People are paying "up to $500 apiece to dine strapped like babies in car seats," on a platform hoisted "180 feet into the air," reports Daniel Michaels in The Wall Street Journal (5/22/13). Dinner in the Sky began in Brussels "six years ago when publicist David Ghysels and crane specialist Stefan Kerkhofs seated 22 people around a chef," suspended in the air by crane. "It’s just a table hanging from a rope," says David, but the experience is now a franchise, operating "in more than 40 countries, serving about 1,000 people each month."
David is also owner of Hakuna Matata, a marketing agency, and originally was thinking in terms of an airborne birthday party for his daughter. At the time, he didn’t know Stefan, who owns "an event company called The Fun Group," and happened to be toying with "the idea of suspending a table.” "A mutual acquaintance introduced the two and they staged their "first meal, in April 2007." The stunt generated interest from the US and Germany, so they began franchising, as well as selling billboard space on the tables to help offset costs.
Success is largely dependent on location: "Dinner in the Sky has run meals with breathtaking views of Rome, Sao Paulo and Sydney, which help if the novelty of elevation wears off." It’s a perfect fit in Las Vegas, "where the idea of two tables going up and down, offering eight ‘flights’ a night," sounds almost normal. David and Stefan are constantly exploring line extensions, like "acrobatic catering" and "cocktails served by tightrope walkers," for instance. They have no plans for undersea dining, because as David explains, "Under water, nobody looks at you except fish."
May 24, 2013 Comments
An abandoned "water tower above a vacant building" is being re-purposed as a lawless nightclub, reports Alex Vadukul in The New York Times (5/23/13). Over "eight weekends in March, April and May," invitation-only guests are guided "through one decrepit building into another and up 12 flights of stairs to the roof." With a helping hand, they squeeze themselves through a trapdoor into the water tower, "a round, wooden space no bigger than a freight elevator, filled with about a dozen people sipping whiskey cocktails." This 21st century speakeasy is known as The Night Heron.
"Above people’s heads, a two-man band – accordion and upright bass – serenade from a platform." "The great thing about the upright bass is how it got up here," says Dirby Luongo, the doorman. "It’s like a ship in a bottle," he added, apparently without further explanation. Indeed, the entire enterprise is as mysterious as it is illegal. N.D. Austin, a 31-year-old artist "known for what he calls ‘trespass theater,’" sourced the water tower by "scouring Building Department records" to pinpoint likely vacant buildings "ripe for adopting as one’s own." N.D. says the point is to make "the invisible visible."
To get into the Night Heron, one "must be handed a pocket watch by a prior guest (who had been instructed to offer minimal explanation), report to a street corner at a certain time, and call a number pasted inside the watch." Watches must be surrendered at the door, but guests have the option of buying "watches at the end of the night if they want to continue the chain of invitation." There are three seatings "per night, each lasting an hour and a half," ending near 3 a.m. All the while, the staff communicates via "headsets, checking that the operation remained unnoticed outside." Several escape routes are planned should police arrive.
May 24, 2013 Comments
"If Starbucks wants to succeed in Vietnam, they have to change the way they serve," says Nguyen Van Minh Khanh in a Wall Street Journal piece by James Hookway (5/18/13). Vietnam is "known for its nerve-jangling strong coffee," that’s "thick" and "oily." Maybe that doesn’t sound like much of a stretch for Starbucks. Then again, Vietnam also prizes its "weasel coffee," made from "beans that have been eaten and digested by civet cats." It’s said to impart a "darker, smoother, flavor," and "can sell for as much as $500 a kilo."
For its part, Starbucks is serving "roast-duck wraps and French-style baguettes," to customers in Ho Chi Mihn City, "which is still referred to as Saigon by locals." But they don’t "use drip filters perched on top of glass mugs" the way the locals like it. Vietnam’s "coffee culture dates back to the 19th century, when locals adopted the habit from French colonizers." So, unlike other Asian markets like India, it’s not a matter of converting people from tea to coffee; they’ve got to compete with well-established coffee purveyors like Trung Nguyen, which already has about 1,000 stores in Vietnam.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says he’s not concerned because Starbucks is not just about the coffee. "The environment that we create, the store design, the experience … they all add up to a much different position to anything that anyone in Vietnam currently occupies," he says. Nguyen Ngoc Mai Huong, 22, agrees: "It was a fresh and exciting experience," she says, adding, "I like the location a lot, but the price is a little high compared with other coffee shops." Howard says that, so far, sales are exceeding expectations. Ms. Huong thinks Starbucks could be onto something, especially with younger consumers.
May 23, 2013 Comments
A whole new kind of Chinese hot-pot experience is coming to America, reports Laurie Burkitt in The Wall Street Journal (5/22/13). Hai Di Lao, "which in Mandarin means ‘fishing in the bottom of the sea,’" is already a hit in China, with some 75 restaurants. It has distinguished itself from competitors through a combination of showmanship and service. For example, given the typically long wait for a table, the waiting area features "internet terminals, board games … unlimited free snacks" as well as shoeshines, manicures and hand massages.
In the dining room, guests are given "full-size aprons" and "lean together over the boiling caldrons embedded in each table, dropping morsels of uncooked meat, fish, vegetables or tofu in a spicy steaming broth, then dipping them in flavorful sauces. On special holidays, magicians in colorful, traditional masks perform tricks. Periodically, a server breaks into the restaurant’s signature Olympic-style ‘noodle dance.’" This involves stretching foot-long wads of dough into at least 10 feet of slender ribbon-like noodle … rippling and swirling it through the air" before "dropping it in the broth."
Founder Zhang Yong thinks this will play well "in the affluent Los Angeles enclave of Acadia," when the first Hai Di Lao will open in America. "One of the great things about Americans is that they are a very curious group of people," he says. He recognizes that certain "broth flavors, like the sour vegetable fish soup" might not work in America and food-safety inspectors might not allow the manicures. He also plans to offer "individual pots rather than the group caldrons used in China." "Whatever they want is what I’ll give them," he says, although "using chopsticks to eat remains a must."
May 23, 2013 Comments
As it turns out, the magnolia tree smells like wealth, reports Ralph Gardner Jr. in The Wall Street Journal (5/9/13). This bit of insight comes courtesy of perfumer Frederic Malle, who should know. He is a grandson of Serge Heftler-Louiche, founder of Parfums Christian Dior, and his mother, Marie-Christine Sayn Wittgenstein "worked at Dior for 47 years, including as its development director and was involved in the creation of the legendary perfume Eau Sauvage.
Jurassic Flower – a scent that smells like magnolia trees (or prosperity) – is one of Frederic’s creations. It was commissioned by the Mark Hotel in New York and permeates its corridors, kind of like "Glade air freshener for billionaires." While it may seem like an obvious idea, Frederic says "most hotels are not scented," although "some casinos" in Las Vegas are. It’s also possible to purchase a spray bottle of Jurassic Flower at his boutique for $150.
Should you visit Frederic’s boutique to get a whiff of wealth, you’ll be directed to a "smelling column … a transparent cylinder about 7 feet high … which circulates the fragrance." You access it through an opening in the cylinder. Frederic says he has "an educated nose," explaining that he approaches his craft like "an art historian." His "education, experience" and powers of deduction enable him to "recognize the component parts and know what to add or subtract to make something special."
May 22, 2013 Comments
Jean-Claude Ellena loves the smell of "human sweat" emitted by a "field of clary sage," reports Pamela Druckerman in a Wall Street Journal review of the Hermes perfumer’s memoir, Diary of a Nose (4/13/13). He is also known to walk the streets of Paris to "sniff pedestrians" to stay current "(he claims he doesn’t need market research to know perfume trends)." Despite such earthy endeavors, he also sees nothing "unpoetic about conjuring the smell of cherries" from synthetics, in part because they "make it possible to affordably mass-produce perfumes."
Jean-Claude is, in fact, "known as a minimalist perfumer" who "has whittled down thousands of possible materials to about 200, which typically form the building blocks of his scents." Despite using a "limited palette," he says he explores nearly unlimited possibilities" by adjusting molecules along a continuum of aromas. His creations often start "with a moment of inspiration – say the scent of a pile of winter pears he happens to pass at an Italian market – then he spends months or years trying to turn this experience into a perfume."
His style is figurative — for example, a green-tea scent has no green tea in it. "When I want to evoke a smell, I use signs that – taken separately – have no connection to the thing I’m expressing." He also "admires a Chanel scent called Gardenia precisely because ‘it does not smell of the flower but of happiness’." His perfumes typically "succeed for the same reason that eclectic Parisian outfits and shop displays often do: Their disparate elements don’t match. Instead, they harmonize and somehow resonate with each other."
May 22, 2013 Comments
Feelings, beliefs and personal identity drive shopper behavior and choices. By Ed Chao. A large, new grocery store opened recently in the historical New England town where I live. The new store is spacious, clean, and pretty much offers everything I would ever need at a decent price. On a rational basis, there is no reason why I shouldn’t shop there. However, I can’t seem to bring myself to switch. Somehow, I just find myself continuing to shop at my old, cramped, and arguably more expensive store, where finding the fresh tagliatelle that I love on any given day is, at best, a 50:50 proposition. There are definitely some complex factors subconsciously driving my behavior.
Consider, as well, your decision whether to go to an old, familiar restaurant for dinner, or the new place around the corner. This is a classic battle between our human need for predictability and our desire for adventure. It is also a tension between two very different emotional pleasures — feeling relaxed or feeling energized. Most consumer decisions are results of complex tugs and pulls from a number of different forces. We don’t make purely rational decisions. Emotions are powerful drivers of our behaviors and choices that precede, and often overwhelm, rational deliberation. But they’re not the only drivers. continue …
May 22, 2013 Comments
With Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, some bicyclists are “rebelling against the tight-and-bright look” he popularized, reports Kevin Helliker in The Wall Street Journal (5/20/13). The look of Lance was, of course, all about Lycra, pointy helmets and brightly colored jerseys – a “team kit” as its called. But since “Armstrong has admitted using performance enhancing drugs … looking like him maybe isn’t so cool.” “People just want to ride bikes without looking like a mamil,” ways Mia Kohout of Momentum, a biking magazine, using a pejorative term for a “middle-aged man in Lycra.”
As a result, “new cycling apparel has emerged from giants like Levi’s, and startups like Swrve, Aether Apparel and Rapha, the Prada of cycling wear. Their customers, they boast, can go from bike to boardroom without changing.” Greg Shapleigh, general manager of Giro, a maker of cycling apparel, meanwhile suggests that the trend away from the Armstrong’s style wasn’t totally a reaction to his faded glory, and had “been in the works for some time.” “The Tour de France just doesn’t mean that much to most people,” he says.
Josh Horowitz of Broken Bones Bicycle Company takes it a step further: “The things we cyclists take pride in are what make other people think we’re idiots,” he says. Cyclist Derek Fox, meanwhile, says the “peacock” look can incite “Spandex rage” among motorists, comparing the reaction to “what a bull must feel when staring at the red cape and golden epaulets of the matador.” With the shift to a more conservative style, cycling in America may begin to resemble Europe, “where biking connotes images of commuters in office wear,” not “sweat-inducing competition.”
May 21, 2013 Comments
A new line of high-tech apparel for commuter bicyclists looks just like office wear, reports Claire Martin in The New York Times (5/19/13). The dress shirts and slacks, via Ministry of Supply, were developed by a gaggle of MIT students who independently but simultaneously were working on filling a gap in the clothing market. "One was Kit Hickey … who had been frustrated that her Brooks Brothers suits were so stiff compared to her rock-climbing togs." Another was Aman Advani, who had been "cutting tubes from his dress socks and stitching them to the feet of his sports socks."
Kit and Aman met Gihan Amarasiriwardena, who had been working on "a dress shirt that could withstand the rigors of bicycle commuting," and his then-collaborator, Kevin Rustagi, at MIT’s entrepreneur center. The foursome decided to join forces as their vision was essentially identical: They are applying "an engineering process used in aerospace design to help understand how the body’s skin moves, so that their garments will stretch in a similar way. They use thermal imaging to find the spots in the body that generate the most heat, so they can determine where to place vents in the shirts."
In some cases, "the fabric was created with a material that NASA designed to regulate astronauts’ body temperatures in 200-degree heat changes … While the primary task of most athletic apparel is to manage sweat, this fabric keeps the body cool, preventing perspiration from occurring in the first place." To make sure the designs are suitably stylish, Ministry of Supply "tapped it customers from its beta stage for feedback … A New York fashion designer then incorporated the suggestions into new designs … Since last June, the company has sold 128,000 shirts and pants through its website and its Boston showroom."
May 21, 2013 Comments
"E-commerce as a term will become obsolete in five or six years," says Neil Bloomenthal in Knowledge@Wharton (5/11/13). It’s an unlikely prediction, perhaps, from the co-founder of Warby Parker, an e-commerce venture widely credited with disrupting the eyewear category with high-quality, fashionable, inexpensive ($95) frames. But it wasn’t long after Warby Parker launched its e-commerce site that customers began emailing them, asking to visit their headquarters to try on glasses in person. At the time, "headquarters" was just an apartment, but Neil and his co-founders agreed, and "something special happened," says Neil.
"They saw us sitting on the couch, working our laptops, responding to orders, talking on the phone with customers. They saw the people behind the brand, which is so rare … We realized we could learn from those customers – what they liked and what they wanted. Those people became some of our best customers." Warby Parker has now taken that insight to its logical manifestation – "an expansive store in New York City’s Soho neighborhood" that opened in April and quickly attracted "lines down the block to get in." "This is the convergence of e-commerce and bricks and mortar," says Neil. "The idea that it’s one or the other is ridiculous."
Neil says Warby Parker "chose Soho because it has an art and literary history … Our store is near where many of the ‘Beat’ writers used to eat and drink," he says. The design is "inspired by classic libraries … with books and old-school rolling library ladders. An in-store optometrist is on hand to perform eye exams seven days a week for $50. Shoppers may track their appointments on the appointment board, designed after the train arrival and departure boards at Grand Central station. Another store is planned for Boston." The retailer also has "stores-within-stores" boutiques in LA, Nashville and San Francisco.
May 20, 2013 Comments