I had a little extra time before meeting a friend at SFMOMA to see the “Soundtracks” exhibit (highly recommended), so I took a detour through for the food court of the Westfield San Francisco Centre on Market Street, looking for interesting brands.
I scored right away. “Interesting” doesn’t even begin to describe Loving Hut.
There is a lot going on here.
This all-vegan fast-food café had just opened for the day and there was already a long line of customers. I stood to the side and marveled at the weird name – a cousin of Pizza Hut, maybe? – and that fantastically hideous logo.
It turns out, I later learned, that there’s a lot going on with the company, too. The website says Loving Hut “is the fastest growing international vegan fast food chain in the world” and also “an accessible starting point for those making the noble transition to a plant-based diet.” A Wikipedia entry says the company was started by “Supreme Master Ching Hai,” but doesn’t reveal the year it was founded or where it’s headquartered. The entry for Ching Hai (a woman, despite the “master” title) says she was born in Vietnam in 1950 and became recognized as a spiritual leader in 1982. (The entry, which is flagged for “multiple issues,” may be full of inaccuracies, but it’s a fascinating read nonetheless.) As of 2014 her culinary empire comprised 138 restaurants worldwide; she has also written, or endorsed, a cookbook.
The Loving Hut U.S. website, besides being a compendium of worst design practices, has a lot of annoying copy like this:
Who decides, and on what basis, when to use “and” and when to throw in an ampersand instead? And how! many! exclamation! points! do! we! really! need?
Onward! The other sign that caught my eye was for Lobster ME.
Tagline: “For the Love of Lobster.” Sooo much love in the Westfield San Francisco Centre.
Lobster ME was born in landlocked Las Vegas, where it received positive reviews; this is its first non-Nevada incarnation. The ME in the name serves double duty: It’s the postal code for Maine, whence the restaurants receive their catch, but it’s pronounced “me,” which turns “Lobster” into a verb.
Other interesting morsels: Main courses at Lobster ME are called “Maines” and include a Knuckle Sandwich and something called a Lobsicle.
“Lobster me” made me think of “Match me, Sidney,” Burt Lancaster’s command to Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success.
Coincidentally, I received notice of another culinary verbing (anthimeria, to use the technical term) just two days later, in an email from reader Sean Bentley. He attached an image of an ad for the burger chain Red Robin in which burger is a verb.
“When you burger with us…”
And it’s not a one-time occurrence. Here’s a paragraph on the Red Robin homepage:
“Countless reasons to burger with us.”
One more sighting, this one just outside the mall proper, at 685 Market Street, downstairs from Uber headquarters.
This is the first West Coast location for Bluestone Lane, an “Australia-inspired” mini-chain of coffee shops. What caught my eye was the #soonmates hashtag: concise, puckish, and – seeing as how the café was originally scheduled to open in Spring 2017 – brand appropriate.
According to a Hoodline story published in April, the café “will serve open-face sandwiches, health bowls, pastries, tea and coffee, including favorites like the ‘flat white,’ Australia's signature drink made with two shots of espresso, combined with frothed milk.” Company founder Nicholas James Stone, whose surname may be the source of the brand name, is from Melbourne, a city with a “premium coffee culture,” or so he says.
UPDATE via Lauren Gawne, a linguist who lives in Melbourne:
Melbourne is famous for its “laneway” culture - small side streets where cafes & boutiques have flourished, giving Melbourne a “Euro” vibe. These streets are cobbled with local bluestone - it’s a very sentimental building material for Melbourne people. I love that the owner's name is also Stone! (“Blue” is also a nickname for a redhead in Aus English, that would be too perfect a story)