I can safely say I’ll probably never taste the $5,000 burger at Fleur in Las Vegas, or even the $1,000 pizza at Nino’s Bellissima in New York (no matter how much caviar you pile on that pie). But I never thought I’d see the day when a plate of barbecue brisket seemed out of reach.
The brisket in question was the initially priced $130 entry to the Aaron Franklin pop-up at San Francisco’s Magnolia Brewery in the Dogpatch neighborhood. Franklin is the James Beard-award winning chef from Austin, Texas, whose bbq can draw 2-hour-plus waits at his Franklin Barbecue restaurant. The San Francisco pop-up is a stop on Franklin’s tour to promote his new cookbook.
Not surprisingly, the pop-up tickets sold out in just a few minutes when it went on sale on Friday. (And maybe because it feared some backlash from the initially publicized $130 per-head ticket, organizers quietly dropped the price to $70 right before tickets went on sale.)
But when I thought it was $130, I contemplated going and tried to get some other passionate food-loving friends to also buy a ticket so I’d have someone to go with (because buying two tickets for $260 would be way over my budget). None of my friends took the bait, no matter how many cookbooks they would get nor how many minutes we’d get to rub elbows with the chef on the docks of Magnolia Brewery. (Let’s face it, Franklin may be a bbq genius, but he’s no Jamie Oliver or Ferran Adria.)
More Events Become Out-of-Reach
Franklin’s pop-up is just one of the many food experiences in my backyard of San Francisco that I can no longer afford to attend. Like how I can probably never experience the supposed brilliance of Chef Joshua Skenes at his Saison restaurant because I just can’t imagine having the $248 for the 20-course tasting menu. Nor will I likely be able to dine among the fields when dinner at the farm would be $225 for one.
It’s not to say that I don’t spend big money for an amazing dining experience. I have a decent job (not my work as a food blogger, but my day job that pays my mortgage), making what would be a decent salary anywhere in the United States but is considered a median wage in the Bay Area. But it affords me the discretionary funds to go out and dine out, and the occasional “special celebration” dinners, such as my recent $160 meal at San Francisco’s Lazy Bear.
But these aren’t regular nights out. (My Lazy Bear dinner was actually a special treat to myself for my birthday.) Which makes me wonder, who exactly are going to these $200-plus dinners or high-priced pop-ups?
I surmise that it’s likely the new generation of technology workers, the ones filling the shiny new Twitter building on Market Street or the ones who will likely fill the towering Salesforce.com building planned for downtown; the same people who are fueling the growth of luxury condos being built around the city.
I have nothing against tech workers. It’s the tech industry that’s helping to pull the Bay Area out of the last recession, and helping to firm up the once flagging housing market. But their spending is feeding what I believe is the high prices demanded by landlords and restauranteurs. Why are restaurants charging so much for their food? Many point to the high cost of ingredients, especially when shopping for organic or sustainable goods. But in many cases the simple answer is because they can. Someone is willing to pay the price, and these days it’s those in the tech industry.
A Sign of Gentrification?
When the Franklin BBQ pop-up was initially priced at $130 per head, SFgate.com ran a poll asking if the price was worth it or whether this was a sign of the gentrification of San Francisco. Can you guess what everyone said? (The far majority of respondents chose the gentrification answer.)
There are other pop-ups or food events that I can afford to attend. And I’d probably have more fun knowing I’m not spending away my future just for the experience. But there’s a sadness to see that where I live, there are food experiences that are beyond the reach of many. This elite group of diners are enjoying experiences that many will never understand or appreciate.
Chefs need to make money and they need to support their families. But shouldn’t part of their food creations be shared by many so they get a wide-range of feedback? Shouldn’t part of the joy of cooking be seeing the joy of happy diners from all walks of life, not just those from a particular wage class?
Restaurants and food events shouldn’t be exclusive to a particular segment of society, or what I’m calling “techclusive,” because I want to live in a society where we all have the ability to experience simple pleasures like a good plate of barbecue.
Photo from the Franklin Barbecue website.
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