There's a well-known pizza restaurant in Brooklyn called Roberta's. Opened in an old warehouse in 2008 by two friends who bought equipment from a shuttered pizzeria in Italy, it has "a D.I.Y. feel, like a Bushwick loft, The ceilings are high, with beams exposed, and the floor is poured concrete". And evidently very good pizzas. (It's also also home to the many excellent food and/or drink-related podcasts recorded by Heritage Radio Network, which is housed in an old shipping container in Roberta's backyard.) It is, in short, the perfect - authentic! - embodiment of the "Global Brooklyn" trend that seems to be sweeping the world with bare brick walls and naked filament lightbulbs, and the "hipster" crowds that such spaces draw.
Roberta's opened a second location in the second half of 2018, in a place which could hardly be further from their original space and everything it represents: a mall in Los Angeles. A writer for Eater describes the "uncanny" experience of eating there, both because it's so far from the original "spirit" of Roberta's, but also because it actually fits in with what is essentially a collection of boutique brands (Roberta's also has a line of frozen supermarket pizza by now).
She concludes with the observation that "in the ’90s and ’00s, the main sin of brands was to offer generic, shitty versions of pleasurable things, or so we thought. Starbucks, Bath & Body Works, and Pizza Hut were just not very good, therefore, Blue Bottle, Aesop, and Roberta’s to the rescue. I bought this argument, but here I am, back at the mall and kind of mad about it. It turns out our brand-saturated, unequal food culture won’t be fixed by wood ovens and heritage grains; expansion is facilitated, or even necessitated, by the industry’s brutal economics, which reduce food to a commodity even after we’ve spent a decade building it into an art".
So it's perhaps less a question of whether a unique restaurant can retain its charm by self-replicating in a space that's basically antithetical to where it began, and more of an indication of how little charm it takes to be a successful brand these days. After all, you can now eat Heston Blumenthal's "perfect" fish and chips before you catch your next flight from Heathrow airport - quite a far cry from the bucolic surroundings of The Fat Duck!
Bits and Bites
Sausage money: If you weren't aware of just how much sausages mean to Germany, a new commemoration coin featuring currywurst and its inventor (a housewife who opened a snack stall in West Berlin in 1949), should persuade you (not to mention the fact that apparently 800 million currywursts are devoured annually in Germany). It's a delicious dish, of course (if sausage and curry are to your tastes), but we have to agree with the summary of the article which describes the coin as "unspeakably ugly".
Squirrel on the menu: In this age of no waste and nose-to-tail eating, it should come as little surprise that squirrel is finally making its way onto restaurant menus (perhaps only that it's taken this long?): "The rise in popularity is believed to stem from diners’ growing interest in sustainable, cruelty-free food, which sees them turn to “wild meat” from animals which would have been culled anyway…. The grey squirrel is one such animal, classed as an invasive pest which has few predators in the wild and out competes the endangered red squirrel. To reduce waste, chefs are using the carcasses of culled squirrels in pancakes, croquettes and even lasagne". Apparently it tastes nothing like chicken.
No more dining in the nude: O'naturel, a Parisian nudist restaurant, has closed down after operating for over a year, which is evidently a good run for new restaurants, no matter what their particular quirks: "O’naturel’s 15 months is, in fact, very respectable. Most restaurants don’t make it past a year, even those that allow diners to be dressed – although temperature, and not just the measurable kind, might have been one reason for O’naturel’s downfall. 'I found the ambiance very cold,' wrote Topgars34 on TripAdvisor". Perhaps it does take a little charm to create a successful brand after all.
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