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Ghost Kitchens lack transparency

Ghost KitchenWhen I first heard of ghost kitchens, my thoughts went to ghouls cooking up a Halloween brew, ladles dancing in midair, unexplainable noises filling up the kitchen. I am happy to report that it is not the case. Not too long ago, I received a call from a recruiter who was looking for a place to host a ghost kitchen, and he was interested in using my restaurant. I must confess that I was taken aback and decided to do some research.

Ghost kitchens are virtual restaurants created on app platforms. No cooking or restaurant experience is necessary to create one. This is the easiest way to have your own restaurant.

According to Cloudkitchens.com, if you have a concept in mind, a menu, and the right amount of cash, you can have a restaurant. Ghost kitchens use existing restaurants to cook the menu items and package them for take-out. This concept of virtual kitchens arose before the pandemic came upon us; however, with the surge of take-out and delivery during the pandemic, virtual kitchens became more popular. In today’s restaurant world, deliveries make up 60% of total sales; hence, virtual kitchens have found fertile ground for their sales.

How do ghost kitchens operate? They do so through ordering apps, such as DoorDash or UberEats. Customers who want to order their meal delivered, choose a restaurant on a delivery platform, browse the menu, and pay online.

Meanwhile, the restaurant receives the order on a dedicated ordering system, prepares the food, packages it for delivery, and hands it out to a delivery driver.

This new business model was welcomed by brick-and-mortar restaurants that lost business during the initial stages of the pandemic.

With dining rooms empty, and increased demand for delivery, many restaurants agreed to be the kitchen where virtual menus are prepared. It sounds like the perfect solution to a serious problem. Ghost kitchens have kept many restaurants in business and people in the workforce.

Who is the target customer for ghost kitchens? According to statistics, Gen Z (18 to 24 years old) is the section of the population who orders the most, followed by Millennials (25 to 40 years old). The target market of virtual kitchens is key to understanding why they have become so popular.

There are pros and cons to this new business model. The advantages are many, especially for restaurants. Virtual kitchens do not require much capital to start up a restaurant. There are no remodel or building expenses. Overhead is practically nonexistent, and the hiring and firing headache is not even an afterthought.

The restaurants who agree to be the brick and mortar for the virtual kitchen keep busy with online orders and do not have to worry about hiring delivery drivers, as they come with the package deal. What are the disadvantages? Lack of transparency, for starters. But, that might not be a priority for Gen Z and Millennials. I assume the rest of us would like to know where the food is prepared, or that the food comes from a virtual kitchen.

Some folks care about the sanitation score of restaurants. With virtual kitchens, such a score is unknown because the menu found online doesn’t disclose where the food is prepared.

It’s obvious, due to the current circumstances, that ghost kitchens are here to stay, as long as people request delivery or carry out.

Perhaps, with customer demand, there will be more transparency.

If you are not worried about the future of American democracy...

MargaretIf you are not worried about the future of American democracy, you are not paying attention.

There is a lot of hot air on this topic from the left and the right. People share their thoughts based on little more than individual political leanings and overheated emotions — no need to take my word for this. Just turn on CNN, Fox News, or scroll your Facebook or Instagram accounts, and you will get the idea pronto.

That said, there is also a great deal of learned and informed information and commentary to indicate that we are indeed a nation in distress. We are a nation facing divisions of historic proportions, on the precipice of sliding from a representative democracy toward a more authoritarian form of government.

My first brush with this powerful and terrifying possibility came when reading the 2018 book "How Democracies Die" by two Harvard political scientists. They chronicle how elected leaders undermine the political process to increase their power. It has happened to other democracies, and these authors see it unfolding in the United States. More recent books on the same theme include “Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy” and “American Democracy in Peril: Eight Challenges to America.”

These conversations have continued and expanded among scholars, historians and regular Americans who fear for our nation.

Here are some numbers to get us started. Last summer, a PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll found that 67% of American adults believe our nation's democracy is under attack. A more recent CNN poll finds that 93% of us believe that our democracy is under attack (56%) or is being tested (37%). A majority, 51% of us, believe that elected officials will overturn an election in coming years because their party lost.

Perhaps most alarmingly to me, the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank generally considered on the conservative side, reported earlier this month that Americans of all political stripes see the potential for violence. Thirty percent of Republicans, 17% of independents, and 11% of Democrats, now agree that violence might be necessary to save our nation.

If we concede that those who do not know or understand history are doomed to repeat it, then we really should be nervous.

Barbara Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego and an advisor to the CIA on political instability, believes we are perilously close to another civil war. She and others cite extreme partisanship, geographic sectionalism, urban and rural divides and differing visions for state and federal governments.

Not all scholars and observers agree with her. Still, most are concerned about the toxic political atmosphere and systematic attacks on voting undermining public faith in the political process.

These ideas are alternately unsettling and baffling for most Americans, leaving us confused at best and terrified at worst.

Both ends of the political spectrum, those who think it is happening as you read this and those who scoff that it can never happen in our America, need to back up and take a deep breath.

The fact that "We the People" are now talking about this indicates we are concerned, even alarmed. It also tells us that both sides must be thoughtful in what we say and do as we go through a troubled and challenging period in our nation's history.

Western European nations fell to fascist governments in the first half of the 20th century, as did southern hemisphere nations in the second half. We are foolish to believe it could not happen here.

As frustrating and imperfect as democracy may be, 1947 Winston Churchill's take still rings true now. "Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Hardening of Hearts: A Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Reflection

Among my most precious mementos is a postcard sent by my mother on Tuesday, March 26, 1968. I was seven years old and with my grandfather while my parents attended an annual convention of rabbis. My mother wrote (using common terminology for the period),

Dear Dov,
Last night a very great man spoke to us. His name is Martin Luther King. He is a leader of the Negro people, and he wants to help them get a better life.
Love,
Ema and Abba

I understood working to help people achieve a better life, as my father was very active in local and Vermont state civil rights and social justice efforts.

Still, as a young white boy in a state with few people of color, I did not know who Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, other than someone who addressed that convention.

I vividly remember sitting on my parents’ bed nine days later, listening for radio updates on his condition and finally hearing the awful announcement of his death.

405px Abraham Heschel with MLKRecently I learned that King had been planning, just eight days later, to be at the home of his friend, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, for Passover Seder, the ritual meal commemorating the biblical liberation of the Jewish people from slavery.

Rabbi Heschel, my father’s seminary teacher, was a leading Jewish voice for civil rights, a foremost Jewish theologian and the person who introduced King at that convention. It is no small irony that King was murdered just a week before he was to attend the Jewish celebration of freedom.

With the approach of MLK Day, I am reflecting both on the Jewish scriptural reading for that weekend’s Sabbath and my mother’s brief postcard.

The designated portion for that Sabbath includes the Israelite’s crossing through the split water of the Sea of Reeds (often misleadingly rendered in English as the Red Sea).

In the biblical narrative, Pharaoh’s hardened heart appears to have been overcome as he finally allows the Israelites to leave.

But, shortly after their departure, Pharaoh’s heart hardens again as he sends troops after his fleeing ex-slaves, though they do narrowly escape through miraculous intervention.

It seems to me that the conviction of those advocating for non-violent protest in the civil rights movement of the sixties was that it would be the softening of hearts across the country which would ultimately bring their struggle success in the legal, political and social arenas.

However much (incomplete) improvement may have been achieved since then, many today with diverse political ideologies feel as if we again see a hardening of hearts and a rise in intolerance.

Our world is certainly not the world of a half-century ago. It never is. And it is natural to harden one’s own heart when we believe others have done so first.

But, while people should stand up for their beliefs, we will never truly achieve the better life we seek if we allow others to succeed in hardening our hearts.

The famous man from Tally Ho

Webb TelescopeWho is the most famous North Carolinian today?

If you check the latest edition of the World Almanac as I do this time every year, you will find a list of “Famous North Carolinians.”

That list includes the following people but not today’s most famous person from our state.

Read over the names on the World Almanac list and then I will tell you today’s most famous person: David Brinkley, Shirley Caesar, John Coltrane, Stephen Curry, Rick Dees, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Dale Earnhardt Sr., John Edwards, Ava Gardner, Richard Jordan Gatling, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, O. Henry, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Michael Jordan, William Rufus King, Charles Kuralt, Meadowlark Lemon, Dolley Madison, Thelonious Monk, Edward R. Murrow, Richard Petty, James K. Polk, Charlie Rose, Carl Sandburg, Enos Slaughter, Dean Smith, James Taylor, Thomas Wolfe.

But that list does not include the North Carolinian most talked about across the world these past few days: a man who grew up in the Tally Ho community of Granville County.

On Christmas Day a $10 billion giant telescope to replace the aging Hubble scope was launched from French Guiana. So far, the launch has been successful. The device is already preparing to begin its observations by unfolding its antenna, mirror, and tennis-court-sized sunshield, as it moves toward a final orbit.

The Hubble, at work for more than 30 years, was named for Edwin Powell Hubble, an American astronomer who died in 1953. He was an important astronomer whose work provided evidence that the universe is expanding.

The new observatory-telescope will be about 100 times more sensitive than the Hubble. As described by Dennis Overbye in the October 20, 2021, edition of The New York Times, “Orbiting the sun a million miles from Earth, it will be capable of bringing into focus the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe and closely inspecting the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets for signs of life or habitability.”

So, what does all this have to do with Granville County and the most talked-about North Carolinian?

The new telescope is named the James Webb Space Telescope. Like the Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, or Webb Telescope, or simply the Webb, will be in almost every news story about space exploration for many years. Every young person studying astronomy or reading about space will see his name. It will be everywhere.

Why is this critical device named for Webb?

Lewis Bowling, who, like Webb grew up working in the tobacco fields and barns of Granville County, explained in his column in the December 30, 2021, edition of the Oxford Public Ledger, Granville County’s twice-weekly newspaper.

“James Webb, who grew up in the sticks like me, surrounded by great big fields of tobacco was the man most responsible for leading us to the moon. Let me clarify something: James Webb was born in Tally Ho near Stem, so he was a country boy like me, but obviously a lot smarter. Webb knew and worked for several presidents and was the National Aeronautics and Space Administration director under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. As North Carolina Congressman L. H. Fountain once said, ‘for the first time since the beginning of the world there are now footprints on the moon, and the major share of credit goes to a distinguished son of Granville County, James E. Webb.’”

I would make a bet that there will be a new entry in the 2023 World Almanac’s list of “Famous North Carolinians.”

James Webb from Tally Ho.

How I won Christmas

Pitt DickeyUnaccustomed to tooting my own horn, today’s column is full bore tooting. If reading another bragging Christmas letter is not your thing, kindly turn the page. Do not go any further.

Spoiler alert, this column will make both my readers feel inadequate.

Until this Christmas past, I did not realize that Christmas was a contest.

My youngest son, Will, pointed out that I had won Christmas this year.

How you might inquire, did I win Christmas? Funny, you should ask. Allow me to retort.

I accomplished something Dads, and Husbands face every Yuletide Season. I purchased an item that warned, “Some assembly required.”

These are words that strike fear into the hearts of men across the fruited plains. After my wife and I retired, the Rona arrived full force.

For over a year, we left the house only to purchase supplies. To deal with the prospect of massive boredom and to avoid having to talk to me 24 hours a day, my wife Lani took up painting.

Before Rona, she had been a painter but only painted Agreeable Gray on apartment walls. After Rona, she took up painting pictures, took art courses and turned a little-used room into an art studio.

It turns out she is an excellent painter. She had hidden her artist talents under a bushel for the forty-plus years we have been married. But enough about her, this column is about me.

Painting is a hobby similar to photography in that there are an almost infinite number of things you can buy to pursue your dreams of artistic immortality.

We acquired an easel and the usual widgets.

Lately, she had been sitting on the floor to paint, which was fine until the time came to get up off the floor.

We had not purchased a skyhook, so her rising was a bit more challenging than sitting down. Being observant for once, it occurred to me that if she had some sort of art desk/easel contraption, she might be a bit more comfortable sitting during painting sessions.

At a local art supply store, I found something called the Art and Crafts Creative Center, a fancy desk and stool.

It came in a box all the way from China with literally 97 pieces to be assembled.

The package was so heavy that I used a hand truck to haul it into the house. The 20-page instruction book was diagrams only. No words of comfort to encourage the would-be assembler. Just inscrutable diagrams with 17 easy steps to assemble the beast.

My favorite diagram, Step 9, illustrates this column.

To say I have few mechanical abilities would be to far overstate my skills in putting things together.

Flipping the correct switch on the breaker box exceeds my level of accomplishment.

Yet here I was, the day after Christmas confronting a seemingly impossible task. I was armed only with a screwdriver and a fatalistic determination to get the Creative Center assembled or die trying.

The magnitude of the task facing me was more daunting than the challenge faced by the Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae. As you no doubt recall, way back in 480 BC, 300 Spartan warriors under King Leonidas fought 10,000 Persians under King Xerxes.

The 300 Spartans, against overwhelming odds, managed to delay the Persians long enough for the rest of the Greek army to get into position, and they ultimately defeated the Persians.

The bravery and stubbornness of the Spartans saved Western civilization.

As I faced the overwhelming odds of assembling the now unboxed artistic monster, I called upon the spirit of Leonidas to give me strength.

For three hours without a break, I valiantly did my best to assemble the mighty beast. Steps 1 and 2 were inscrutable as the diagram did not remotely resemble the legs that came with the box.

The actual legs were far different from those shown. Alas and Alack!

Trying to make sense of the incomprehensible instructions, I felt like the narrator in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, who almost said: “Once upon an afternoon dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten diagrams.”

A lesser man would have quit in disgust.

But the spirit of Leonidas was with me. I persevered and innovated with the misbegotten legs. Conquering the first two steps gave me the confidence to move on to the next 15 steps.

Displaying an almost inhuman resolve to complete the task, I only cursed once during the entire process.

It was a relatively mild curse that Rhett Butler might have issued when he left Scarlett O’Hara at the end of Gone with the Wind.

Surprising my whole family and mostly myself, I constructed the artsy desk in one sweat-soaked afternoon with only three pieces left over. Lani was delighted with the desk. My son Will awarded me the Winner of Christmas Award.

Life was good. A picture of the desk with her latest artwork is attached above.
Moral of this story: When confronted with a difficult task, may the determination of King Leonidas be with you.

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