Even eateries with $850-a-bottle vinegar feel bite of trade wars

Date: Wednesday, October 30th, 2019
Source: AJOT

President Donald Trump’s trade wars have upset the calculus for some of the most momentous decisions shaping the world economy, from central banks to global corporations.

And some of the least important ones, too -– like where to have lunch in Los Angeles.

Trump’s latest tariffs take effect Friday: A 25% charge on gourmet imports from Europe, like French wine, Italian cheese, Spanish olives and Scotch whiskies. The president, who’s thrown markets into turmoil with his trade campaigns, has approval this time from the World Trade Organization. It said the measure to slap duties on $7.5 billion of European goods is a justified retaliation against Europe’s airplane subsidies.

At the Monsieur Marcel market and restaurant at LA’s historic Original Farmers Market—where lunchtime crowds enjoy customized cheese trays and charcuterie boards—owner Stephane Strouk said he’ll probably raise prices as a result.

‘A Little Piece’

Some customers are rich enough not to object –- or even notice -– if tariffs bump up their bill a bit, says Strouk, who stocks 100-year-old vinegar at $850 a bottle. But they’re in the minority, he says.

“The impact will be for the people who like to buy a little piece of cheese,” Strouk said.

About 60% of what he sells is from Europe, and he says the tariffs will squeeze his margins.

He’s doing a shipment now, he says, without knowing exactly how much he’ll have to pay extra until the shipment clears customs. “I can only hope it isn’t hit.”

Shop Local

A few miles away at Sqirl, a vibey counter-service joint with lines well outside the door, owner Jessica Koslow can afford to be more relaxed.

After getting started as a jam-maker, Koslow took the farm-to-table approach when she set up her restaurant. Most of her suppliers are a drive away.

“I feel protected from the trade war in some ways,” she says. “I’m a supporter of shop local.”

She’s not entirely immune. Koslow says you get Comte cheese, on her menu as a $2-$3 add-on to sandwiches or omelets, from cow’s milk in eastern France—and it would be hard to substitute its “elegant” flavor. She doesn’t see good alternatives to “smooth” Swiss chocolate or European wines, either.

‘That’s Not Fair’

While they’re affected differently, both restaurateurs say they see the complexities of trade disputes.

Strouk, a Frenchman who emigrated to the U.S. decades ago, said he’s not an admirer of aviation subsidies in his native Europe. “That’s not fair,” he says, expressing hope that a deal can be reached. “But why hit gourmet foods?”

Koslow worries that other countries will respond with their own tariffs –- which could hit the farmers she buys from. “I wouldn’t want to see local producers heavily affected,” she says.

In her next venture, she might be more exposed. Koslow is set to open a new restaurant called Onda later this month near the beach in Santa Monica, with Mexican celebrity chef Gabriela Camara.

Alongside Californian fare, it will serve Mexican avocados and seafood from the Baja peninsula –- the kind imports that Trump was threatening to tax just a few months ago. Koslow calls her new restaurant a “border-defying” collaboration.

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