Saturday, August 12, 2017

For Your Convenience

You may feast until you are full:

"We spent a day eating convenience store food. What could go wrong?" by Nestor Ramos Globe Staff  August 11, 2017

‘Oh thank heaven,” 7-Eleven’s famous tagline begins, but some of the food we turn to in a pinch seems to come from the other place: hot dogs slowly shriveling on a roller grill; packaged baked goods filled with a list of preservatives longer than the Book of Jeremiah; sad, limp fruit that passes for health food.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Naturally, we started at a 7-Eleven. The world’s largest convenience chain with about 63,000 stores is said to be improving its food offerings in the United States, giving franchisees more leeway to offer locals things they might like, according to a February story in industry publication Convenience Store Decisions (What? You don’t subscribe?). 7-Eleven declined my requests to discuss the company’s changing food options, or suggest a particular store that best reflects that vision.

Whether that vision involves tucking into a package of oddly plasticine hard-boiled eggs outside the State Street 7-Eleven, I can’t say. But I also can’t recommend that particular experience. Nor can I vouch for the iced coffee, which a display helpfully suggests you prepare to your specifications by filling a Big Gulp cup with ice at the soda machine, then dumping scalding hot coffee directly on top. Dunkin’ is in no danger from this particular competitor. A sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin reasonably approximated the McDonald’s version after a few seconds in the industrial microwave. Maybe one of the fresh fruit options, some but not all of which were past their expiration date, would have been a better choice.

We moved on. The Framingham-based Cumberland Farms chain is probably the best local option for transplanted Wawa devotees. The coffee is good and cheap. The bakery items are fresh and filling. And the chain’s “new concept” locations — mostly well outside the city, though the store in Southie has been remodeled — are practically palatial. The store we went to in Somerville, sadly, is not. Avoid the French toast breakfast sandwich at all costs: The combination of slimy and salty has a distinct Donner Party vibe.

But things really began to go off the rails at Speedway, an Ohio-based gas and convenience chain. Eating at every gas station you pass is a good recipe for regret, but none are quite so profound as the “Boneless BBQ Rib Hoagie” here. The microwave at the Allston Speedway is inexplicably at ankle height, so heating up your sandwich involves placing it uncomfortably close to the floor. The industrial pork patty inside the sandwich appeared to have been created by running over a hog carcass with a tank a few times. It’s the McRib you get at the McDonald’s drive-through in hell.

It was 10:30 in the morning. We were already starting to feel sick. Enough with the chains: We headed around the corner to Night Star Convenience in Allston, where $5 gets you a perfectly good sub — the kind of cold-cut sandwich you might make at home before heading to the beach. (Of course, if pre-making sandwiches at home was the kind of thing we could be counted on to do consistently, the world would not need 63,000 7-Elevens.)

Perhaps because of the preponderance of college kids and young adults around, Allston is now studded with convenience stores. In the 40 years Alexandra Pappas has been behind the counter at Coolidge Market, an old-fashioned corner store on a side street off of Allston’s main drag, the industry she entered when she arrived from Greece has overwhelmed her. Within maybe 3,000 feet of her shop, there are two 7-Elevens, two Speedways, at least two other corner stores, and a Star supermarket.

Pappas can’t compete, and mostly gave up trying. The collection of sundries for sale appears to be almost random: ketchup and Klondike bars and a few bags of chips. Pappas doesn’t believe in the lottery, and she keeps several lightly used pairs of her own shoes on one of the shop’s otherwise empty shelves in case someone wants a pair.

But if you can find a better Italian sandwich for $4.50 anywhere in Massachusetts, you’re probably better off keeping that secret to yourself. Pappas carefully layered pickles and peppers and tomatoes and cold cuts and oil and vinegar onto a sub roll until they were heaped so high it would not close. She lives upstairs, and one of her sons, who works in commercial real estate, pops in to help out when he can.

It wasn’t even noon, and we were stuffed full of salami and capicola and Klondike bars. Following a reader suggestion, we took the Turnpike out to Waltham, where local Latin-American convenience store Despensa Familiar recently opened a second location on Elm Street, with a full-on meat market and hot-food counter in the back of a small convenience store. I ate more of a guacamole-slathered steak hoagie, topped with vinegary slaw, hot sauce, and mayo, than was reasonable.

North of the city, we found further redemption at two gas stations. In Stoneham, the Circle K convenience store at the Mobil station on Main Street is serving up legitimately good fried chicken from the Krispy Krunchy chain, cooked in the little kitchen out back. Cheaper and better than that big chain that isn’t Popeye’s, the chicken is crisp and meaty and piping hot — and they’ll even fry up some fish for you.

Check the case up front for all manner of fried goodies, such as corn dogs and softball-sized spheres of breaded macaroni and cheese. There’s a small sign out front, but I’d driven by that gas station more than a few times and had no clue what was going on inside until a reader recommended it.

Slice Pizza & More, inside the AL Prime gas station in Wakefield, isn’t much of a secret at this point. It’s a full-blown pizza joint in the back of a fairly typical quickie mart, churning out gourmet pizzas and sandwiches and giant, New York-style slices.

It was 3 in the afternoon. We’d had eight meals. Despite spending all day in an air-conditioned car, I was sweating profusely. I missed my diet of raw almonds and undressed kale.

But pizza? Always.

I folded up the slice of pepperoni that appeared to be a quarter of a large pizza and stuffed it into my face hole. Even piled atop the day’s chaos in my stomach, it was a delicious slice. And so convenient!


Should have ordered in:

"Snap, Blue Apron fall flat as incumbents smash the upstarts" by Alex Barinka Bloomberg News  August 11, 2017

Snap Inc. and Blue Apron Holdings Inc. are learning it’s hard to make the case to public markets that you’re the scrappy, young disrupter of large incumbents when your own user growth is slowing.

The two companies reported disappointing earnings Thursday, sending their newly public shares plummeting. Both initially lured investors with niche products and rapid user growth, but the narratives have been dashed by behemoth competition — Facebook in the case of Snap and for Blue Apron.

It’s a turnabout for two of the most prominent technology initial public offerings of 2017, and a cautionary tale for private companies considering their own share sales. So deep is the loss of trust that analysts at firms that led the IPOs have downgraded both stocks, saying they were wrong about their initial advice to clients.

Snap reported a fourth consecutive quarter of slowing growth in the number of daily users for its app compared with a year earlier. The company had asserted that the app would gain popularity as it updated with new features, but product updates like a map to find friends so far haven’t accelerated user growth. The stock fell about 14 percent to $11.83 Friday, its lowest price yet since its March IPO.

Snap has touted its disappearing photo app as being all about using the camera for communication — a narrower aim than some of its social media peers. But social network giant Facebook and its Instagram photo app have copied Snap’s key features to lure away users and the advertising dollars that follow them.

Blue Apron says it’s selling a lifestyle around its weekly meal-kit boxes. It was an assertion meant to differentiate it from e-commerce giant Amazon, which has filed for a patent of its own delivery kits and recently agreed to purchase grocer Whole Foods Market.

Blue Apron doled out cash on marketing to lure customers leading up to the IPO. In the last quarter, it slashed that spending almost in half compared with the three months prior and its customer count slid by 9 percent. Investors balked at the numbers, sending the stock down 18 percent. On Friday, the stock slipped to $5.12, nearly half its initial stock price of $10 on June 28.


RelatedBlue Apron stock now less than the price of one of its meals

The pump-and-dump scheme left you with Penney stocks:

"J.C .Penney results extend a gloomy week for retailers" by Joseph Pisani Associated Press  August 12, 2017

NEW YORK — Another quarter of falling same-store sales from J.C. Penney Co. came a day after similar reports from Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Dillard’s, as people increasingly avoid malls and shop online or at discount retailers. Nordstrom stood alone, reporting that its same-store sales rose in the most recent quarter.

At established Penney stores, sales fell 1.3 percent during the second quarter. It was the fourth straight quarter of declines for Penney, and it was worse than the 1.2 percent drop that Wall Street analysts expected, according to FactSet.

Penney said its results were hurt by the closing of about 130 stores during the quarter.

‘‘We’ve never liquidated this many stores at one time,’’ said CEO Marvin Ellison, during a conference call Friday.

Penney, which has about 875 stores left, is making a number of moves to try and reverse its fortunes. The company said it signed a new deal to sell Electrolux and Frigidaire products.....



"Man who robbed banks in Manchester, N.H., gets 10-year prison term" by Travis Andersen Globe Staff  August 11, 2017

A 41-year-old man who robbed three banks in Manchester, N.H., and Hooksett last year received a 10-year federal prison sentence Friday, prosecutors said.

Michael Giles, a former Manchester resident, was later arrested after one of the November robberies when “the motor scooter [he] was riding failed to start,” the statement said.

He pleaded guilty in April.

Jonathan R. Saxe, Giles’s public defender, wrote in a court filing earlier this month that he and prosecutors had agreed on a 10-year sentencing request as part of a plea deal.

Giles’s prior criminal record includes a 2008 robbery of another bank in Manchester. He received a 30-month prison term in that case, which was also brought in federal court.

According to an affidavit filed in the earlier case, Giles robbed a Citizens Bank location on North Elm Street in Manchester on Nov. 28, 2008. He made off with about $1,700 after passing a note to a teller, the affidavit said.

In the case for which Giles was sentenced Friday, his lawyer had said in a court filing that he “suffered through a chaotic and tragic childhood” that included run-ins with an abusive father who once held a loaded gun to his head.

Is that supposed to excuse him?

“Bank robbery is undoubtedly a serious crime that warrants serious punishment simply from the point of protecting the public,” Saxe wrote. “The requested 10 year sentence is such a sentence. It is also important, however, that Giles receive appropriate and much needed mental health treatment both while incarcerated and during his period of supervision.”

Unless you are too big to jail, of course.


Must be contagious:

"Wells Fargo & Co. chairman Stephen Sanger (left) will likely step down before the company’s next shareholder meeting early next year as part of a shake-up of the board of directors, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Vice chairman Elizabeth Duke will probably replace Sanger atop the San Francisco-based company’s board, according to the newspaper. Wells Fargo said last week that the board is reviewing its own “structure, composition and practices,” which will lead to actions to be announced later in the third quarter. Calls for changes on the board intensified last month after the bank said 500,000 clients might have unwittingly paid for protection against vehicle loss or damage while making monthly loan payments, even though many drivers already had their own insurance policies. The disclosure follows a scandal last year in which the company acknowledged that it may have opened millions of unauthorized deposit and credit-card accounts."

Is the rearranging of deck chairs rea$$uring you?

"Wall Street? A new survey shows that jobs outside of Wall Street are becoming increasingly enticing to recent MBA graduates. According to data from Training the Street, investment banks were a top employment choice for just 19 percent of respondents. Not only is that a drop of 7 percent from last year, it’s also the lowest level in the eight-year history of the survey. The survey, conducted in June, included more than 200 recent graduates. Other employment options hit record levels of preference this year. Top choices included consulting firms at 20 percent, corporate development at a Fortune 2000 company at 13 percent, and boutique banks at 12 percent. One sector that lagged behind was startups, as people become increasingly worried about valuations and stability at a number of firms as they either delay going public or struggle in the public market, such as Snap Inc. and Blue Apron Holdings Inc. Startups were the top choice for a mere 5 percent of MBAs."

Worried where their next meal will come from.

"Kraft Heinz Co., struggling to ignite sales growth amid punishing grocery-industry competition, is turning to media magnate Oprah Winfrey to break out of a prolonged slump. Winfrey, pivotal to the turnaround at Weight Watchers International Inc. since she bought a stake in that company and agreed to pitch the brand, is the face of a new line of refrigerated soups and side dishes made without artificial flavors and dyes. The products have begun hitting shelves and will be available nationwide in October, Kraft Heinz said Wednesday. Winfrey’s wide-ranging appeal makes her an attractive spokesman for products, and Kraft Heinz is hoping that a bit of her mojo will help it ignite sales growth. The company describes the new products, which will be sold under the “O, That’s Good!” brand, as “nutritious twists” on comfort foods like mashed potatoes and broccoli cheddar soup."

That's if you can't get a date:

"A billionaire hedge fund manager has apologized for an online post saying that a black New York state senator has ‘‘done more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood’’ because of her support for teachers unions. Daniel Loeb issued a statement saying he regrets the language he used in the Facebook post about the Senate minority meader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat. The post was an apparent reference to the white headgear of the Ku Klux Klan. It was deleted late Thursday. Loeb, the CEO of the investment firm Third Point, is a top donor to the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo and many other politicians. Loeb’s Facebook post was in response to a story in The New York Times earlier this week on the ongoing tension between Cuomo, mainline Democrats, and a Democratic Senate faction led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx who broke ranks with the party to empower Republicans, who now control the Senate....."

He had a choice between Melissa McCarthyJennifer Lawrence, or Taylor Swift.

"A retired corporate executive says in a lawsuit that a high-end matchmaking service set her up with a string of highly unsuitable suitors, including men who were married, mentally unstable, or felons. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Darlene Daggett, former president for US commerce for the West Chester-based home shopping channel QVC, settled a lawsuit against Corte Madera, Calif.-based Kelleher International hours after it was filed in federal court last week. However, court filings shed light on what Daggett alleged were a series of bad courtships that fell short of what the dating service promised. Daggett says she paid $150,000 for a membership that guaranteed her matches from around the globe. Kelleher chief executive Amber Kelleher-Andrews (right) says ‘‘it doesn’t always work out,’’ but her company works to end courtships ‘‘fairly and reasonably.’’

 Think ‘The Bachelorette,’ readers.

So where do you wanna go eat?

"Chipotle has temporarily closed a Dallas location where a diner posted video of rodents inside the restaurant....."

At least they found out where the sicknesses were coming from:

"109 US salmonella cases now linked to papayas from Mexico" Associated Press  August 08, 2017

DES MOINES — An increasing number of people, including three from Massachusetts, have been sickened by eating papaya now traced to a farm located in southern Mexico, US public health officials said in an update on the outbreak first reported more than two weeks ago.

Salmonella has sickened 109 people in 16 states and 35 were serious enough to be hospitalized, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its webpage dedicated to the outbreak. One person in New York City died.

Papaya traced to the Carica de Campeche farm in Campeche, Mexico, appears to be the likely source, the FDA said Monday. The farm is located on the Gulf of Mexico side of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The company did not respond to an e-mail and phones went unanswered on Tuesday. A storm warning was posted for the area as Tropical Storm Franklin was making its way across the Yucatan Peninsula.

Papayas from the Carica de Campeche farm tested positive for five different strains of salmonella bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and fever. Young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are the most likely to have severe infections.

Cases in New York nearly tripled to 36 since the last report on July 21 and New Jersey cases have more than doubled to 26. Virginia has had 11 cases, Pennsylvania seven, and Maryland has had six.

Connecticut and Minnesota each have four cases, and Massachusetts has had three.

Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oklahoma have reported two cases and Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have had one each.

The FDA said it is working with Mexican food safety authorities to conduct inspections.

The CDC said laboratory evidence using genetic testing has connected some of the illnesses to papaya from the farm.


I'm not feeling too good myself.

Time to lie down on the couch and watch a movie:

"Leaked e-mail shows HBO negotiating with hackers" by Matt O’Brien and Tali Arbel Associated Press  August 11, 2017

BOSTON — Hackers released an e-mail from HBO in which the company expressed willingness to pay them $250,000 as part of a negotiation over electronic data swiped from HBO’s servers.

The July 27 e-mail was sent by John Beyler, an HBO executive who thanked the hackers for ‘‘making us aware’’ of previously unknown security vulnerabilities. The executive asked for a 1-week delay and said HBO was willing to make a ‘‘good faith’’ payment of $250,000, calling it a ‘‘bug bounty’’ reward for IT professionals rather than a ransom.

HBO declined to comment. A person close to the investigation confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail, but said it was an attempt to buy time and assess the situation.

The same hackers have subsequently released two dumps of HBO material and demanded a multimillion-dollar ransom.

Whether or not HBO ever intended to follow through with its $250,000 offer, the e-mail raised questions Friday among security professionals about the importance of the data as well as how it will affect future attacks.

‘‘It’s interesting that they’re spinning it as a bug bounty program,’’ said Pablo Garcia, CEO of FFRI North America, based in Aliso Viejo, Calif. ‘‘They’re being extorted. If it was a bug bounty, it’d be on the up and up.’’

Beyler’s e-mail to the hackers said the company was working ‘‘very hard’’ to review all the material they provided, and also trying to figure out a way to make a large transaction in bitcoin, the hackers’ preferred payment method.

Then it will be easy for the NSA and other data collecting governments and agencies to track, and that right there tells you it is nothing but a game being played by government, software security firms, and the pre$$.

‘‘You have the advantage of having surprised us,’’ Beyler wrote. ‘‘In the spirit of professional cooperation, we are asking you to extend your deadline for one week.’’


Time to take a week off.