Sushi Zen Closes Amid Plans to Reopen with 3 Times the Space

image.jpgMidtown staple Sushi Zen first opened its doors in 1983, when sushi was still considered an adventurous choice for Times Square dining. In the years since, more and more upscale sushi restaurants have joined the scene, and raw fish has fully entered the mainstream (arguably ushering in the next-wave poke trend). Sushi Zen, run by head chef Toshio Suzuki, nevertheless remained a favorite, earning some celebrity chef fans like Michael Anthony and training others like Masaharu Morimoto in the traditional Edomae style of sushi making.

Now, Sushi Zen has shut down operations at it’s original location at 108 West 44th. There were plans in the works to reopen three blocks north at 114 West 47th Street, a move predicted as early as March of last year, with a new space significantly larger at 6,500 square feet. It now looks like that new space will not pan out.

Although New Yorker’s may now balk at paying more than $25 for their sushi entree, Sushi Zen was a staple that consistently earned high marks from critics.

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Multiple Scenarios for an L Train Shutdown, None of them Good for Business

Rumors have been stirring for awhile now about a possible shutdown of the L Train in order to make repairs, and local business owners in Williamsburg are feeling the pressure. Two possible scenarios discussed by the MTA involve either a 3-year, 24-hour-a-day shutdown, or a 7-year shutdown of night and weekend service. The MTA has yet to commit to either, and some doubt the service disruptions will be so severe, but the deadline to receive Federal relief money for damage done by Hurricane Sandy is quickly approaching.

Businesses in Williamsburg are understandably concerned, particularly Bars and Restaurants for whom nights and weekends are the worst possible shutdown times. Matthew Webber, owner of several restaurants in Bushwick and Williamsburg, says that past weekend disruptions have resulted in a 30% drop in sales for some of his restaurants. When the L train shuts down, “Williamsburg gets brutalized,” says Webber.

Some business owners, like Kevin Adey of Faro in Bushwick, don’t believe that the shutdown will happen. Since real estate developers now have a huge stake in Williamsburg, they may have the opportunity to influence the MTA’s decision and lessen the blow, possibly by expanding G train service. But without some compromise, the MTA warns that delays due to hurricane damage and increasing wear and tear could become much more commonplace.

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The World’s First Expired-Food-Only Supermarket

We’ve written before about the ugly food movement – a growing set of entrepreneurs and activists attempting to combat food waste by getting more superficially damaged or misshapen produce into the hands of consumers, rather than into the landfill. Now a supermarket in Denmark is combatting another large piece of the food waste puzzle – expiration dates.

In many countries, expiration dates have little or no legal requirements, and it is at the discretion of food companies to choose a date they believe their product is “best before.” In many cases these dates result in edible food being discarded rather than sold or donated, because producers are motivated to choose earlier dates to either push more product or avoid the risk of selling something less than fresh.

Danish supermarket WeFood is built on the premise that most of this food is perfectly good, and can be sold at cheaper prices. WeFood sells only goods that are past their expiration date or have slightly damaged packaging – at prices up to 50% lower than standard supermarkets. Denmark has already cut their food waste by 25% in the past five years, and this supermarket (and others like it) are likely to bring that number even higher.

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Thai Food Goes Mainstream

Thai food has long been a favorite for late-night take out and hole-in-the-wall dining, but the flavor profile of Thai cuisine (including fish paste, chili, lime, and coconut) has had trouble entering the mainstream. There are now signs that this is changing, and the winning Thai formula of sweet and spicy is propelling it onto menus and into retail in places you might not expect.

Thai chili sauces are available at more and more locations, including Cincinnati-based Buffalo Wings & Rings, and many casual chains are doing Thai versions of their standbys. Pie Five Pizza Company in Texas released a limited edition Thai-rrific pie, with sweet chili sauce, chicken and cilantro, and Boston based burrito company Boloco offers a “Bangkok Thai Burrito” with peanut sauce and asian slaw. Some beverage companies, like Los Angeles’ The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, have even been getting in on the action – experimenting with condensed milk and black tea to make Thai iced lattes.

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Neurogastronomy Comes into Its Own, in Restaurants and the Snack Aisle

Food and Science have had an intimate relationship since humans first learned that fire could make things taste better, but when molecular gastronomy entered the common lexicon that relationship became one of the hippest trends in hospitality. Neurogastronomy represents the next phase of this relationship, and the focus is not just on changing food but on changing the entire experience of eating.

Neurogastronomy is the study of the human brain the way it perceives taste. This ranges from questions like, what color plate makes my lava cake taste better? to do people with weight problems eat more because their tongues are different? Understandably, that breadth of study has implications for many, from chefs and restaurateurs to doctors and dietitians. Chef Heston Blumenthal of the three-Michelin starred Fat Duck is focused on how discoveries in this field could make healthier food more satisfying through, for example, the principle of encapsulation – using bursts of flavor rather than dispersed flavor for a greater effect. Blumenthal is even working with NASA and the UK’s space agency to bring astronauts tastier zero-gravity meals.

If neurogastronomy gains enough traction, we may see more and more mass-marketed foods using these techniques in the snack aisle as well. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the ingredients and nutritional content of their food, and more suspicious of labels like “Natural” or “Low Fat.” A greater understanding of taste perception could be good for everyone if it allows companies to meet that demand without sacrificing flavor.

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Folgers Coffee Surpasses all Expectations

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Current trend-watchers would be hard pressed to say that instant coffee is making a comeback. If anything, coffee these days is getting more and more upscale, and words like “single origin” are now almost expected in both coffee shops and pantries. All this makes it even more surprising that Folgers, the coffee brand largely known for its instant coffee and ear-worm of a jingle, is seeing an impressive increase in profits beyond what any investors expected. In the last quarter of 2015, those profits jumped 15%, causing parent company J.M. Sucker to sharply increase their earnings guidance for the year.

Folgers attributes its success to “on-trend” products like K-cups, although many would argue that that trend is doomed by its own wastefulness. The partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts to produce the K-cups, however, is undoubtedly a boon to their business. It’s possible that this profit spike is just the crest of that coffee pod wave, but Folgers is still betting that consumers will always have a place in their hearts for easy, and instantaneous, caffeination.

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Cafe Altro Paradiso Now Open


Thomas Carter and Ignacio Mattos, the team behind the critically acclaimed Estela on Houston street, is already having a busy year. They’re in the midst of preparations to open a branch at the new Metropolitan Museum outpost, Met Breuer, and just opened the doors of their latest project – Cafe Altro Paradiso.

The original Estela made a name for itself by taking the traditional tapas bar formula and tweaking it slightly, increasing the size of the dishes to a just-big-enough-to-share size. The new restaurant, which the team claims will be a largely traditional Italian cafe, has big shoes to fill – but guests can expect that there will be some fresh ideas in play on the menu of pasta dishes, Italian wines and seafood.

Cafe Altro Paradiso is located at 234 Spring street. They are taking reservations and accepting walk-ins beginning this week

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The Yelp Underpaid-Employee Saga Continues

140245452.jpgThis weekend a (now former) Yelp employee, Talia Jane, wrote an open letter to her employers revealing the financial struggles brought on by her low paycheck, and criticizing the irony of the company spending millions on a food delivery app while employees “can’t afford to buy food.” The post was widely shared, and Jane was subsequently let go – a move which, predictably, Yelp Human Resources claims was not caused by the letter but which Jane herself says was a direct result.

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has since taken to Twitter to acknowledge Jane’s point that the cost of living in San Francisco is much to high, but skirt around her direct attacks. Both Stoppelman and other spokespeople have mentioned expanded entry level employment in areas where the cost of living is cheaper.

It’s likely that this event will blow over without too great of an effect on Yelp’s sales or stocks. But the viral nature of the original post reveals a distrust for the large companies like Yelp and Seamless which increasingly act as middlemen between restaurants and their guests.

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Single-Serve Coffee Pods Banned in Hamburg


These days, it’s difficult to read anything about Keurig Company or the now-ubiquitous single-serve coffee pods without a reminder of the waste they produce. The pods are often made with a mixture of aluminum and plastic  which, combined with the organic matter left inside after use, makes them nearly impossible to recycle and an increasing burden to strained landfills. Still, in Western Europe the pods make up one third of the coffee market, for a total of  €18 billion.

Now the city of Hamburg has taken a stand against the pods and the machines which exclusively brew them (known as “Kaffeekapselmaschine” in German), by banning the purchase of these machine’s with taxpayer money. This means that they will no longer be found in any municipal buildings, and government employees will return to other brewing methods for the time being. This may not make a huge dent in that €18 billion market, but it is further indication of backlash against the pods, and further motivation for companies looking to find eco-friendly versions that are biodegradable or easily recyclable.

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Swiss Start-Up Wants to Bring You a Greener Soda

There’s no doubt that soda has an image problem which producers would love to tackle, but most of those efforts have centered around perceptions of health (or a lack thereof). One Swiss start-up, Climeworks, has an entirely different approach that could still provide  a PR boost to big-soda. Climeworks’ main business is carbon capture; specifically, developing technology for commercially viable ways to suck CO2 out of the air and repurpose it. One of those ways is by using that CO2 to carbonate beverages without burning any additional fossil fuels.

Of course, the CO2 trapped in soda cans doesn’t stay out of the atmosphere for long, and it would be hard to see much of a dent in atmospheric parts per million from this technology alone. But such technology would at the very least give soda a greener image – which could explain why “the biggest fizzy-drinks company in the world” is already mostly on board, according to a Climeworks rep.

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