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April 23, 2020 22 mins

Host Michael Ruhlman checks in with Angie Mar, the Executive Chef and Owner of The Beatrice Inn. Angie shares her updates on switching to take out and the perils of business interruption insurance.

Then, Politico Reporter Zachary Warmbrodt gives more detail about the current state of insurance claims and the dilemma from the perspective of the insurance industry.

Finally, Michael Ruhlman shares a simple recipe for home cooking that can provide comfort during uncertain times.

Angie Mar:

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:15):
Welcome to a special episode of From Scratch. My name
is Michael Ruhlman, and I write about food, cooking and
the work of the professional chef. In each episode, I
speak with one chef and one non chef about the
same theme in order to connect this fundamentally human act
with the world at large. But COVID nineteen has prevented
chefs from doing their job and running their restaurants, at

least in the way they'd always been accustomed. In these
special episodes, I'm connecting with chefs to see how they're
doing and find out what they're doing in the midst
of the Corona virus pandemic. Today, I speak again with
journalist Zachary Warmbratt, who covers financial services for Politico, and
chef Angie Maher, owner of the Beatrice in in New

York City's West Village. Angie Hi, Michael, Hi, how are
you kind of crazy? Thank you so much for doing this, No,
thank you so much for having me. Seriously, these are crazy,
crazy times, and I'm trying to figure out what you
guys are going through. I mean, there you are on
my street, which I've abandoned for the past three weeks.
How is West twelve Street while we are keeping the

lights on. You know, the first week I was closed
because I was just trying to figure out what was
going on. I think by the end of the first week,
I was a I was going crazy in my house.
B I was really trying to figure out if we
can make takeout work. And this is only our second
week doing it. How's it going? I mean, describe the
situation today. It's a Friday afternoon. What's going on there?

You know, kind of snapshot of my day is like
I got here at eight thirties so I could accept
all the deliveries. I've been taking orders. I mean right
before we got on this podcast. You mean, we're hearing
like all the phones ringing and like all of the
things happening. And it's tough because we're going from a
team of four nine people and last week we were
only three kitchen team and myself cooking everything, putting away

the deliveries, you know, doing all the prep work. And
we're really talking about four people doing work that it
would typically be twenty five. Back of house, like I've
been washing, washing dishes, taking the trash out at night,
accepting the deliveries, answering the phones, fulfilling orders, taking orders.
It's you know, it's crazy. I like, I'm no stranger

to like seventeen eighteen hour days, but when you're talking
about seventeen eighteen hour days of like seriously like hard
labor and like being physically in the kitchen, it's crazy.
And you know, I'm not I'm not that young anymore.
So it's really tough right now. Um, you know, the
neighborhood has been so incredibly supportive. I think that the
first week everybody was kind of like in shock. Now

people are like, oh, great, the Beatrice is open. Because
there's there's not a lot of restaurants in the village
that are open right now. I think we're maybe like
one of maybe like two or three. So it feels
it feels a little desolate, it feels a little lonely.
But it also when we open for service at five o'clock,
the amount of support that we've been getting from our neighborhood,

from the regulars. People are driving in from Brooklyn, you
know to pick up food. Yeah, it's been really you know,
I think crisis like this it kind of brings out
the best in the worst in humanity. And I feel
very fortunate that in the last two weeks that we've
been open for takeout that we're experiencing the best How

is that going with takeout? I mean you're doing a
lot of food. You can't sell wine, you can't sell liquor,
which is where restaurants make so much of their their profits.
We actually can, we actually can. Yeah, we were really lucky.
You know, the s l A changed the liquor license
laws and whereas before you can only sell like beer
right for takeout, we can now do wine. So I

have I have wine. We've got beer, and then last
Friday we started to go cocktails as well. You know,
we're taking it week by week. And really the main
goal of this whole thing is that, look, I mean,
you know, Michael, you've been in the business long enough.
It's like, you know, you know, from all the restaurateurs,
you know, like no one's ever going to make any
money doing takeout, Like I'm never I'm never gonna be

able to pay rents on West Twelfth Street doing take
out right, And and that's not the point of this
whole thing. I think the point of this whole thing
is that our city are you know, the world really
is kind of on pause right now and we're in this,
in this huge crisis, and after being closed for a week,
I you know, I sat long and thought about it,

long and hard about it because it was like, Okay,
you know, do we do we stay inside, do we
stay quarantined, or do we get as many people working
as we possibly can and really be here for the neighborhood,
be here for the community, be here for the city
of New York that has been so good to us.
And I thought about it. The reality of it is
is that the Beatrice in this restaurant has been here

for a hundred years. It's been here for a hundred years,
and it's been here through the Depression, it was here
through Sandy, It's going to be here through this. And
for us to be able to keep the doors open,
to keep people employed as best we can, to keep
the community fed. That is what's important. Even if I

don't make a single dime off of this, even if
I lose money, I'm going to continue to do this
because it's the right thing to do. How many orders
are you taking, what kind of value are you doing?
You know, it's never enough, right, That's always the story,
whether whether it's takeout or whether we were we were

open like regular service. That's always gonna be. My answer
is it's never enough. Right now, we're open Tuesday through
Saturday from five to nine pm. We're open for takeout,
and so we're taking calls for take out, but we're
also on caviare. We're doing as much volume as we can,
and I think we're really trying to get the word out.
I think, you know, this week is busier than last
week because I think people are like starting to figure

out that we're open, and I'm hoping next week will
be busier than this week. This week, I was, you know,
after we ran payroll and our cost of goods last week,
we figured out, okay, great, we're able to bring in
two more people from our team and employ two more people.
So that's what we did this week, and I'm hoping
that we can employ maybe three more people the next
week if the numbers support it. It's definitely a numbers game,

and I think it's definitely, you know, just a matter
of like awareness and and and letting people know that
we're we're here and we're open. I'm hoping it's it's
only going to grow because the reality of it is
is I think that we are going to be in
this scenario, you know, at least until June. Do you
have a sense of how long you can maintain maintain this.
I'm hoping that we will be able to maintain all

the way through. You know. I I don't know if
I'll be able to keep up with it physically because
it so much um. But my hope is that we're
going to be able to grow this enough to get
as much of my staff back as I can and
working during this time. That's that's the goal. One of
my big concerns was when this all happened, was that
you know, how many restaurants are going to be able

to reopen when it's safe to go outside again? Is
this a concern percent Michael? I mean, here's the thing,
and you know, like a lot of people are like, oh, well,
you guys are fine because you've got business interruption insurance. Well,
business interruption insurance isn't paying for this. They are refusing
to pay for this, so, you know, because of the virus,

because they had of like viral clause. Yeah, they had
some sort of viral clause. I mean, I think the
first lawsuits against insurance companies were filed earlier this week, UM,
which I think is I think is necessary. I think that,
you know, the government has to step in because insurance companies,
they should be be made to pay, because you know,
if if not now, then when when would I need that?

You know what I mean, it's it's it's right now.
I think a lot of us in the industry are
scathing right now because you know, you have these billion
dollar insurance companies who are just flat out refusing to
pay for this. And I think that, you know, to
answer your question about how many restaurants are going to
be able to reopen, I'm going to be floored. If
six are able to reopen, I will be floored. I

hope it's more, but I will be absolutely stunned if
of small business maybe one two location owners like me
are able to reopen, because it is that bad. I
think that if the government doesn't step in, if insurance
companies are not made to pay, if you know, we
if we don't get some assistance, I do believe that

the landscape of New York dining will change, and it's
going to be changed. That's what I believe. That's a
very sad and very secury. Indeed, to be clear, you
are an owner of the Beatrice in Yeah, I've owned
this restaurant for four years now, the owner. Yeah, it's
it's me and my cousin. Oh my god, it's me
and my cousin. And so for us, it's like this

is soup to nuts, a family owned business. It's not
like we're backed by, you know, one of like the
bigger restaurateurs, nothing like that. Like it's literally like we
scraped every single penny that we had together in order
to buy this business. And that's what we're faced with now,
is we're faced with how long is this going to go?
You're faced with insurance companies who are are offering, you know, help,

and we're at the same time trying to also do
the right thing for our forty nine employees, who most
of which are single income households who rely on the
paycheck that they get here to feed their families. Sure,
and that's a huge responsibility. Insurance has become a big deal.

Most restaurants buy something called business interruption insurance. They pay
a lot of money so that if their business is
shut down, they don't lose their business. They're covered. But
insure companies started writing in virus exclusions, meaning they didn't
have to pay if the business is shut down because
of a virus. But it's a gray area. Technically, the

virus didn't shut them down. State governments did. And that's
just one example. One chef restaurateur I know has insurance
viruses included and still their insurer refuses to pay. And
so well, what happens when every restaurant in the country
files a claim all at once, regardless of the reason.

To learn more, I reached out again to Zachary Warren brought,
a reporter for Politico covering small businesses and financial services.
Find them also on Twitter, where under his first name
at Zachary, he makes up to the minute reports. Warnbrot
spoke to me by phone from Washington, d C. I'm
talking a lot of restaurateurs who are I rate that
they've been paying for insurance for years and now they

cannot get covered for this interruption. Can you define the problem? Yeah,
I mean the problem them that's emerged over the last
month or so, as you've had the states and municipalities
telling businesses they have to shut down, is that for
restaurants they have been paying over the years for business
interruption insurance coverage. So you know that the expectation was,

you know, if you were forced to short shut down,
if and there was some kind of damage to your
pure property that forced you to close and you weren't
bringing in revenue, well, at least you have a safety
net through this insurance policy to stay afloat. And what
they have found, as as restaurants and other small businesses
have started taking these business interruption claims to their insurers,

is that most of the time the policies excluded viruses.
So the insurers are coming back to the businesses and saying, look,
we can't pay out a claim to you because we
specifically said that this would would not cover an interruption
due to a pandemic like the one we're seeing now.
And I think the insurance industry is just expecting a

lot of lawsuits over this, which could in some ways
be very financially drained for the insurers, but they seem
to have some confidence that they'll be protected here by
the courts. And this of course will take a long
time to play out. Yeah yeah, I mean this is
only just beginning, and you're only just now starting to
see the lawsuits, and so they'll have to work their
way through the courts, and I guess it'll be a

question of whether some of these restaurants will want to
spend the money to take this all the way quickly.
Back to the insurance companies, they are not just evil,
heartless bastards who are kicking back now saying sorry, I
see this line here. We don't know you anything there.
You are trying to help the restaurants without risking their
own businesses. Do you feel that way? The way that
they explain their situation is from the insurance industry perspective.

They're saying, look, the whole model of insurance isn't designed
for everyone in the country to file an insurance claim.
At the same time, insurance companies have to manage their risk,
and you know, they make kind of these commitments to
people that they'll be there to help them out when
you know, specific things happen to them. And you know
what they're saying is there's just no way you could

model out affordably priced insurance policy that would kick in
when everyone across the country shuts down during a pandemic.
And they're saying that, you know, if you were retroactively
going to come and make US change these contracts. We're
looking at hundreds of billions of dollars of money we
would have to pay out, and it would actually threaten
the livelihood of the insurers and their financial stability and cause,

you know, another economic problem, because you know, if you
have insurance companies that are struggling to pay people. So
that's their side of it. But I understand if you're
someone who thought you were paying for coverage and then
in the fine print it says this is excluded, I
imagine that's a very hard Uh, it's very hard to
be sympathetic to that. If this goes to litigation, WHI
should probably will. That means for restaurants in the short term,

it may shut them down because they're not gonna see
any cash anytime soon if they have to rely on litigation.
Is that correct? That's right. I mean, I would expect
that would be a very drawn out process, and I'm
sure the insurance industries preparing for that. Again, just to
be clear, so they were hoping for some other federal
aid because of this insurance issue. That's what the insurance
trade associations are floating, and they have some retail organizations

on board like that there's a Shopping Center Association, there's
a National Retail Federation. You know, they have all kind
of agreed on a proposal that they're basically pitching the
Congress and the Trump administration to create this fund. It's
been kind of described as a nine eleven victims fund
in a way where it would be kind of some
money Congress would allocate and then you would have an

official who would basically decide who to pay it out to.
But that's the closest I've seen so far to the
insurers saying, you know, we're going to go above and
beyond to help people. And again, that fund wouldn't even
be paid for by the insurance industry. That'd be coming
out of the federal government's coffers xpairs. Right, So there's
no telling where this will end. Many chef restaurateurs are

suing their insurers. Insurers are saying their business isn't set
up for every single restaurant file acclaims. Simultaneously, chef Thomas Keller,
who has written that the insurance companies are sitting on
billion dollars of their money, has formed a group to
try to alloby the President and Congress to force the
insurers to pay. According to CNBC this week, state representatives

such as Mike Thompson of California are introducing bills that
will nullify the virus exclusion. But all this will take
time to iron out. When we come back, I'll find
out where this leaves the chefs such as Angie Maher,
who their cousin bought the beatrice in and what are
we to do in the midst of so much uncertainty.
One answer, of course, is to cook. Welcome back listeners.

I wanted to hear from Angie again better state of mind,
and I'm sure she echoes what many independent chef owners
are feeling. What's your state of mind? You're happily, you're
super busy, so you don't have time to dwell on things,
But how is your state? You know, I fluctuate, you know,
it's it's It's really interesting, Michael, because you know, I
lost my father two years ago, and I'm sorry I

lost mine. It's horrible. Yeah, it's horrible and um, but
you know, you go through different stages of grief, right
and when we made the decision to shut the restaurant down.
We made the decision to shut the restaurant right before
Cuomo ordered that that all restaurants and bars be shut down,
and you know, that week, just processing it, it felt

a lot like the grief that I went through when
I lost my father, right and I think a lot
of us are experiencing that grief right now, because that
is what it is. It's like we're losing our way
of life. We're losing, you know it. For me, at least,
it feels like I very much lost what I've worked
so hard. You know, I've been in New York for
ten years, and I've worked all ten years, you know,

up to be able to purchase this restaurant, to be
able to build it into what it is. And you know,
you've eaten here plenty of times, so like you know,
you understand the magic that is held within these walls.
I do, indeed know. Got on a snowy winter evening
walking along West Twelfth Street, which looks pretty much the
way it did a hundred years ago with its old

simple town houses, and to descend the steps below the
decredit Beatrice Building into the warmth of the Beatrice Inn bar,
dark rich Wood laughter. It's like stepping into an earlier
time to have a Manhattan with my wife and then
share a stake with her and a glass of red wine.
It made all of life feel better. We brought our

family there for a pre Christmas birthday celebration on Christmas
and had one of the best roast ducks ever flombade
at the table. But really, any chef should be a
will pull that off. Here's who Angie really is. My wife,
Anne Hood teaches writing one semester a year at the
New School at sixth Avenue and West twel Street. Hers

was a late class that got out at ten pm
each Thursday. I met her at West Forth and West
twelfth Street in front of another of our neighborhood favorites,
Cafe Clooney, which was just closing up. We sat on
a bench there and tried to figure out what we
had a hunger for and where to get it. Just then,
across the street, Angie walked up the steps of her
Beatrice Inn in street clothes, her night done. I called

out to her and brought Anne over to officially meet
the chef. Angie all but immediately said have you eaten?
And then oh, I'm cooking for you. She brought us downstairs,
had us seated at the bar, and reappeared moments later
in her Whites Ready to cook and cook she did.
Angie cuts an exotic swath through the Instagram world where

she's Angie k Mar. But this, my friends, is who
she really is, a troop cook, and as such, in
these troubling times, while she still offers fancy chop house
entrees like ninety day aged Porterhouse steak and roast stuck
for two for takeout, she's found herself wanting to cook
homeb me dishes for comfort. So each day one item

is called family meal. Yesterday was pot roast with room vegetables.
Earlier in the week roast pork with apples, bacon and cream.
She posts the menu on her Instagram story every day,
or you can go to the Caviat meal delivery site
at tri Caviar dot com and search beatrice in. It
got me thinking about my own home cooking, the pandemic

and how I too want to go back to those
meals at comfort. My wife Anne's go to comfort food
is pasta carbonara and her mother's tomato sauce with meatballs.
Mine is roast chicken. That once posted the recipe calling
it the world's most difficult recipe because it's the exact opposite.
I'm going to describe how to do it now here.
It is pre eat your oven to four fifty degrees.

This is important. But if your oven is dirty, reduce
it to four or it will smoke like frame. Leave
of its salt the chicken with course kosh or salt.
You want a generous coating, a tablespoon or so. Put
the chicken in a skillet and put the skillet in
the oven for one hour. That's it. Take it out,
let it sit for fifteen or twenty minutes while you
finish off whatever you're serving it with. But better yet,

and this is really my favorite part of the meal.
Make as you with simple ingredients a carrot, an onion,
some wine if you have it. Here's how well the
chicken is roasting. Cut a carrot into ribbons using a
vegetable peeler, and thinly slice a small onion. As soon
as you take the skillet out, remove the chicken to
a cutting boarder plate. Leave the skin stuck to the

pan and the fat. Of course, being careful to always
keep a towel on the skillets handled because it's hot.
I can't tell you how many times I burn my
hand this way. Put the pan over high heat and
add the onion and carrot to cook in the hot
chicken fat with their tender Add a cup of dry
white wine. Scrape up everything stuck to the bottom of
the pan. When the wine is gone and the fat
is crackling again, add a cup of water and cook

it down. The wine and water are pulling sugars out
of the vegetables, and those, along with the protein juices
from the chicken are caramelizing on the bottom of the pan.
Once the liquid is gone, add one last cup of water.
Bring it to a boil, then turn off the heat.
Cut or poll or chicken apart, serve at family style
and a platter, and spoon your magical jew over it.

This is the kind of cooking that eases the stresses
of isolation and uncertainty and nourishes our friends and family.
Angie and Zachary, thank you so much, Angie, hanging there.
You are beloved. Never stop cooking. This episode from Scratch
was engineered by Angie mar and Zachary warm Brock from

Scratches produced by Jonathan Hawes Dressler. Our executive producer is
Christopher Hasiotis. The music is by Ryan Scott off his
album A Freak Grows in Brooklyn. For a more thorough
discussion of how to roast a chicken, Jonathan Waxman dan
Hood Style, listen to the roasting episode of From Scratch
from season one. From Scratch is a production of I

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