Here’s the lede to my recent Food for Thought column:
Steve Zimmerman, owner of La Colombe d’Or, the fabulous historic boutique hotel and classic restaurant now known as Cinq, made national headlines during the 1980’s oil bust by offering an executive lunch for the day’s price of oil.
“We were actually just thinking about bringing it back,” laughs Zimmerman. “If the oil prices drop into the $40 range per barrel maybe we’ll do an Oil Barrel Special, a three-course dinner for the price of oil.”
“We’ll dust off the old oil barrel and set it up in the lobby of La Colombe d’Or. After your dinner we’ll check on the current price of crude and that’s what you’ll be charged for the meal.”
Guess what? Today, as oil plummeted to $45.98 per barrel, Zimmerman announced that he will start an Oil Barrel Special dinner beginning Wednesday, January 14.
“We’re going to offer a three-course fixed dinner,” he says. “We’ll dust off the old oil barrel and set it up in the lobby of La Colombe d’Or. After your dinner we’ll check on the current price of crude and that’s what you’ll be charged for the meal.”
One caveat: no substitutions. Not that that should be a problem considering the lovely dishes that chef Victor Pena puts out.
Zimmerman adds that the special will be based on whatever is fresh that day and will include an appetizer, entrée and dessert.
“It was fun back in 1986,” he says. “People would call us everyday and ask what the special was. If they didn’t like it, I’d just tell them to come in tomorrow because the menu changed everyday.”
During the bust Zimmerman’s idea made international headlines and he’s been dusting off the old clips from German, Japanese and French newspapers lately. At one point the lunch special was selling for $9.
“I can’t believe it’s almost 30 years later and we’re doing this again,” he says. “But it will be fun.”
Probably more fun then in the '80s when it was a way to stay afloat during the crash. Today’s shrinking oil prices will likely have less effect on Houston businesses as the city’s industries are more diversified. Still, local restaurants are keeping an eye on the price per barrel and wondering if it will help or hurt their bottom line. Low pump prices mean more disposable income for customers and possibly less fuel tax surcharges from produce providers. But the low prices are also causing some energy companies to lay off staff, slow some development projects and cause a general wait and see attitude that could cause consumers to slow their spending.
And then there’s this: As KTRK reported on Jan. 9, “Mattress Mack” is offering another Gallery Furniture special. From now until Feb. 1, the first 500 customers who buy $7,000 worth of furniture or more could wind up getting their goods for free. He will give them their money back if oil is $85 a barrel or higher at the end of this year.
So the bad news is oil prices are dropping and that’s not good for the Houston economy. The good news is oil prices are dropping and that could be good news for consumers.