Archive

Archive for the ‘Dining/Restaurants’ Category

Update: McCain versus Mississippi catfish

March 9th, 2011 Comments off

The catfish industry isn’t receiving any favors lately …

I will have my column about the subject this week, which you can read on my blog Friday …

Below is reaction from the catfish industry, followed by a statement from Sen. Jon McCain.

Catfish Industry

A proposal by Sen. John McCain to repeal a law making all catfish safer for American consumers ignores numerous findings of banned substances in imported catfish products and favors inadequate food safety requirements.

“It is stunning that Sen. McCain has chosen to protect importers and Vietnamese farmers over the health and safety of American citizens,” said Butch Wilson, newly elected president of the Catfish Farmers of America.

The U.S. Congress, concerned about food safety, voted to move catfish inspections and regulation from the FDA to USDA as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

A bill proposed by Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) would repeal the 2008 regulation.

The USDA has greater authority to conduct on-site safety inspections of production facilities, guarantee accurate labeling and enforce requirements that imported meat, poultry and catfish meet the same health and safety standards as American products. The USDA’s inspection requirements and regulations are well-known to U.S. trading partners.

In a statement announcing the bill, McCain alleged the “Food and Drug Administration hasn’t reported any safety or health problems with the Vietnamese imports.”

That is wrong. The FDA has found in imported catfish from Vietnam and other nations potentially dangerous chemicals or drugs that are banned by the United States in farm-raised catfish, according to the FDA. Details at this FDA link:

http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/Seafood/SeafoodRegulatoryProgram/ucm150954.htm

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last month a major criminal case of mislabeling and hazardous contaminants found in Vietnamese frozen catfish fillets imported by a seafood import company in McCain’s home state of Arizona. NOAA’s criminal investigation discovered that the Arizona company “bought Vietnamese catfish illegally imported into the U.S. labeled as sole” which was then sold to approximately 65 different wholesale customers, including supermarkets and restaurants.

“Some of the fish tested positive for malachite green and Enrofloxin, both of which are considered health hazards and banned from U.S. food products,” NOAA said in a statement on this link:

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110204_seafoodmislabeling.html

In addition, the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries issued a halt on the sale of imported Asian catfish and related fish in November 2009 after the fish tested positive for antibiotic Fluoroquinolones banned for use in fish or other seafood products sold in the United States because of the health and safety danger to consumers.

“There could be no better advertising for catfish than to have the USDA seal of approval stamped on the package,” said Wilson, adding that the law would apply to all U.S. Farm Raised Catfish as well as imported catfish. “We welcome the USDA oversight on our U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish. Whether a food safety incident results from domestic or foreign fish, the impact is the same: Consumer confidence in all catfish will evaporate.”

Sen. John McCain statement

“Mr. President, I’m pleased to be joined by my colleague, Senator Coburn, in introducing legislation to repeal duplicative federal regulations relating to the inspection and grading of catfish. Specifically, our bill would rescind a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill, Section 11016 of P.L. 110-246, which aims to inhibit Vietnamese catfish imports as well as catfish imports of other potential trade partners.

“Mr. President, Section 11016 is nothing more than the latest effort by Members of Congress serving the special interests of the catfish industry in their home states. A similar protectionist tactic was tried in the 2002 Farm Bill when many of these same members slipped in language that made it illegal to label Vietnamese catfish (‘pangasius’) as catfish in U.S. retail markets. The intent there was to discourage American consumers from buying Vietnamese catfish products even though they are virtually indistinguishable from U.S. grown catfish. It didn’t work. Vietnamese catfish remain popular with American consumers because it’s more affordable and cheaper to produce than domestic catfish grown in aquaculture ponds. Now these special interests are relying on this latest Farm Bill rider to over regulate Vietnamese catfish by, ironically, deeming pangasius a catfish again. Under the guise of food safety, the 2008 Farm Bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to inspect catfish like it does meat products or eggs, except that no other fish is under the regulatory thumb of the FSIS. Catfish is already regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which hasn’t reported any safety or health problems with the Vietnamese imports. Domestic producers are simply trying to create barriers for Vietnamese catfish farmers by forcing them to comply with a second inspection regime administered by an entirely different arm of the federal bureaucracy.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently engaged in the proposed rulemaking process for implementing this new inspection authority. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report flagged this FSIS program as ‘duplicative’ and ‘high risk’ for ‘fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.’ GAO estimates that the USDA would spend about $30 million in taxpayer dollars to implement the agency’s new catfish inspection program and that we’d be further fragmenting our federal food safety system by having catfish regulated twice by both USDA and FDA.

“Mr. President, the provision that I’m seeking to repeal is nothing more than a protectionist tactic funded at taxpayers’ expense. If implemented, the proposed USDA regulations will lead to a duplicative, costly and complex overseas inspection program that serves no real purpose but to protect American catfish growers from competition while forcing American consumers to pay more for fish. Not only is the catfish provision in Section 11016 offensive to our principles of free trade, it flagrantly disregards our Bilateral Trade Agreement and relationship with Vietnam. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.”

The best do-nut shops in Mississippi

February 8th, 2011 Comments off

I went to pick up donuts for the folks in the office this morning at my favorite place in Jackson, Scurlock’s.

They are always really nice and always happy to help in pumping up the overall poundage of the people at the Mississippi Business Journal.

Just kidding …

Anyway, it made me start thinking about my favorite do-nut shops.

In no particular order, here are my favorite do-nut shops in Mississippi. Let me know if you have any to add. You never know when this might turn into a feature in the MBJ, based solely on the response I receive on this blog.

Thanks.

My favorites …

Delta Cream Do-nut Shop, Cleveland

Shipley Do-nut Shop, Greenville

Scurlock Do-nut Shop, Jackson

Lawmakers obtuse to reality of pro-business legislation

February 3rd, 2011 Comments off

One of the hot topics around our office the last couple of weeks has been the beer bill, which was destined to die before it ever reached a floor vote.
Indeed, it died a quiet death last week, never making it out of committee.
We ran a cover story on the issue and followed it up with a money trail story that linked beer breweries to legislators.
We have written columns, blasting the lawmakers who had the opportunity to forward the debate.
Even this week, Clay Chandler has a story on page eight about a couple of Mississippi men who have started a craft beer business in Louisiana, never considering Mississippi, in part, because of our laws.
When we first started looking at this, I called a lawmaker friend of mine and asked why there is such animosity for this bill.
“You ever hear of the Bible Belt?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah.”
“That’s why,” he deadpanned as if I had asked the stupidest question ever.
That was the end of the conversation.
The legislation that died last week would raised the allowable alcohol content for beer in Mississippi from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8 percent.
In our first story, we chatted with Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, who chairs the Finance Committee. He confirmed that the beer legislation stood zero chance of making it out of his committee, and that he wouldn’t introduce it.
“I really don’t want to put my committee members in an uncomfortable position in an election year.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is the front-runner on the Republican side in this year’s race for governor, was quoted as saying he doesn’t “see a reasonable public benefit to increasing the alcohol content in Mississippi.”
We have been critical of those remarks as indifferent and submissive.
Bryant and Kirby have now put the word out that we (Mississippi Business Journal) are out to get them.
Yet, Kirby has not returned phone calls requesting comment and the only response we have ever gotten from Bryant on the issue is an e-mail that contained his previous quote.

The sticking point
OK, we aren’t asking about passing a bill on abortion or gay marriage or some other hot-button issue.
We are talking about craft beer and having the lowest ABW percentage in America. Our 5 percent ABW restricts what high-end beers can be sold in Mississsippi and what craft beers can be manufactured in Mississippi, even if they were to shipped out of state.
Yes, this is the Bible Belt, and yes, there are still 35 dry counties in Mississippi.
But, we are talking about creating jobs, and we are talking about creating more tax revenue in a time when jobs are scarce and government funds are limited, to say the least.
By the way, in addition to the fact that Mississippi is already selling and brewing beer, there are 23 towns and cities in those 35 dry counties which have chosen to sell alcohol. That means only rural pockets of few people are out there that really oppose the sale of liquor these days.
We and I aren’t “out to get” anyone.
I am concerned at how serious lawmakers can be so obtuse.
While this may not be Toyota or Nissan about to bring thousands of jobs to the state, the issue is about business.
Both Bryant and Kirby like to tout their BIPEC (Business and Industry Political Education Committee) rating as pro-business lawmakers.
Yet, when there is an opportunity help the business community, their actions fall woefully short.
What I would love is for Sen. Kirby and Lt. Gov. Bryant to come by our offices and visit, drink a cup of coffee and have an honest, thoughtful discussion on why a pro-business bill has been stiff-armed for three consecutive years.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Tupelo is capital of Northeast Mississippi

January 26th, 2011 Comments off

In a story we published on our website today, a South Carolina firm has consulted Tupelo to work together to be more consumer friendly.

Tupelo is already the capital of Northeast Mississippi.

Located on the interstate-like U.S. 78 and US. 45, people from as far away as Corinth, Columbus, Oxford and across the state line in Alabama, drive to Tupelo to work, shop and play on a daily basis.

I lived in the Tupelo area for about six years, and there is no question that Elvis’ hometown is already the center of the retail for that part of state, regardless.

What Tripp Muldrow, of Arnett Muldrow & Associates in Greenville, S.C. suggested is that Downtown Tupelo and The Mall at Barnes Crossing should be partners. This group rightly suggests the two groups could increase their market share if they work together to promote Tupelo as the complete shopping package — the Barnes Crossing district with its national brands and downtown with its independent stores and restaurants.

Tupelo has always been at the forefront of promoting regionalism, which has worked great the last 50 years. A teaming of the mall and downtown areas would make Tupelo more of a force to reckoned with.

Much of the state, like the Mississippi Delta and Metro Jackson could learn a thing or two from how Tupelo has conducted its business the last half century. It has done it right up until now, and there is no reason to believe now is any different.

Idea of texting for faster service insults state’s restaurant owners, and it should

January 20th, 2011 Comments off

Ask Mississippi restaurant owners what they think of the new, hip idea of texting your waiter or waitress for faster service, and you may hear words I cannot print in this publication.

In fact, I guarantee it, but I was able to cobble together a few comments we could print.

“Just give her a holler as she walks by. In Doe’s, nobody is very far,” said Don at Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville.

“We like the small tight spaces that the restaurant set-up entails.

“Texting your waitress for faster service? No, don’t like the idea. Less personable, not friendly.”

You want a beer at Doe’s? Go get it yourself. You’ll see four or five tables  full of people you know on the way. That seems like more fun anyway.
Right?

Well, even with cool, quaint places, Fridays and Saturdays can be difficult in regard to customer service.
Your waiter gets busy, and getting an appetizer or even the check can prove aggravating. But don’t expect restaurants in Mississippi to buy into the latest technology that has been introduced.

Doe's Eat Place in Greenville

Doe's Eat Place in Greenville

TextMyFood is a new service that allows customers to communicate with their server via text messaging.

A story on National Public Radio last week highlighted a restaurant in Massachusetts with the service and detailed why many would or should opt in.
Bob Nilsson, the president of TextMyFood, told NPR the goal of the service is to increase the amount of money customers will spend. For example, guests are more likely to order another round of drinks if they text the request in the moment. If they can’t find the server, they often pass.

But Mississippi restaurant owners were more than a little offended by the mere mention of texting for service.

John Currance, owner and chef at City Grocery in Oxford

John Currance, owner and chef at City Grocery in Oxford

“I honestly cannot say how discouraging this is,” said John Currance, owner of City Grocery in Oxford. “Dining is about an overall experience. All an electronic service like this threatens to do is move us more in the direction of becoming more of a fuel stop…

“I find this service patently insulting because I believe that the dining experience is one which should remain as personalized as possible.”

Jeff Good of Bravo, Sal and Mookies and Broad Street Bakery

Jeff Good of Bravo, Sal and Mookies and Broad Street Bakery

Jeff Good, from Bravo!, Sal and Mookies and Broad Street Bakery in Jackson, was in agreement.

“Have we really come to that?” an indignant Good asks.

“Are we there now… That’s where we are now? We have to text our waiters to get good service?

“In my world, I could not ever imagine having a waiter looking down at his hands on his phone to be checking if Table 54 needed more iced tea.”
But Nilsson argues that his service doesn’t eliminate human contact.
“There’s always a server at the other end,” he told NPR. “You just want to have that contact sooner. If you can’t see them and can’t make that contact, rather than waving your arms or getting up, just use the natural communication and let them know what you need.”

Sounds like it’s losing human contact to me, as well as Good.

“The very definition of service and hospitality is to be one-on-one,  engaged… and responsive to the needs and the nuances of people.

“So you won’t be seeing any texting in our world,” Good continued.

As for Currance, he would rather see all of us, as busy folks, slow down and enjoy a nice meal in a good atmosphere.

“We, as a people, need to stop focusing on what we can do to speed life along and impersonalizing our surroundings, and this is exactly what this service facilitates,” he said. “(It’s) both dehumanizing and potentially puerile.

“It occurs to me, also, that this becomes an intermediate measure for poor management. If when a place becomes too busy for staff to keep up, shouldn’t management step in to adjust? This seems to be a simple and ineffective side-stepping of that area of responsibility.”

Currance walks the walk to go along with the talk.

At City Grocery, almost 20 years after it opened, waiters still hand-write tickets to turn into the kitchen because, Currance says, it maintains an elemental relationship between the front and back of the house. It matters how the servers write the tickets and how the kitchen ultimately responds. It personalizes each of them and establishes a line of communication that is absolutely irreplaceable.

“And I would really wonder what the priorities were of any organization if texting were to become the methodology for service delivery.

“I think that is the antithesis or service,” Good concludes.

“ With each tick of the clock, it seems, we are pulled farther from that as a reality, but if all you are concerned about is speed and efficiency, eat in your car,” Currence says as we wrap up.

I wish that had been my line.

Well said, John.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

More than 99 percent vote for raising alcohol by weight

January 18th, 2011 Comments off

With more than 1,200 votes cast in an Mississippi Business Journal online poll, readers overwhelmingly believe that both chambers of the Mississippi legislature should reconsider their stance that would raise the maximum alcohol content in beer made and sold in Mississippi from 5 percent to 8.

However, Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, argues against a microbreweries beer bill, because he doesn’t want to put his committee members in an uncomfortable position during an election year, it is obvious that political gain is more important than business success.

POLL QUESTION: Should leadership in both chambers reconsider their stance regarding legislation that would raise the maximum alcohol content in beer made and sold in Mississippi from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8

Even Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican candidate for governor, took the same position in a story in the Mississippi Business Journal this week. Bryant said he didn’t see a reasonable benefit to increasing the alcohol content in Mississippi.

If that is the case, Bryant and Kirby must be against more jobs and a better tax base for Mississippi.

In a conversation with the Mississippi Business Journal last week, Coast businessman Dave Dennis, a Republican candidate for governor, said he would be for such a bill and that any concerns about alcohol and morality is about personal responsibility, not politics.

Read Clay Chandler’s Mississippi Marketplace for more information.

Kirby, Bryant prove to be anti-business; Dennis for personal responsibility

January 17th, 2011 Comments off

I have written before about the term “anti-business” and that the perception often doesn’t match the label.

However, when Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, argues against a microbreweries beer bill, because he doesn’t want to put his committee members in an uncomfortable position during an election year, it is obvious that political gain is more important than business success.

POLL QUESTION: Should leadership in both chambers reconsider their stance regarding legislation that would raise the maximum alcohol content in beer made and sold in Mississippi from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8

Even Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican candidate for governor, took the same position in a story in the Mississippi Business Journal this week. Bryant said he didn’t see a reasonable benefit to increasing the alcohol content in Mississippi.

If that is the case, Bryant and Kirby must be against more jobs and a better tax base for Mississippi.

In a conversation with the Mississippi Business Journal last week, Coast businessman Dave Dennis, a Republican candidate for governor, said he would be for such a bill and that any concerns about alcohol and morality is about personal responsibility, not politics.

So, if Dennis sees the financial and jobs benefit of the bill, why not Bryant and Kirby. I’m assuming they would rather see government impose its will on Mississippians instead of allowing for personal responsibility.

Maybe they could meet me for a beer to discuss it.

I mean, there’s no use in being a hypocrite, right?

House wins Biggest Loser, Delta State takes shot at national title

December 15th, 2010 Comments off

Patrick House, a former offensive lineman at Delta State, was last to step on the scales last night at The Biggest Loser finale. The Brandon native needed to have lost 177 pounds to win the $250,000 prize.

When the numbers finally stopped tumbling, the former 400 pounder had lost 182, down to 218 to win the prize. House, who now lives in Vicksburg, plans to to move to South Carolina where he will teach at a school for morbidly obese teens. He plans to share his message of health and exercise and how he overcame his obesity as part of being a teach and a coach at the school.

But, first, House’s former football team, Delta State plays Minnesota-Duluth Saturday for the NCAA Division II national championship.

If you believe in karma, you gotta believe the Statesmen will win their second-ever national championship.

Congratulations to House and good luck Statesmen, uh Okra.

Mississippi rated as least healthy state, again

December 8th, 2010 Comments off

As I sat in my office and ate an orange and drank my water this morning, I was really wanting big plate of eggs, bacon, grits toast and coffee. Then, I read that Vermont has been ranked as the healthiest state in the nation for the fourth consecutive year.

According to the Associated Press, the 2010 American’s Health Rankings released Tuesday put Massachusetts in second place, followed by New Hampshire with Mississippi as the least healthy state.

Yep, there we are again, last. … There is certain to be a press conference somewhere in Mississippi this week where Gov. Haley Barbour will talk of the need to cut more of the state budget, but we have made no concerted effort to put a dent in the obesity epidemic.

Yes, the 2010 Global Obesity Summit was held in Jackson a few weeks ago. There was lots of buildup prior to the event, boasting of how Mississippi is taking a lead role in the fight against fat. But when the dust had settled, there was no announcement of plans made or actions taken.

As a society in Mississippi, we like to talk about the economy and health care and taxes and the irresponsibility those in charge use in dealing with these matters. We like to think that if you just work hard and keep your nose clean, and balance your checkbook, everything will be OK.

But we turn a blind eye to the economic impact of obesity on our state. Somehow, that’s not our problem. Those poor fat folks should just stop eating the junk from the food stamps we give them.

While we rant on about self restraint, there’s a snowball rolling down a mountain straight at us.

Mississippi’s estimated annual healthcare cost attributed to adult obesity (in 2003 dollars) is $757 million, of which $223 million is cost to Medicare and $221 million is cost to Medicaid. Nationally, childhood obesity alone costs Medicaid more than $3 billion annually.

If we continue to talk about self restraint and personal responsibility (while noble), we are going to be run over by runaway medical costs that someone is going to have to pay for.

So, as you have another cup of coffee with that do-nut and ponder this, remember, the time for action is now.