Fresh & Easy's Death Knell, Jim Crow Lives on in the Kitchen and More: This Week in Food

A Fresh & Easy in Oakland
A Fresh & Easy in Oakland
Flickr/Miss Shari

Fresh & Easy began unceremoniously closing all of its 54 remaining Southern California stores this week, to the devastation of single people and horrible cooks everywhere. Launched by British grocery chain Tesco in 2007, Fresh & Easy was sold in 2012 after finding its self-checkout methods and plastic-wrapped produce were a flop with American shoppers. Some stores were closed after the sale and the company retooled its concept, but apparently it still wasn't enough. We will miss you, Fresh & Easy, if not for your pre-marinated meats, ready-to-heat dinners and pre-chopped vegetable medleys, then for your earnest attempts at changing the way Americans buy their food (even if the prices were a little out of step with the neighborhoods).

Results of a labor study conducted in California shows that massive segregation continues to exist in the restaurant industry, with wage inequalities going beyond a front-of-house vs. back-of-house debate (as the "to tip or not to tip" war rages on) and into deep racial and gender inequalities. The report — titled "Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry" — found that people of color make a whopping 56 percent less than equally qualified white workers and that the restaurants with the highest wages and greatest number of employees had the highest rates of segregation (i.e. fine dining). People of color face significant barriers to obtaining fine-dining jobs that provide livable wages, and the disparity is even higher among Latinos, who represent a significant portion of low-wage workers, all while Mexican food is going high-end and being celebrated on a national level. Forgive us for being long-winded here, but we're just going to end this clip with an excerpt from the study, a powerful snapshot into the restaurant industry today:

In California, Latinos experience the highest levels of "occupational segregation," with substantial underrepresentation in higher-paying server and bartender positions, the report found. Latinos make up 52 percent of all restaurant employees but make up 65 percent of all back-of-the-house workers. In service jobs, Latinos make 82 percent as much as whites in the same positions ($10.58 versus $12.85), and in higher-paying positions, Latinos make 86 percent as much as whites ($11.62 versus $13.45). And black workers in the state are overrepresented in limited-service fast-food occupations. Additionally, when people of color are employed in jobs that are typically higher-paying, they still earn substantially lower average wages than white staff. 

A related report released this week found that more than half of all food workers go to work even when they're sick, mainly because low-wage service industry jobs provide little to no sick days. This results in the spread of infectious diseases, including Norovirus (70 percent of last year's cases can be traced back to infected food workers). We looked into this issue a little more deeply earlier this year and found that in restaurants, where staffs are usually lean and toughness is the ultimate attribute, taking a day off is discouraged and even ridiculed. Couple that culture with lack of sick pay and there's a recipe for disaster. All this might be changing, though, as more restaurant owners acknowledge there is a problem, but when will fast food companies see the light?

Eater has some details on Pok Pok L.A.'s new tipping system, which seems to be trying to remedy some of the wage inequalities mentioned above. A 5 percent service charge will be added for the back-of-house staff, and then you tip as you would regularly for your front-of-house service. Reservations can still be made only online through the Tock ticketing system, and a $20 deposit for your meal is required. 

Sadness on the beer front as Eagle Rock Brewery announces that one of its core-lineup beers, the ineffable Solidarity, will no longer be a year-round offering. The sessionable-yet-complex 4.5 percent ABV beer won our competition for Best Summer Beer in L.A., which is weird since it's a black mild, a style nearly unknown to most American beer drinkers. I guess sales have reflected that, mainly as craft beer drinkers fuel their fervent obsession with hops. "Solidarity is just not a very sexy beer," owner Jeremy Raub told the L.A. Times. Head to the brewery Nov. 14 for a "retirement party" of sorts, with a full tap lineup of all the variations that have come and gone over the years. 

As a follow-up to last week's announcement that Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo are opening a French-Mex brunch spot called Trois Familia (and the fact that in our interview, Dotolo says he hasn’t heard of anyone doing French-Mexican cuisine before), Bill Esparza lays out a good history of the mash-up, proving its roots are in colonialism, not Silver Lake. French cuisine formed the basis for early Mexican haute cuisine, as, I guess, it has in a lot of places in the New World, and can be seen in national dishes like chile en nogada and enchiladas suizas. Trois Familia's menu will be different, of course, more L.A. than anything French-Mex before it, but it's always good to pay homage to the past while serving up the future. 

In other news, Orleans & York is now available at the Forum, Colonia Taco Lounge has closed in La Puente (but will be reopening in Whittier soon), and chef Tin Vuong's Little Sister is opening Monday in L.A. (with breakfast, lunch and gangster rap!).

Tweets O' the Week:


Saturday, Oct. 24: Three Weavers Brewing First Anniversary
The Inglewood brewery we named Best New Brewery in L.A. this year is turning 1 with a birthday party that would make any toddler jealous. Think: oversized lawn games, piñatas on the hour, ballon animals and, oh yeah, beer. 

Saturday, Oct. 24, and Sunday, Oct. 25: DTLA Oyster Festival
Oyster Gourmet owner (and shellfish master) Christophe Happillon is out to prove that oysters are the new sushi with a two-day bivalve festival at his Grand Central Market shop. Buy $2 oysters from a bunch of participating farms, learn how to shuck oysters and slurp your way into salty, briny heaven. Shuck yes. 

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