Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What’s In Your Garage? Part III

Just two days before this article was submitted to the publisher, Stephen Chu, President Obama’s Energy Secretary, made an announcement that will insure that the Tesla Motors Model S sedan, described two months ago in this column, will become a reality. Tesla had requested a $465 million low interest loan from the government (that will be granted) in order to construct factories to support the production of a new four door plug-in electric vehicle that seats seven and will travel up to 300 miles on each battery charge. The anticipated price is $49,900, after a $7,500 tax credit, Production is now estimated to start in 2011 in a state-of-the- art factory that will employ some 1,000 workers.

Top University for CEO’s

Here is a fascinating and impressive statistic: Of the 100 largest companies in a particular country (not the United States), 90 of those companies are headed up by a CEO who graduated from one and the same university. In fact, the CEO’s of 70 percent of the country’s major corporations are graduates of that same university. That country, Israel, is second only to the United States with over 70 publicly traded companies listed on NASDAQ, and graduates of that selfsame university led one third of them.

While Harvard and the University of Wisconsin top the list of U.S. universities, each graduating as many as 13 who are now CEO’s of one of the 500 companies listed on the Standard & Poor’s (S&P 500) Index, that number is only two percent of the total for each school, not even close to the figures listed above. Those amazing statistics have been compiled by a University in Israel named Technion –– Israel Institute of Technology, considered to be the MIT of Israel. (For more information, google American Technion Society, or go to

One of the most prominent and certainly the most recently publicized Technion trained CEO today is Shai Agassi (he entered Technion at age 15), a true visionary whose company Better Place was cited by Deutche Bank analysts as having an approach that could be a paradigm shift that causes “massive disruptions to the auto industry,” and which “has the potential to eliminate the gasoline engine altogether.” That’s almost the equivalent of the headline that accompanied an article in this space in March 2008 that read, “Creative Destruction –– the All Electric Car = the End of Oil?,” although the Viewpointe article preceded the Bank analysis by one month. While the timing of both of those statements might have been considered premature when published some 16 months ago, in reviewing the recent progress that Agassi has made in the development of his vision, they now appear to be understated. For those who did not read (and for those who do not remember) the original Viewpointe article, allow me to provide some new and exciting information.

The Visionary

Shai Agassi is a 41-year-old Israeli/American (he has dual citizenship) who started several software companies upon graduating from Technion, and at age 28 sold one of them to the giant German software company SAP for over $400 million. Agassi then became SAP’s President of the Product and Technology Group, and in 2007 was the leading candidate for the CEO position). While attending a workshop at the World Economic Council that year (the objective was to come up with ideas to make the world a “better place,” thus the name of Agassi’s new company), he came up with a scheme that would totally disrupt the existing automotive ecosystem thereby (hopefully) enabling the ascendance and ultimate dominance of the electric car.

Agassi’s business plan is described in the Economist as follows: “Surprisingly, Mr. Agassis’s firm [Better Place] does not make cars. Instead, his novel approach is to look at electric transport as a system in which cars, batteries, recharging points, electrical utilities, and billing systems must all work together. It is in other words, a systems integration problem of the kind he used to deal with at SAP.” Green Car Congress recounts Agassi’s concept as follows: “ The business model for the electric cars will be similar to that used by mobile phone operators. In the same way that wireless operators deploy a network of cell towers to provide an area of mobile phone coverage, Project Better Place will establish a network of charging spots and battery exchange stations to provide ubiquitous access to electricity to power electric vehicles. The company will partner with carmakers and source batteries so that consumers who subscribe to the network can get subsidized vehicles, which are cheaper to buy and operate than today’s fuel-based cars. Consumers will still own their cars and will have multiple car models to choose from.” Shortly after the World Economic Council meeting, , Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, who read Agassi’s plan, prevailed on him to leave SAP to pursue his vision with Israel as his first customer.
An Expanding Disruptive Technology

That the conclusions originally reached by Deutche Bank and my article in Viewpointe might have been understated can now be confirmed, not alone from the amazing success achieved by Mr. Agassi in persuading the top leaders in the government of Israel to adopt and implement his plan (as described in the Viewpointe article), but since that original report some 16 months ago, Mr., Agassi has had several more triumphs. This is exemplified by the fact that the Israeli connection was not a one time phenomenon –– Mr. Agassi now has working arrangements with Denmark, Australia, Japan, Hawaii, Canadian Ontario, and cities within the San Francisco Bay area, to test and/or install Better Place charging stations and battery replacement stations, along with autos supplied by Renault-Nissan.

An Economist article described Mr. Agassi as “the best salesman in the industry after Steve Jobs of Apple.” It continued, “Like the charismatic Mr. Jobs, he seems to possess a ‘reality distortion field’ that enables him to convince listeners to believe whatever he says.” (Listening to him speak reminds me very much of Barack Obama). As an example of his speaking abilities, the Economist described a speech he gave in Berlin at an annual conference of a large German business association. (In a cultural irony, here was an Israeli/American Jew addressing what you might think would be a suspicious and dubious German audience). The Economist reported, “By the end of the speech, the mood was that of a religious gathering, with enthusiastic faces, loud cheers and a standing ovation.”

Come the Revolution…

Probably Agassi’s most transformational idea is buying an electric vehicle without owning the battery. That might be considered radical except for the fact that the battery is by far the most expensive component in the car. A battery could cost between $10,000 to $20,000. Essentially, the buyer pays Better Place for the battery by purchasing a contract for the miles he or she intends to use so the initial purchase price of the car is reduced accordingly. This is similar to how you pay for a cell phone where the cost of the phone is subsidized, but the provider includes the real cost of the phone in a contract based on the number of minutes used.

That’s where the concept of battery-swapping (also called battery switching) stations comes into play. It is one of the defining factors of Agassi’s vision. In order to extend the range of electric vehicles beyond the point where a lengthy recharging session is required, a logical option would be to just replace the depleted battery with a new one, just as you would with any battery operated product. His original goal for how long it would take to replace a battery was five minutes. This was based on his statement that, “If we can’t do this in less time than it takes to fill your gasoline tank, we don’t have a company.” Apparently, if that was the only criteria for success, Mr. Agassi can proclaim “Mission Accomplished.” In mid-May, in Yokohama, Japan, Better Place revealed a working prototype of its battery-swap station that you can watch by googling “youtube-Yokohama battery switch”, (Pay attention to the timer, bottom right). It shows the mechanism switching a battery that has been depleted for a new fully charged battery in less than two minutes –– much less time than it takes to “fill-up” at a gas station

Some Doubts Prevail

Despite the logical and even elegant nature of Agassi’s overall plan, there are critics who don’t believe he can succeed. Amongst the critics and doubters are members of the existing and traditional auto companies such as Mercedes Benz and Ford. While their arguments might ultimately prove to be correct, Agassi characterizes them as being inflexible conventionalists, unwilling to recognize and accept change. Here are some of the criticisms:
  1. The concept is appropriate only for small cities and countries, not for a vast territory like the U.S.

  2. Only one carmaker Renault-Nissan has agreed to work with Better Place.

  3. As more battery makers enter the market their designs, shapes and sizes may not be compatible with the Battery Place mechanism

  4. Even if battery standardization should occur, other EV carmakers may not place the battery under the chassis.

  5. The costs involved in building hundreds of thousand of battery charging and replacement stations will be too high for Better Place to succeed.

Agassi rejects all of the criticisms and maintains that he already has enough customers signed up in Israel to insure a profit. If he is right, the auto industry will experience a sea change, the demand for oil will be reduced significantly, the level of climate warming emissions will diminish greatly, and the answer to the question, “What’s in your garage?” might very well be a Better Place product.

The Seventh Annual Boca Pointe Meal Deals

It’s once again that time of year
When the rhyming muses do appear.
That’s triggered by the thought of meals
That lends themselves to all kinds of deals.
With snowbirds gone restaurants have it tough,
But economic woes make it especially rough.
Vying for the customers, the few that are still here
With menu prices lower than in any previous year.
Price cuts are all so deep and also so extensive,
We can just about eliminate that dreaded word, expensive.
Restaurateurs now fully recognize their plight,
And have geared themselves up for the seasonal fight.
They’re no longer seeking profits, they’re just hoping for survival,
They’re also praying hard and long for a quick economic revival.
My suggestion is, save this page so you’ll have it to enlight,
The next time someone asks, “Where shall we eat tonight?
But if by chance you lose this list and thus fail to retain it,
Go to my blog and you can once again attain it.

Here is the Real Story

So there I was, sitting in my den just one day before the deadline for this article, watching TV and putting the final touches on my poetic efforts (I’m a multi-tasker), when a commercial appears that catches my attention. McDonald’s is running a special promotion announcing that if you buy one Big Mac, you get a second one for $.25. I think to myself, “Hey, that’s a pretty good deal, but I’m not changing a word I’ve already written at this last minute.” So I pick up the business section part of The New York Times I haven’t yet read, and a headline on the front page hits me between the eyes –– “Discounts Drive Chains to Eat Their Own Lunch.” I think, “Uh Oh! A rewrite is necessary,” because as I read further, the comments in the Times’ story are too relevant to my article and my poem to pass up. Here are some quotes:

The sub-headline read, “Bargains Lure Frugal Diners but Reduce Profits.”

“The informal, sit-down restaurant chains that blanket the nation are fighting their most intense price war in years.”

“It’s a tit-for-tat pricing war right now …Each one’s trying to outdo the other in a battle for consumers.”

“Consumers hurt by the recession are eating out less. So the restaurants are fighting one another for the shrinking pool of diners, using deep discounts, heavily advertised on television to attract them.”

What the article fails to point out is the fact that it’s not only the national branded chain restaurants that are frantically promoting and lowering prices. The local individually owned establishments are participating in the battle for customers as well. (Seven restaurants listed in last year’s article have already closed.) All of this is an indication that bargains are to be had, so do your part for the economy and enjoy.

2009 Summer Meal Deals

Unless noted otherwise, the offerings are for a three course dinner including soup or salad, entrée, and dessert; If the location is other than Boca Raton, it will be mentioned. Because of the fast changing nature of the current restaurant business environment, it is suggested that you check the accuracy of the listings below when you phone for a reservation.

Basil Garden: Pre-theater menu: $16.00 every night, entire party must be seated by 6:00. Tasting menu: 4 courses plus Quartino of wine, $24.75. All night. 5837 Federal Highway. 994-2554

Bistro Provence: Sunset Dinner:3 Courses withChoice of Soup, or Salad, or Appetizer. Nice choices in all categories; coffe or tea. $17.50. Separately, 2 for 1 glass of wine. Monday-Sunday, 5:00-5:45. $2.00 off ad not required if you mention Boca Pointe (Double check this!) 2399 N. Federal Highway.368-2340

Bova Cucina: Great value. 3 courses, lunch or dinner, all day and night. $10.95 No reservations. 1901 N. Military Trail (Wyndham Hotel). 392-5595

Bova Ristorante: Prettiest restaurant around. 3 courses, lunch or dinner, all day and night. $23.95. Some normally expensive dishes on the menu such as Veal Chop, Osso Bucco, New York Strip, and Veal Saltimbocca. 1450 N. Federal Highway, 362-7407

Brooks Restaurant: $59.50 per couple. Coffee or Tea. Carafe of wine per couple. No time restrictions. (If Saturday, call to confirm). 500 S. Federal Highway, Deerfield Beach. 954 427-9302

Café Bellino: Coffe or Tea, Glass of Wine, $12.95, 5:00-5:45. 35% off entire check including drinks 6:00-10:00. 180 S. Federal Highway, 393-284

Carlo of Boca (NEW): 3 Course Sunset Dinner: Pasta $12.95;Chicken $13.95; Veal $14.95. Fish starting qt $12.95. Coffee or Tea. Every night 4:00-6:00. 7491 Federal Highway. 988-9699
Cut 432: (NEW. Very expensive steak restaurant, gets great reviews) Cut Tasting Menu: Soup, Salad, or Appetizer, Dessert. Entrées limited to Wood Fired King Salmon, Maine Lobster Tail, Petit Filet, Roasted Organic Bell and Evans Chicken, with good assortment of sides. Bottle of wine per couple. $25,00. 5:00-7:00 nightly.

Gary Woo: Soup, Appetizer, Entrée, and Ice Cream. Cash Only. Nightly. Closed Tuesday. 3400 Federal Highway. 368-8803

Gigi’s: Salad or Appetizer, Entrée, Dessert, $17,95. Every night till 8:00. Mizner Park, 368-8115

Henry’s: Buy one entrée, get one free. 5:00-5:45. Or, 2 Course Dinner, $16,00-25.00; Desserts extra @ $4.95; All night. 16850 Jog Rd., Delray Beach. 638-1915

Josephine’s: Appetizer, Entrée, Dessert, and Coffee. $21.95. Tuesday-Sunday. All Evening. 5751 Federal highway. 988-0668

La Luna: Buy one entrée get one free, off regular menu, All night. Beverage must be ordered. Maximum discount $20.00. Daily. Cash only. 5030 Champion Blvd. 997-1165

Kathy’s Gazebo : (Very expensive, considered by some to be best in Boca. First time ever for a meal deal): 3 Course for $35.00. Monday-Friday. 4199 N. Federal Highway. 395-6033

Max’s Grill: Appetizer or Soup or Salad and Dessert. Two menus –– $17.95 OR $22.95 with 7 entrée choices on each. All Night. Special $10.00 Lunches. Mizner Park. 368-0880

Milos: Greek restaurant. $19.95. All day, every day. Large selection of appetizers, entrées, desserts. 1600 Federal Highway. 750-5220

Opus 5: Special 2 Course menu starting at $17. Includes soup or salad, choice of seven entrées, and soft drink or coffee. Desserts @ $5.00. All night, every night. Boca Center on Military Trail. 544-8000

Pa’ De’Gennaro: See review below.

Poppies: Soup or Salad, Entrée, Dessert and Coffee. $11.95 3:30-6:00 Daily. 4900 Linton Blvd., Delray Beach. 498-4900

Positano’s: 4 courses $26.95. Choice of 8 Appetizers plus Pasta or Salad, Choice of 14 Entrées, Dessert, and Coffee. Every night. 4400 Federal Highway. 391-2120

Pranzo: Appetizer or Soup or Salad, Entrée and Dessert. $18.00, or $20.00 each with a bottle of wine for two. Every night till 8:00. Mizner Park, 750-7442

Roasario: (Former owner of La Viola): Appetizer. Choice of Salad or Pasta, Entrée, Dessert and Coffee. $22.95. 145 SE Mizner Blvd., Royal Palm Plaza. 393-0758

Ruth Chris: (First time meal deal for this expensive steak restaurant): Starter, Entrée, Side Dish and Dessert. $39.95. 225 NE Mizner Blvd. 392-6746

St. Tropez: $16.95. All night, every night. Cash only. Mention Boca Pointe for the deal. 7000 W. Camino Real. 368-4119

Taverna Kalamata: Coffee or Tea. $13.00-$15.00. Cash Only. Nightly, 5:00-6:00. 39 SE 1 st Ave. 393-7171

Tiramasu: Appetizer, Entrée, Dessert, and Coffee. $21.50. All night, every night. Cash only. 170 W. Camino Real. 338-9692

TW Steak & Seafood: 3 Course plus Coffee. $15.00-$20.00. All Night, Every Night. Chef’s Special, Sunday-Thursday: Soup or Salad, Entrée, and Mousse Cake. $9.99. 7104 Beracasa Way, 391-6525

A Restaurant Discovery –– Pa’ De’Gennaro

If you are willing to take abut a half-hour drive to Ft. Lauderdale, you will find what I consider to be a gem of a restaurant that dazzles with authenticity and class. I’m not certain which came first, the restaurant or the Italian market/take-out-store next door. Pa’ De’ Gennaro impresses one immediately upon entering, with its polished dark wood environment, reminiscent of the typical old-fashioned establishments in the Italian districts in New York. Yet because of the clean, spotless lines, everything looks brand new.

It is the food however that dominates, and this is obviously more than a cut above the average local Italian restaurant, yet prices are not that much higher. In fact now is a great time to try it out since the special summer “Dinners by the Sea” are a mere $14.95-$23.95, served from 5:00-7:00.

The full dinners start with some of the best home made Onion Focaccio I have tasted, served with roasted fresh garlic. Non-alcoholic beverages are also included. Starters are a delicious Tuscan Bean Soup, Classic Caesar Salad, or a Chopped Mediterranean Salad. Entrées consist of three pasta dishes ($14.95) –– Rigatoni in an authentic Bolognese sauce, an unusual Wild Mushroom Fettucini, and Nona’s (Grandma’s) Meatball and Linguini. (Come to think of it, I think the food is so exceptional because it tastes like Grandma did indeed cook it all.) Also on the menu are Steamed Mussels & Clams Portugese, and Chicken prepared three ways –– Marsala, Piccata, or Parmigiana, all at just $16.95.

From the sea are a Cedar Plank Baked Salmon (a friend said it was the best he ever tasted), and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, Veal is prepared three different ways, just like the chicken mentioned above. These dishes are all $19.95. The most expensive is a Baked Lobster Tail & Grilled Skirt Steak combo at $23.95.

Desserts that are included are Carrot Cake, Pistachio Pound Cake served with Ice Cream, Tiramisu, or Fresh Fruit and Berries.

As you would expect, the service is very professional and the hostess, Debbie is most helpful, watching out for her customers like a mother hen. Even more interesting is the chef, with whom I had a long conversation. When I told Chef Menen that I live in Boca, he responded that he had also worked in Boca. I asked, in what restaurants. It turns out he was the chef in Max’s Grille as well as in one of my favorite restaurants, Prezzo. Those familiar with those restaurants and the original owners Dennis Max (and his ex-partner Bert Rappaport who now owns Henry’s and Opus 5) know that these two restaurateurs, hire only the finest chefs.

Since the restaurant is on A1A just south of Commercial Blvd, the most pleasant way to get there is to go straight down A1A, viewing the luxury condos and yachts that line the roadway. I think you will find a visit to Pa’ De’ Gennaro to be a unique, pleasant, and satisfying experience –– and it won’t break the bank. 4331 North Ocean Drive, Lauderdale By the Sea. 954 351-0310.