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Wednesday, Dec 18 1996
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Caribbean Sunset
If you've never been to Miss Pearl's Jam House, the Caribbean restaurant with live reggae music in the Tenderloin's Phoenix Hotel, you'd better make haste. The restaurant will end its seven-year run in a New Year's Eve blowout that will clear the way for a new venture still shrouded in secrecy.

"I'm not free to say what will fill the space left by Miss Pearl's," says a source close to Joie de Vivre, the company that owns and operates both hotel and restaurant, "but there will be a surreal aquatic theme." The new operation will be "predominantly a bar joint," the source says, but there will be "sort of atypical" food service -- something, apparently, we haven't seen before.

Miss Pearl's rode twin crests of popularity when Caribbean food and reggae music were hot at the end of the 1980s. But in recent years the restaurant, while doing better than breaking even, was "not doing well enough," the source says. "It had come to its time," the source says, "and it's time to try something new. The Tenderloin is ripe for it." Whatever it is.

Bean Counting
Nearly a year ago, a significant drop in coffee prices was predicted in this very column -- but so far the retail prices of beans have yet to follow wholesale prices downward, and they're not likely to, says Jerry Baldwin, chairman of Peet's Coffee & Tea. That's largely because operating costs -- "rent, salaries, utilities, wages, benefits, the whole nine yards" -- account for an ever-greater share of the total cost of selling a pound of coffee.

"Our service depends on our people," Baldwin says, "and we have to pay more to get and keep the people we want. And benefits are important. Even our young part-timers now are overwhelmingly interested in health benefits. It's amazing how insecure they feel."

Last year's price spike did affect the coffee-drinking public for a while, Baldwin thinks, driving them toward less expensive blends. "But for the most part, people only pay attention to coffee prices when they're in the news," he says.

And, a year later, people seem to have gotten used to the higher prices of whole-bean coffee. At Pasqua, the issue is slightly different, because, unlike Peet's, the chain emphasizes over-the-counter drink sales rather than beans. "The actual price of the coffee in a latte is small," says Paul Schumer of Pasqua. "Eighty percent of a latte is milk, and dairy prices have gone up substantially in recent months. So have paper prices." But Schumer says that, despite it all, "there hasn't been much change" in the cost of Pasqua drinks. And for bean shoppers, "Pasqua's prices have been steady for years."

By Paul Reidinger
sfwdish@aol.com

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