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Real Estate
Real estate listings plunge during usual peak season

The coronavirus shutdown has hit the real estate market hard with new listings plunging this year during what should be the peak season for home shopping.
New home listings were down 27% nationwide in the first week of April compared to a year ago, with the cities of Detroit, Pittsburgh and New York most affected by the slowdown, according to a report by online real estate database Zillow.
At the beginning of March, the market appeared to bloom with home values accelerating for the first time in about two years. Zillow’s data showed 17% more listings on March 1 than last year.

All that has changed with states issuing stay-at-home orders and shuttering businesses.
States such as Florida and New York have designated real estate as an “essential” service, but social distancing measures forced agents to become more creative in using technology to bring home shopping online for people sitting at home.

Audrey Ross, who runs a real estate firm in South Florida, said conducting virtual open houses hasn’t been all that bad.
“It seems to be going rather well actually,” she told The Washington Times. “It is interesting because it is just doing business in a totally different way.”
Ms. Ross, who has been in the industry for several decades selling multi-million-dollar properties, said before the pandemic, an open house visited by 10 people on a Sunday would be deemed a great success.
Now virtual tours, where an agent walks through the property in a video posted online, can get two dozen views.

A virtual tour Ms. Ross conducted this month had 30 people watching the video at any given time.
“You do get quite a lot more exposure,” Ms. Ross said, though she noted that the market is slower than usual.
In Colorado, real estate agents are now barred from entering homes if the owners still occupy it.
Homeowners who wish to sell their property can produce walk-through videos themselves, according to local reports.
Chris Grund, a realtor with listings.com, said the shutdown order from Democratic Gov. Jared Polis is killing the real estate market.
“Putting the nail in the coffin of our industry right now,” he told TheDenver Channel.
Meanwhile, construction on new homes dropped 22% in March from February, although it was still 1.4% higher than in March 2019, the Commerce Department reported last week.
There was also a 6.8% drop in permits to begin construction last month.

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Real Estate
Hedge fund billionaire John Griffin's private jet fled to New Zealand just as coronavirus hit the US

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
Hedge fund billionaire John Griffin’s private jet fled New York for New Zealand just days before the US declared coronavirus a national emergency, according to flight data analyzed by Business Insider.
Last year,  Griffin paid the highest price ever recorded for a residential townhouse in New York City.
Griffin also owns property in New Zealand. According to flight data, his jet flew from Newark to Queenstown, reaching the remote island nation on March 11 after a stop in Honolulu.
Griffin’s is just one of 16 private jets that have arrived in New Zealand from the US since February, as the coronavirus spread globally.
The remote country is a popular escape location for wealthy Americans, including tech billionaire Peter Thiel and Griffin’s own financier mentor, Julian Robertson.
Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Hedge fund billionaire John Griffin appears to have left his home in New York City for a New Zealand redoubt as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on the United States, according to flight data reviewed by Business Insider. 
Griffin, who recently wound down his hedge fund, Blue Ridge Capital, and serves as chair of the Robin Hood Foundation, paid a record $77.1 million last year for a townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But he seems to have left it behind just eight months later as the pandemic threatened New York City.
Griffin’s private jet, a Bombardier Global 6000, landed in Queenstown, New Zealand from Newark, New Jersey, on March 11, after making a stop in Honolulu, flight data shows. Four days later, the plane flew from Queenstown to Gisborne, where Griffin owns an estate, before continuing to the metropolitan city of Auckland, where it remains.

Griffin’s flight was one of at least 16 private jet flights from the US to the remote island nation since coronavirus began to stir fears of a global cataclysm in February, according to data provided by FlightAware. But the ownership of the planes is unclear due to an obscure federal program that allows US private jet owners to block their aircraft identification numbers, or tail numbers, from public tracking sites.
Business Insider traced the Queenstown flight by matching an identifier received by FlightAware to a tail number associated with Griffin. The jet’s precise movements were mapped using data provided by ADS-B Exchange, a network that tracks and records aviation signals. 
Two days after Griffin’s plane landed in New Zealand, Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic. Eight days later, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern closed the country’s borders to non-citizens and non-residents.
Griffin did not respond to voicemail messages or a request for comment sent via the Robin Hood Foundation.
With its remote location and small population, fleeing to New Zealand is a popular backup plan for apocalypse-fearing billionaires in the US.

Julian Robertson, a famous hedge funder who mentored Griffin early in his career, owns property there, as does American tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who — despite his vocal support for Trump’s “America First” policies — was secretly granted citizenship to the island nation in 2011 after pledging to invest there. But the investments quickly evaporated, and the scandal over the appearance of special treatment in handling his citizenship application prompted a reform to laws governing foreign ownership of land.
Fidelity chairman William P. Foley and Hollywood director James Cameron also own property in New Zealand.  According to Bloomberg News, at least seven Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have purchased bunkers there, buried 11 feet deep, from a company called Rising S.
Last month, the Huffington Post identified a plane owned by a shell company called Thorondor, an apparent reference to the Lord of the Rings series, which has served as the inspiration for many of Thiel’s companies. That plane flew from Los Angeles to Hawaii on March 12, and a review of its flight history showed regular flights from California to New Zealand, usually via Hawaii, according to the report.
It’s unclear whether that plane belongs to Thiel, or if its passengers continued on to New Zealand. A representative for Thiel did not respond to a request for comment. The New Zealand embassy declined to comment.
Like Thiel, Griffin is known to take regular trips to New Zealand.

The New York billionaire built his fortune through the hedge fund Blue Ridge Capital, which he founded in 1996 after spending time under Robertson at the legendary firm Tiger Management. Griffin wound down the hedge fund in 2018, though his plane is still registered to a subsidiary of Blue Ridge, Helair Holdings LLC.  
In 2002, Griffin bought a historic plot of land near the town of Gisborne known as Young Nick’s Head Station, for $3.2 million New Zealand dollars, in a deal that set off a lengthy dispute with local indigenous communities and ultimately led to stronger regulations around land sales to foreigners. 
Data from Griffin’s plane shows that it flew to New Zealand in 2016, 2017, and 2018 in addition to this year. A local report from 2016 said the he visits the Gisborne area every New York winter.
As of Wednesday, New Zealand had just 1,078 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Two new cases were identified by officials in the region of Gisborne this week, and “mystery surrounds the source of one of the cases,” according to the Gisborne Herald.
On March 24, the White House issued an advisory asking all travellers leaving the New York region to self-quarantine for 14 days. Days later, the Centers for Disease Control urged all New Yorkers to avoid non-essential travel.

Business
Homebuilding just had its worst month since 1984. What traders see ahead for the group

Homebuilders are hurting.
U.S. home construction in March endured its worst monthly decline since 1984 as housing starts fell by over 22% from the previous month, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Homebuilder confidence was also pummeled, with one key indicator seeing the biggest drop in its 35-year history.

Home construction stocks have reflected the weakness. The iShares U.S. Home Construction ETF (ITB) and SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB) are down this week, the ITB falling over 4.5% and the XHB losing nearly 3.5%. Year to date, the ITB is down almost 28% while the XHB is down over 28%.
 Some market watchers including Chantico Global CEO Gina Sanchez expect the pain to continue so long as measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus remain in place.
“I think the general feeling and consensus is that supply chains and just the ability to build inventory right now is really challenged,” Sanchez told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Thursday. “Until the mitigation efforts are kind of removed and we have the ability to be able to walk in and see homes, we’re probably going to see continued slowdown in this market.”
Todd Gordon, managing partner at Ascent Wealth Partners, said investors could still find some attractive stocks within the two main homebuilding ETFs, adding that he likes the ITB’s technical setup.
While the ITB’s holdings are roughly 70% construction and homebuilding stocks, “there is still a large component in home improvement services, specifically Home Depot,” Gordon said. “We have about 10% in Home Depot and Lowe’s and other services like that. So, we hold Home Depot in our portfolios at Ascent and I view this as a nice place to hang out.”

The long-term uptrend on Home Depot’s weekly chart, which showed the stock holding above its 200-week moving average around $180, was encouraging, Gordon said. Home Depot shares were up 4% on Friday, near $207.79.
The daily chart indicates Home Depot has some more room to run, Gordon said.

“The daily has the 200-day [moving average] above us at 220. We have this breakdown period about 210,” he said. “That’s going to be a lot of wood to chop, but I do think [with] home improvement projects — I’m doing some at home — people will come back. And I do think once this thing normalizes, I do think people will start to move into homebuilding, perhaps move out of the metro areas.”
Sanchez agreed that things should look up once the U.S. coronavirus outbreak is under control.
“There is the expectation that once these mitigation efforts are removed and you have more ability to be able to get back to a normally functioning market, there is demand out there and there is a shortage of supply. That should be beneficial,” she said. “And, also, anecdotal evidence would suggest that there is a tremendous amount of home improvement activity going on in lieu of other activities.”
The ITB climbed nearly 5% Friday.
Disclosure: Ascent Wealth Partners owns shares of Home Depot.
Disclaimer

Real Estate
Hurricane Harvey gave these real estate CEOs 'the blueprint' to weather coronavirus crisis

Flooding resulting from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.
Harriet Taylor | CNBC

Nothing can compare to the crushing economic tsunami created by the coronavirus pandemic, but in the housing market, there are some parallels to natural disasters.
Lessons learned from those devastating events are helping the industry cope now.

In 2017, after Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston, thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. Many were single-family rental homes owned by one of the nation’s largest rental REITs, American Homes 4 Rent.
With about half of its 3,200 homes damaged, several hundred severely, and some staff members unable to get to their offices, the company had to mobilize quickly, remotely.
Thanks to its national scale and online platforms for payment and maintenance, the company was able to relocate tenants and modify rental agreements for those who could no longer make their monthly payments.
“The fact that we have gone through Harvey and other hurricanes, having to close our home office meant that the ability to work from home and provide service to residents was something we already had a blueprint for,” CEO David Singelyn said.
The coronavirus pandemic is of course hitting on a much larger, national scale, but some of the same rules apply. The rental REIT, along with others like Invitation Homes, which owns thousands of single-family rental homes across the nation, is working with tenants on an individual basis, offering repayment plans and changing lease terms.

“We’re not going to evict anyone,” said Singelyn.
In April, his company received about 95% of it normal rental payments, but Singelyn expects the numbers to fall more sharply in coming months, as more tenants experience financial hardship.
The same is true at Invitation Homes, the largest single-family rental REIT, with 80,000 properties across 16 major housing markets. It is also taking lessons learned in the past and applying them to today.

Fires and hurricanes

“We’ve done this across hurricanes in Texas and Florida, fires in Northern California, so we have a process to work with residents,” said Invitation Homes CEO Dallas Tanner. “We’ve established these programs over time that can help families in times of need.”
In the multifamily market, rent payments in mid-April were still made at 93% the rate of the previous month, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council.
For single- and multifamily nationwide, rent payments received by property managers and landlords as of April 8 were 17% lower than the same period in March, according to Rentec Direct, a property management software company.
Consumers are starting to receive checks from the government’s stimulus program, but they may not be using that money to pay the rent. Fewer than half of U.S. adults (45%) plan to prioritize housing as an expense to continue paying during the coronavirus crisis, according to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll in April and commissioned by Tally, an automated debt management app. Groceries and utilities ranked higher on the priority list.
Camden Property Trust, a Houston-based multifamily REIT that also weathered Hurricane Harvey on many of its properties, established a $5 million resident relief fund for those experiencing financial losses from the Covid-19 pandemic. It provides up to $2,000 per apartment for financial assistance for living expenses such as food, utilities, medical expenses, insurance, child care or transportation.
“We believe it is still too early to quantify the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic to our financial performance,” said Camden CEO Richard J. Campo. “Currently our portfolio’s occupancy remains strong at over 96%. We are seeing high levels of resident retention but also reduced foot traffic and new lease applications from prospective residents given the current environment.”
The program received more than 2,500 applications in the first 16 minutes it went live. It then had to shut down the site after reaching the $5 million mark, according to a company spokesman. They cut checks for more than 500 tenants the first day.

The numbers will get worse

There is no question the numbers will only get worse for the rental market over the coming months. That’s why Tanner and Singelyn are part of a daily industry effort lobbying Congress and the administration for help.
“We need to make sure that we’re helping our residents in time of need, and at the same time we have to be careful,” said Tanner. “If we put too much pressure on landlords, we have obligations as well, such as credit facilities and property taxes, that we pay back into the system, so it’s a delicate balance. We’ll do our part, but we need the government to step up and also help renters in this time of crisis.”
Tanner said the industry has put forth a proposal to the U.S. Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for short-term liquidity relief, designed much like a long-term, interest-free loan administered through the tax system.  
“Everything is a long-term negotiation. I see progress at times, and I see frustration at times. It is very much a political process,” said Singelyn. “One thing that’s encouraging is that both sides have indicated they want to see rental relief and housing relief.”

Real Estate
Microsoft lands a deal with the NBA to use Azure and Surface starting with the 2020-21 season

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg via Getty Images; Stacy Revere | Getty Images

The National Basketball Association will adopt Microsoft’s Azure cloud to enhance the online experience for fans, and will use Microsoft Surface tablets in unspecified ways, starting in the league’s 2020-21 season, the parties announced Thursday. The duration and terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The deal comes as the NBA is on hiatus — the league suspended the current season on March 11 to limit coronavirus exposure, and other sports leagues have made similar moves. Given that teams could be holding games without crowds for some time, he said, it’s even more important that the league’s engineers start assembling the new system.

“I think the fact that we are announcing it in the middle of this pandemic is a testament to how important it is that we move forward with this deal,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told CNBC in an interview on Wednesday. “Time is of the essence here.”
An NBA spokesperson said the league could use Microsoft’s technology to add new features to its website and apps, such as delivering games in fans’ native languages, letting them chat during games, displaying the best camera angle for the moment and showing relevant stats about favorite players. The league also wants to draw on archive videos to augment what people see while watching and roll highlight clips of favorite players.
Silver said that fans may prefer courtside seats over anything else to witness games, but the new digital capabilities are meant to bring them as close as possible.
“How can you replace that experience?” Silver said. “Maybe we can come close to it.”
On a technical level, the NBA will move some key workloads to Azure from its on-premises data centers for its website and mobile apps, and will use Azure tools for indexing events in footage, encoding video feeds and consolidating disparate data sources in a single virtual place, a Microsoft spokesperson explained. Azure will be the exclusive cloud partner for the NBA’s direct-to-consumer service.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that the company has worked with the NBA for a long time. The new work came about because the NBA envisioned becoming a first-class provider of digital services, and the league went searching for a company with which it could have a trusted relationship and that has modern cloud and artificial intelligence capabilities, Nadella said.
“It’s a pretty unique partnership for us,” Nadella said.
In previous years the company has announced cloud deals with firms like AT&T, Gap, Salesforce and Walmart, and it beat out market leader Amazon Web Services for a prominent defense contract, which Amazon is contesting in federal court. Nadella once ran Microsoft’s cloud business, and in his six years as CEO he has made cloud a greater focus.
Now he has an answer for what today’s Microsoft can do in the sports world, after his predecessor Steve Ballmer scored a multiyear deal with the National Football League in 2013 that put Surface tablets into the hands of coaches and players — and gave Surface a prominent spot in NFL broadcasts. It is not yet clear if the NBA deal will include similar product placement. (Ballmer, who left Microsoft in 2014, is now owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.)
The deal also shows how Microsoft is still advancing big projects even while employees stay separated. Microsoft and the NBA began discussing the effort before the company sent home nonessential workers to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, Nadella said.
“It’s pretty amazing what productivity has been in the context of work from home,” he said. “In fact, our teams have been meeting, talking, getting the deal specifics done. That is a host of job functions and work and productivity and economic activity that continue.”
WATCH: CNBC’s full interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Markets
'I've gone to cash': Mark Cuban outlines his coronavirus investing strategy ahead of another 'leg down' in markets — and shares why now is the time to buy real estate

Jin S. Lee
Billionaire entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban is patiently sitting in cash and waiting for the fallout from the coronavirus to subside before putting springing on new investments.
In the short-term, Cuban sees “a leg down” for markets, echoing the views of billionaire bond king, Jeffrey Gundlach.
Cuban also thinks commodities and real estate will make sound investments during this time period for those more daring.
Click here for more BI Prime stories.
“I’ve gone to cash.”
That’s what billionaire entrepreneur and investor, Mark Cuban, said on “The Pomp Podcast” in regards to his personal investment strategy as markets continue to joust with the coronavirus.
“I still think we have a leg down,” he added.

Cuban’s prognostication of echos that of billionaire “bond king” Jeffrey Gundlach. In late March, Gundlach warned market participants of a sharp decline in April that would eclipse the 30%-plus trough stocks had previously dug out. Those comments were echoed by Paul Singer-led Elliott Management, which sees 39% downside from current levels.
So far, those forecasts haven’t come to fruition as markets rallied sharply in the first half of April.
But even though Cuban is forecasting a decline in the short term doesn’t mean he’s overtly pessimistic about the longer-term growth prospects in the US. 
“Three years, five years from now, the market will be up from where we are today,” he said. “When we look back in 10 years, there’s going to be some amazing companies created — and having access to cash, or having cash, is going to give me an opportunity to invest in them.”
For that reason, Cuban’s approach to markets in this time period is predicated on a wait-and-see, cash-heavy strategy. He’s building his cash hoard now, so that he can deploy it on the entrepreneurs and companies that emerge from this crisis. 

“I think there are companies that are going to need capital in this America 2.0,” he added. 
For context, “America 2.0” that Cuban refers to is analogous to a post-coronavirus landscape within the US. 
What’s more, with global supply chains in disarray, and manufacturing processes likely slated to come back to the US, Cuban thinks an uptick in consumer pricing pressure is to be expected. For that reason, he sees commodities as a main beneficiary of today’s market environment.
“I think commodities will go up because I think we’ll get some modicum of inflation,” he said. “And as companies try to protect their own manufacturing and try to really bring core necessities domestically — I think that could push up the value of commodities.” 
Cuban’s inflationary forecast is similar to those laid out by strategists at heavyweight firms such as BlackRock, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley. All of them have said the risk of higher inflation is underappreciated by investors at large.

Although Cuban doesn’t give recommendations for specific commodities to invest in, he says “generically, on a macro basis” investors should expect an increase. 
Investors looking to invest in a broad basket of commodities should consider Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking Fund (DBC) and iShares S&P GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust (GSG).
An opportunity in real estate
Cuban also sees opportunities in real estate for those willing to stomach the risk. He breaks down potential investments into two buckets: Those that are budding, and those that are ready for purchase.
“I’m trying to be opportunistic and agile,” he said. “I just think there will be a lot of reformulating because there’s so many companies that were leveraged. So companies went to buy land or buildings or shopping centers — whatever it may be — and they put down very little capital, and they went out and borrowed more.”
He added: “I think you’re going to see some deleveraging there, which creates some opportunities to buy land.”

Although Cuban is optimistic on the commercial real estate space, he says that the discounts haven’t yet been baked into pricing, so it’s best to be patient. Investors looking for broad exposure to the space can buy the Vanguard Real Estate ETF (VNQ).
On a more immediate basis, he thinks unit prices in densely populated cities that have been decimated by the coronavirus are starting to look enticing.
“In big dense cities, like New York, you’re starting to see condos — the prices there have just dropped like rocks,” he said. “If you think you want to live in New York in the future, now’s the time to buy. If you think you want a house in an area that’s been hit-hard — Detroit or wherever it may be — now’s the time to buy.” 

Real Estate
The departing boss of Norway’s oil fund on building an asset manager

THERE IS A point in a conversation with Yngve Slyngstad when he invokes Bjorn Borg, the Nordic tennis star of the 1970s. The Borg approach—make sure you don’t lose; above all, be solid—is one Mr Slyngstad has instilled in Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), the organisation he has run since 2008 from within Norway’s central bank. Its target, to beat a benchmark by 0.25 percentage points a year, is modest. But meeting it has led to immodest wealth.
Mr Slyngstad is to step down later this year when Nicolai Tangen, a London-based hedge-fund manager, takes his place in Oslo. The departing boss resigned in October, 50 years to the day after Norway first struck oil. The same day Norway’s oil fund passed Nkr10trn ($900bn) in value. It is the world’s largest single owner of equities. On average it owns 1.5% of every listed firm globally.

This seemed improbable when Mr Slyngstad joined in 1998. The price of oil was falling towards $10 a barrel. The idea of an oil-reserve fund seemed risible. Yet Mr Slyngstad left a well-paid job in the private sector. What attracted him was autonomy. He and his senior colleagues used it to build a fund manager based on sound principles. Discipline, solidity, minimising errors—these Borg-like tenets are difficult to follow when managing a portfolio. But they are key to investing success.
Norway’s oil fund was set up in 1996. Its founding stemmed from an awareness that oil-producing countries run into trouble. One trap is the “resource curse”, the corruption that mineral wealth often fosters. Another is “Dutch disease”—currency appreciation that then retards the progress of other export industries. The fund is primarily a means to smooth the effect of volatile oil revenues on the government’s budget. All oil revenue is paid into it. It then makes a steady contribution to the budget. A decade-long oil boom created a windfall. The fund came to be seen in a new light, as an endowment for future generations. At its peak last year, it was worth around three times Norway’s annual GDP.
Its wealth is also the fruit of judicious investment. Mr Slyngstad was brought in to build the fund’s equities arm; until then all the money had been in bonds. In principle, a long-horizon investor should tilt towards riskier shares. But even the best principles can be hard to follow. This became clear soon after Mr Slyngstad was made boss. The fund had raised the equity share of its portfolio from 40% towards 60% during 2008. The timing looked bad. The stockmarket crashed in the autumn. A rally in the fund’s bond holdings limited the damage. Still, the fund lost 23%.
There was then a tough decision to make. The principles of the fund called for rebalancing: selling bonds that had gone up in value to buy shares that had become cheaper, thus reaching the 60% equity weight. It takes stomach to buy assets that others are fleeing from. Some funds suspended their rebalancing rules. Was there hesitation? “Yes, of course,” says Mr Slyngstad. It was a big political risk. If the stockmarket did not revive, there would be a reckoning. Even so, the finance ministry gave its blessing. “We ended up buying $175bn of equities, 0.5% of the market, during a huge crisis.” This set the fund up nicely for the ten-year bull market that followed. Rebalancing is now hard-wired into its processes. There are times, such as now, when shares have again fallen a long way and it is easy to lose your nerve. It is usually the worst time to do so.

The fund’s long-term focus means it can be bold during crises. But there are also constraints that do not apply to other investors. The need for transparency rules out dabbling in private-equity funds. NBIM has been a pioneer in socially responsible investment. This might look like Nordic do-goodery and a sop to posturing politicians. But the approach is hard-headed. A lot of decisions to exclude stocks are taken with an eye to long-term returns. Coal shares, for instance, are out because the business does not appear to have a lasting future. Companies in emerging markets that do not pass muster on corporate governance are avoided. In general this has been a way to improve returns.
The tennis analogy is: stay on your baseline; eliminate basic errors; be solid first—and only then, be smart. You will win in the long term. A lot of fund managers see a risk to their careers in looking too far into the future. They may lose clients in the meantime. Things are different at Norway’s oil fund. “The career risk”, says Mr Slyngstad, “is not to implement the strategy.”
This article appeared in the Finance and economics section of the print edition under the headline “Advantage Norway”
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Real Estate
Restaurateur Ashish Alfred holds alcohol-free events at George's Chophouse, Duck Duck Goose

Bethesda restaurateur Ashish Alfred has not let his sobriety keep him from going out with his friends and having a good time.
But, he says, there’s only so much Red Bull and soda waters with lime he can drink before becoming bored and wanting to leave.
It was his own experience with drug and alcohol addiction — and his business savvy — that inspired him to host monthly dry evenings and brunches at his restaurants, George’s Chophouse in Bethesda and Duck Duck Goose in Baltimore.

“I think that a lot of people, young people especially, are under the misconception that sobriety means boring: If I am going to be sober, that means sitting at home on my hands or in a chapel or in some dark room reading the 12 steps off a wall until my tongue turns blue,” said Mr. Alfred, who has been sober for six years.
“And for me the goal behind Feel Good Fridays and the Sober Sundays we are going to start doing in Baltimore is just to show people this is not a boring lifestyle. I go wherever I want to go, I do whatever I want to do, and I have a lot of fun doing it,” he added.

The Feel Good Fridays are held at The Loft at 4935 — the event space above the Chophouse — and boast a menu of six different, zero-proof cocktails; a good lineup of DJs playing lounge music; intimate lighting; and a safe atmosphere.
“Feel Good Fridays are all about going out like you would on a Friday night, just sans booze,” said Mr. Alfred, 34.
The Loft held its first sober Friday in late February, and about 20 people attended the event. Mr. Alfred said he isn’t worried about attendance figures because he is just getting started and building awareness of the event. The next Feel Good Friday is scheduled for 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on March 20.
Mr. Alfred said Baltimore is home to a huge brunch culture and brunches there can get pretty boozy, pretty fast.

So he wanted to create a similar, inclusive space with a monthly dry brunch for patrons who are avoiding alcohol. The first will be held on March 23 at Duck Duck Goose in Baltimore.
Mr. Alfred said he decided to go into rehab for his heroin, cocaine and alcohol addiction six years ago after he had almost died and his mother offered him an ultimatum — get healthy or never speak to her again.
He took her up on the offer — it was a no-brainer.
“After the first 10 to 15 days of feeling miserable, I felt freer than I ever felt, I felt better than I ever felt, there was just no looking back on it for me,” he said.
The culture of drinking in the restaurant industry is shifting for employees and customers, Mr. Alfred said. His proof: He was invited to cook a six-course, alcohol-free dinner at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City on May 9.
It’s a lot of pressure, he said, because the tickets for the meal are the same price as if they were serving alcohol.
At his restaurants, employees are not allowed to drink before or during work, as was common practice as a part of the drinking culture in the industry.
“Just like if somebody has an aversion to gluten, peanuts, dairy or whatever, you would be a fool of a restaurateur to not have accommodations for them,” Mr. Alfred said. “And I think as the sober trend is growing you’d be somewhat foolish to not have something for clients who want to abstain from alcohol that evening.”

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