.

Los Angeles has long had a thriving technology industry. TikTok and Snapchat have headquarters in the city, and many tech executives, including Elon Musk, call it home. But more recently, Gen Z and millennial tech leaders have emerged, building hyped-up start-ups like Dispo, Poparazzi, PearPop and more.

Many moved to the city and established their companies during the pandemic, and LA Tech Week was their first opportunity to gather in person.

It’s not surprising, given who makes up the scene, that the event series came together on Twitter. Kyle Brastrom, 22, an entrepreneur and founder of Dive Chat, a Gen Z group chat platform, moved to the city in May. That month he tweeted: “Hosting a dinner in LA for founders, investors, & start-up folks this Wednesday. Comment or DM if you want to join or tag anyone you think shouldn’t miss this.”

“Quite literally 300 people replied to me,” Mr. Brastrom said, “and I’m like, oh, people in Los Angeles really want to go out. That sparked it all.”

He recruited two of his roommates — Michelle Fang, 22, and Ami Yoshimura, 19 — as organizers. The series was initially planned for May, but the organizers pushed the start date to June 14, the week Los Angeles fully reopened. A week of official and unofficial events — many of which were not advertised until the last minute — led up to Saturday night’s closing party.

“It’s all been in very much Gen Z fashion and embracing the chaos of the situation,” Mr. Brastrom said.

For seven hours on Saturday, guests dressed in brightly colored tops and street wear cycled in and out of the house. One woman had fashioned a dress out of a trash bag. There was not a single Patagonia vest in sight.

The organizers had capped attendance, but people were trying to R.S.V.P. up until the party’s start. Because of the mixed-age crowd, there were wrist bands for those over 21.

While the Silicon Valley tech world is rooted in power and exclusivity, the Los Angeles tech scene is more about creativity and openness. The event embodied a collaborative enthusiasm that runs among young people in Los Angeles. At the party were TikTok stars, start-up founders, direct-to-consumer marketers, songwriters, engineers, college students, livestreamers and artists, all mingling in front of a sparkling view of the city.

“If you believe the creator economy is the future of consumer tech, there’s not a better city than L.A. to be the epicenter of that energy and momentum,” said Jeff Morris Jr., the founder and managing partner of Chapter One Ventures.

Jasmin Johnson, 24, the founder of Knowhere, a travel planning app, said the event exposed her to a different side of tech than she was used to, including meeting TikTok creators. “In some other tech communities folks come from more homogeneous backgrounds, like ‘oh we all attended business school together’ or went to certain Ivys and private schools,” she said. “This is an interesting and cool mix of people with different backgrounds.”

Caitlyn Lubas, 22, a travel content creator, said that Los Angeles has a “totally different energy that I think was really captured through the tech week events.”

Others, too, seemed grateful for the sense of community. Cat Orman, 22, a founder of a drone delivery company, moved to the city during quarantine and was excited to get back to in-person connection. “Now that we’re coming out of that, it’s nice everyone is being conscious of building a community,” she said. “The energy is very good, it doesn’t feel appearance conscious or excessively networky.”

Chris Grant, 29, a product designer who arrived at the party around 9, said he felt like “all of L.A. tech” was there. “Every moment I’m walking around I’m bumping into friends from different circles,” he said. “It’s like, wow, you’re here, too? Sick!” Upstairs, some founders pitched their start-ups in the house’s plush movie theater, a somewhat quiet room isolated from the dance party breaking out below.

Minutes later, snakes arrived. Guests took turns holding the five large reptiles for photos and TikTok videos. Casey Adams, a 20-year-old entrepreneur, allowed one snake to coil around his neck as he gave it a kiss on the top of its head. Mr. Figueroa said he had met the snake handlers at a different party and had asked them to come.

At any given time, clusters of people had their phones out, swapping Instagram handles. “People are collaborative and they’re wanting to come together,” Mr. Brastrom said. “That’s what I love about this city, people are leading with collaboration rather than competition.” Mr. Brastrom has already founded an events studio called Crescendo to recreate experiences like Saturday night.

“It feels like there’s real people here, not just V.C.s,” said Nathan Baschez, 32, a founder of Every, a writer collective start-up. “This isn’t insular. People here aren’t on the lookout for the next interesting thing, they are the next interesting thing.”

Dro Hambarchian, 18, a rising sophomore at U.C.L.A. who is building a movie recommendation app called Script, arrived with two friends from school, Ethan Keshishian, 20, and Arek Der-Sarkissian, 19, founders of Unicorner, a start-up newsletter. “LA Tech Week embodies L.A. and how diverse it is,” Mr. Hambarchian said. “I’m a first-generation American, and I’ve met other immigrants. It’s refreshing.”

Katia Ameri, the Mirra founder, who is from Los Angeles, said she had been waiting for the moment when the Los Angeles tech ecosystem could rival the Bay Area and that now was that time. “We’ve been isolated from each other,” Ms. Ameri, 29, said. “Now we’re all vaccinated and coming out and seeing who’s here.”

By 1 a.m., the party had begun to wind down. Guests waited by the house’s gate, competing for surging Ubers. Some who couldn’t get a ride watched “The Conjuring” in the house’s movie theater. Ms. Ameri assumed D.J. duties and was playing dance music by Dr. Fresch.

Mr. Brastrom, who was still chatting with guests, seemed pleased with the hype he’d created. “I’m a random 22-year-old that came to this city and just said, ‘Let’s do this,’ and everyone just said ‘Yes,’” he said. “And I think that’s insane in the best way.”

2021-06-22 19:00:34


How Two Start-ups Made a Fortune in Fees on P.P.P. Loans


Also in late February, Blueacorn and Womply got an unexpected tailwind from a major rule change by the Small Business Administration, which oversaw the loan program. Concerned that women and minority-led businesses were being disproportionately left out, the Biden administration overhauled the loan formula to award sole proprietors — a group that includes contractors and gig workers — loans based on their reported revenue rather than profit. Overnight, millions more qualified for help. Drawn in by the marketing campaigns, they stampeded toward the two companies.

By early March, “we were overrun with demand,” said Blueacorn’s Mr. Calhoun, a private equity veteran who joined the company that month to help manage its growth. “We had a 24-hour period where we went from 15,000 new customer service tickets to 27,000,” he recalled. “Those are Amazon-like levels.”

Blueacorn rented call centers and trained hundreds of temporary workers to troubleshoot. Womply redeployed nearly all of its 200 employees to work on loan issues. Both companies still struggled to keep up. On Reddit groups and social media sites, thousands of borrowers complained about delays, poor communication and problems resolving errors.

Louis Glatthorn, an Uber driver in Boone, N.C., who goes by Bob, applied on Womply’s website on April 7 and signed the paperwork two weeks later for a $7,818 loan. But the money — which is listed in government records as approved — has not been paid by Benworth Capital, one of Womply’s partners. Mr. Glatthorn’s attempts to reach Womply for help have been unsuccessful.

“You can never talk to a person or actually make contact,” he said. A Womply representative declined to comment on Mr. Glatthorn’s experience.

Others had a smoother run. Dan Bourque, an Uber driver in San Francisco, saw Womply’s ads and applied for a loan in mid-April. Seventeen days later, he had a $10,477 deposit — funded by Fountainhead SBF, another of Womply’s partner lenders — in his bank account. For that loan, the process “was flawless,” he said.

The millions of tiny loans the two tech companies enabled, coupled with Congress’s decision to make small loans more lucrative, led to gigantic payouts for small lenders. Last year, Prestamos made $1.3 million for its lending. This year, it will collect nearly $1.2 billion, according to a New York Times calculation of lenders’ fees based on government data.

2021-06-27 09:00:13


My Pandemic Hobby? Making Money.


Jenny Eisler learned to knit in the first grade, and was good at it. She also did time as a Girl Scout, which imbued her with an admirable can-do spirit.

Consequently, when New York City locked down last spring to stem the spread of the coronavirus, and Ms. Eisler, 25, was stuck in her studio apartment in NoLIta without much to do, she impulsively ordered some embroidery hoops, needles and thread on Amazon, correctly betting that a creditable chain stitch was but a few YouTube tutorials away.

“The first thing I embroidered was the word ‘quarantine’ in green thread on my gray hoodie,” said Ms. Eisler, who works at an online fashion retailer. “I embroidered all my clothes,” she continued. “And then when I ran out of my own stuff to embroider I started embroidering things for my sister.”

Ms. Eisler decamped to her parents’ house in Scarsdale with her craft equipment as the pandemic took hold, began documenting her progress on Instagram and lo and behold, people started direct messaging her to place orders — 100 in the first few weeks — for tie-dyed custom-embroidered sweatshirts. “It just kind of happened,” Ms. Eisler said. “My friends all wanted them because everyone was at home and wearing sweat clothes.”

The coronavirus spawned an army of journal-keepers, sourdough seers, bakers, cooks, weavers, painters, gardeners and bird-watchers. For many, such hobbies have been a way to relieve boredom and stress, to give form to shapeless days. Ms. Eisler is among those who have turned pro — making their pandemic pastime an income-generating venture.

According to a recent survey by LendingTree, the online loan marketplace, close to 6 in 10 of the 1,000 respondents started a hobby during the pandemic; nearly half of them have earned money, turning it into a side hustle.

For some, it’s a pretty respectable figure. Ms. Eisler, who named her company Just by Jeanie (a tip of the hat to her plush rabbit) said that, so far, she has netted $20,000 from a product line that has expanded from sweatshirts to sweatpants, socks, baby blankets and onesies (short- and long-sleeved models).

Meanwhile, Lan Ngo, a pharmacist, banks $3,000 to $4,000 a month on sales of the dollhouse furniture she makes in the spare bedroom of her rental apartment in Clovis, Calif. And Jeff Neal, a project estimator for an industrial painting contractor, pockets $2,000 a month breeding crickets, roaches and other so-called feeder insects that he sells to amphibian and reptile owners, primarily through his website The Critter Depot.

Hawking crickets on the internet is an outgrowth of the hobby Mr. Neal started in the garage of his colonial house in Central Pennsylvania shortly before the pandemic, both to defray the cost of feeding the family’s very hungry bearded dragon, Monica, and to engage the interests of his three young daughters. (For the record, Mr. Neal’s wife is VERY grateful that it’s a detached garage.)

“On reptile forums, people were saying their local pet stores were closed because of Covid, and they were looking for feeder insects,” said Mr. Neal, who estimates that at the height of the pandemic, he was averaging between 10 to 15 orders per day and netting as much as $5,000 a month. (Critter Depot ships throughout the continental United States and provides instructions to customers about what to expect when receiving crickets in the mail.)

The futurist Faith Popcorn views all these enterprises as examples of several of the trends she has codified over the last several decades, among them “Down Aging,” (nostalgia for your younger creative self); “Truth to Power,” (coming out with your own thing and maybe not returning to the office) and “Pleasure Revenge.” “In this case,” Ms. Popcorn said, “it would mean really leaning into a hobby and thinking ‘I can make this. I can do this — and someone bought it on Etsy.’ ”

Just as the pandemic hit, Adam Sarkis, a Chicago-based entrepreneur, was walking away from a failed start-up.

“I started thinking about things I’d done as hobbies when I was younger, things I hadn’t had time to do in years,” said Mr. Sarkis, 35, who, when he wasn’t drawing in notebooks as a child, was playing basketball or watching basketball. “I decided to merge those passions and see what it looked like on canvas.”

Using acrylic paint, sponge brushes and Sharpies, Mr. Sarkis hunkered down at the dining room table in his South Loop rental and began painting head and shoulder images of carefully selected N.B.A. players. They included Latrell Sprewell, “because he was one of the first to wear dreadlocks that hung down his back,” and Dennis Rodman, “because he was one of the first to rock a lot of tattoos,” said Mr. Sarkis, who characterizes his style as a blend of Keith Haring and Jean Dubuffet.

He posted a few of his early efforts on Instagram, and was surprised and pleased to discover there was considerable interest in the prospect of owning an original Sarkis: “I was being asked for players like Ben Wallace, Steve Nash and Allen Iverson. It just snowballed.” So far, Mr. Sarkis said, he has sold more than 100 paintings.

But the will of the people forced him to shrink both the canvas (from 32 by 32 inches to 8 by 11) and the price (from $300 to $50). Even so, “I’ve definitely made more money than I put into it,” Mr. Sarkis said. “I understand pricing and overhead.”

There’s a lot to be said for having a tolerant family. “I’ve definitely made a mess throughout the house,” said Ms. Eisler, who has found in her mother, Denise, a willing and able tie-dying aide. “We put on old clothes, turn on music and go out on the deck to work,” she said.

When Tiffany Riffer, a product liability lawyer in Washington, started making soap as a pandemic pastime, she turned to her husband, Steve, a cybersecurity consultant, for help in the kitchen with the lye and essential oils. Tiffany Riffer Soap, in scents like lavender, eucalyptus and vanilla, is now available on line, and in a few stores in Washington and Virginia. Ms. Riffer is hoping to break even by the end of the year.

Mary Duque, 14, another soap maker, has taken over the dining room of her parents’ Cape Cod house in Easton, Conn. That’s where she stores ingredients and packing material, and where for two to five hours each week, she makes soaps, sugar scrubs, lotions and lip balms, all of which comprise her “Honey Bunny Soaps & Stuff” collection. Next up: sunscreen. “I’m pretty good at cleaning up after myself,” said Ms. Duque, who is planning to relocate to the basement soon. Meanwhile, meals are in the kitchen.

Involving her family was part of what motivated Ms. Ngo to start making dollhouse furniture in the first place. She wanted to get them started on a hobby too. “My father and sisters had a lot of time during the pandemic,” she said. “I was worried that if they stayed home doing nothing they would get depressed.”

The thing about a hobby, of course, is that you can spend just as much or as little time on it as you choose. No big deal if you’re not up for painting or drawing or embroidering today. But the calculus changes and so, sometimes, does the need for specialized equipment, when the pastime becomes a business.

Ms. Eisler works at her full-time job from 9 a.m. until after 8 p.m., then often switches over to Just by Jeanie tasks for an hour. Weekends are completely given over to tie-dying, an exceedingly labor-intensive activity.

Ms. Ngo, spends at least one day every weekend fabricating the tiny dining tables, chairs, doors, stoves and refrigerators she sells on Etsy. She finally bought a Glowforge 3D laser printer (prices start at almost $3,000) after coming to the unavoidable conclusion that what she had made by hand with Popsicle sticks and cardboard was both labor intensive and not quite ready for prime time. Her family puts in about 20 hours each week, and when Ms. Ngo is trying to get out a big order, her fiancé lends a hand too.

For his part, Mr. Neal, the cricket breeder who works as much as 60 hours a week at his “real” job, is up daily at 4:30 a.m. every day to fill orders and answer emails. “I’m exhausted most of the time,” he said.

Fatigue notwithstanding, there’s something gratifying about the development of a new skill set. “It was eye-opening to dip my toe into entrepreneurship,” Mr. Neal said. “I had to solve customers’ problems, I had to do packaging and build a website. I found it really rewarding to chug through and make it happen without there being any catastrophe.”

Ms. Riffer, who hadn’t previously viewed herself as artistic and imaginative, is now rethinking the matter. “Making soap,” she said, “has been a way for me to be creative and to produce a product that was useful.”

And of course there is something extremely satisfying about people not just admiring what you make but admiring it enough to part with some money.

“It’s positive reinforcement,” said Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

“The overarching driver during Covid has been the need to find an outlet for play, for immersion in something pleasurable when we were stuck at home with a lot of stress and no outside distractions,” Dr. Saltz said. “You start a hobby. And then having people appreciate your hobby and say it’s worth something — that’s bonus points.”

Occasionally, the hobby that becomes the side hustle becomes the occupation. When Covid hit, David Angelov, a carpenter, was eager to find a pastime “that had nothing to do with other people,” he said.

His mother is a skilled and dedicated gardener. With her example in mind, Mr. Angelov, 24, decided to start clearing away the vines and brush that surrounded the three-bedroom contemporary house he shares with his father in Swampscott, Mass. “I got an appreciation for nature and how it was here long before us,” he said.

One thing led to another: Mr. Angelov began researching plants in his region, and the techniques for maintaining shrubs. He built a raised bed and planted vegetables, hauled in compost to amend the soil, pruned back the spirea and holly and spread wildflower seeds — all to very good effect. “It turned me into realizing that I could make some money off this,” Mr. Angelov said.

He put together a business plan for his company, PlantParenthood, last winter, and now tends 12 properties per week and fills in with some one-off projects. The ramp-up is slow, he added, “but gardening is proving more lucrative than carpentry.”

Still, for most, the hobby is going to stay the hobby. “For now, I like having the embroidery as my side hustle,” Ms. Eisler said. “I really enjoy my full-time job and have been able to balance the two nicely.”

Ms. Duque, the high school freshman, is keeping her options open. She’s been selling themed gift bags on Facebook and Instagram, and her grapefruit-rosemary lotion and exfoliating coffee soap have done a brisk business at Greiser’s, a market in Easton, which just put in an order for rosemary-mint and cucumber-melon soap. Ms. Duque was operating at a loss for a bit because of some pesky research and development expenses, “but I’m up now by about $320,” she said.

“It would be great to have a bigger business,” Ms. Duque continued. “I’m not expecting it to be like Dove or anything, but the fact that I started a little something is very cool.”

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2021-06-30 18:35:02


For a Taste of Ancient Peruvian Cooking, Head to Vermont


Inside the pit, he burned a few logs of hickory, which would heat the stones over the next few hours. Then, he went inside to make the humitas, blending corn into a paste with cinnamon, anise, clove, vanilla and sugar. The meat sat in the dining room, marinating in earthy huacatay, or Peruvian black mint, oregano, spearmint, ají amarillo, ají panca, garlic and soy sauce (a nod to the Chinese and Japanese influence in Peruvian cuisine).

In the kitchen, Ms. Rondeau made a creamy, slightly spicy huancaína sauce with saltine crackers, ají amarillo, olive oil, garlic, onion, cream and queso fresco from her native Guatemala; Mr. Guadalupe prepared a salsa from his childhood, with green chiles, mustard, salt, mayonnaise and huacatay.

When the stones were hot enough for water to sizzle upon contact, Mr. Guadalupe orchestrated the layering of the ingredients, starting with the potatoes, which cook at the hottest temperature, and ending with the humitas and herbs.

Once banana leaves and dirt were draped over the top, and the cross had been planted, Mr. Guadalupe relaxed. When he was 13, his father once forgot to place the cross — which is supposed to prevent the devil from interfering with the cooking — and all the food came out raw.

“You can’t fix it,” Mr. Guadalupe said. “It is ruined.”

2021-07-02 21:52:31


Why Is There a Blue Crab Shortage in Maryland?


“We send our kids to school, we send them to college,” he said. “A person doesn’t go to high school, grade school or community college for some type of fishing and become a waterman. You don’t have your kids educated to pick crabs.” Seasonal workers, he said, have traditionally filled a critical labor gap.

Heather Mizeur, a Democrat running for Congress from a district on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, said the Biden administration can help address the labor shortage by authorizing more of the temporary visas. “The seafood industry out here on the shore desperately needs a reliable work force to process the crabs that our watermen harvest,” Ms. Mizeur said in an email.

While crabbers in the upper Chesapeake Bay, near Baltimore, are having better luck with their supply this year, Mr. Brown said that fishing on the Potomac River hasn’t yielded much crab. Blue catfish have become an invasive species in Chesapeake Bay, feeding on crab.

“It really just seems to be the perfect storm,” said Mr. Mills, of True Chesapeake Oyster Company.

In Baltimore, the restaurateur John Minadakis said that the smell of steamed crabs usually fills the air in summer, and that the price hike is hindering restaurants as they try to come back.

“It’s hurting us at a terrible time,” he said. “The summertime is crab season in Baltimore. There’s nothing like it, sitting outside with your friends cracking crab and drinking local beers. It’s a Maryland pastime.”

Mr. Minadakis, an owner of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, said he had to raise the price of his crab cakes and lower the price of drinks to offset the increased costs for his blue-collar customers who buy them together.

“The one option that’s never came to my mind is changing the recipe, because my father created the recipe 47 years ago,” he said. “When you think Jimmy’s, you think crab cakes.”

2021-07-04 03:51:47