ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet this is Reply All, I’m Alex Goldman.
PJ VOGT: And I’m PJ Vogt.
ALEX: Welcome once again to Yes Yes No, the segment on our show where normally we make a fool of our boss, who doesn't know anything about the internet, but uh, this week we get to make a fool of someone completely different. Um, Jason Mantzoukas, actor, comedian...
PJ: Make a fool...what type of like welcome is that?
JASON: Wow. Wow.
JASON: What the fuck? This is how you bring me in? This...wow. Like uh, you know what Alex? Come at me as hard as you want, bro. Because as long as Alex Blumberg isn't here, I'm happy to make you the target of this segment.
ALEX: As long as there's an Alex to ridicule...
JASON: As long as there's an Alex, my wrath will be limitless. Thank you for having me, gentlemen.
PJ: Watching a power balance shift so fast really makes me happy. [laughing]
ALEX: Um. No, you know, you don't have social media. You don't do social media at all.
JASON: I don't.
ALEX: So everytime we do this, I give you my Twitter username and password.
PJ: Do you want to just say what that is for the listener?
JASON: I will. I'm happy to.
ALEX: Right now it's, hello Jason exclamation point, which will be changed by uh the time this comes out.
PJ: But it has been that password from at least today to the last time we recorded.
ALEX: Anyway uh, yeah … Jason comes to us with something he doesn't understand on the internet and then we explain it to him and um he-he's definitely better no matter what for having learned it is what I'm told.
JASON: It is—that is, okay, A, not the case.
JASON: Two-two, I will say these forays into stuff like this are unsettling and disheartening.
It is so strange to poke around in the internet, like into mean culture and stuff that I genuinely come across and am like truly—because it'll happen to me every once in a while in normal life, too, I’ll see, somebody will point to something and I'll be like, I just don't even know—or reference something and I'll be like, I just don't even know what you're talking about. And so whenever this comes up, and then I'm forced to root around, I am always shocked by how little— and it makes me feel old. It makes me feel like, oh fuck. I missed out on like this kind of new language that people are speaking.
PJ: But also like, you don't feel a sense of, I want to participate in the new language. You’re like the new language.
JASON: I don't. It feels and seems like deeply—it seems bottomless and overwhelmingly negative.
ALEX: And on that note, why don't we get to our first tweet. (laugh)
JASON: Okay. Okay, so..ugh. I found this. Now, okay. This is a tweet from sky pink. Which is, @mary pin 4-1-0-9-6-0-4-5. That is the address.
JASON: Then it says—and this is the body of the message is: “expose Rachel Chandler (Epstein's childhandler) recruiting manager at Wayfair... And Wayfair is capitalized, so that's clearly a business of some sort, or something. Okay and then there's a lot of hashtags. #childtrafficking #savethechildren #knowthyenemy #wayfair #wayfairtrafficking #pedophila.”
Now if you don't think there are a number of pictures...
Attached to this post? You are wrong. There is a whole mess of pictures cobbled together in some sort of um...collage fashion. So there’s-there's a picture that is uh, uh a woman in a fedora and underneath it is says Rachel Chandler, who is clearly the subject of this uh post uh and then it says, Rachel Chandler comma R-C and then a little box, a little purple box that says, evil. And then it says, “Rachel Chandler, a former sex slave of Jeffrey Epstein is now a recruiter/handler of underage children for Epstein's Island parentheses little saint james and....what does that say at the end? And clientele.”
Okay. Then in another thing, there's LinkedIn profile and it just says, it's circled that recruiting manager at Wayfair—I'm assuming for this this same woman, Rachel Chandler. Then a picture of Rachel Chandler with uh former president Bill Clinton. Right?
JASON: Oh, and then —it's okay then.....[laughing] Guys, I haven't even finished describing the thing yet.
PJ: There's a whole part of Twitter which is just like the crazy wall from Homeland.
JASON: Yeah, then there's a picture of Reese Withersppon, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and who is the—oh, and Wayfair director, Andrea Young, I'm assuming because she is, she is labeled by name. Okay, got it. So now, there's a picture of these four women and it says, #followtherabbithole. And then it says #Wayfair #Childtrafficking #knowthyenemy and that is the—right? Is that the totality of the....
ALEX: I think you got it.
JASON: Obviously, I know some of these keywords but I have genuinely no idea what this is.
ALEX: Where are you at on this one PJ?
JASON: The picture...the picture...the reveal of the picture where Reese Witherspoon is involved in this is like truly where, where I am like, woahh... what? Queen Reese? What? How?
What's happening? I'm worried.
PJ: I'm, I’m like probably....ugh. I know that there's a door here that I've mostly avoided opening. I know that there was like a Wayfair thing. Like I know the barest, barest bones of it.
PJ: Alex Goldman, where are you at on this tweet?
ALEX: I hate to say this, because you know, you know people who like uh when there's a car accident...the rubberneckers? I'm like an internet rubbernecker. So like, I keep up with this stuff. I know what's going on with it all the time and it's....
JASON: Careful. Internet rubbernecker is a porn category.
JASON: So admitting you are one is, you know, pretty dangerous.
ALEX: Um. I-It's not good for me. Um but, i-it's sort of where I'm at. So I'm at 100 percent comprehension on this one.
PJ: 100 percent?
JASON: Says the man who is in an attic that looks like it is some sort of murder barn.
PJ: You actually look like, right now like surrounded by weird digital synths and a low attic ceiling, you look like the person who’s cast in the movie as the expert on like exactly this tweet. Like they saw your audition tape and they were like, "We don't need to see anyone else."
ALEX: I tried to dress the place up. Look, I got Christmas lights up now.
JASON: It's it's the part of the movie where my guy has the flash drive but is like, “but I don't have any way to decrypt it. Wait a minute, I know a guy.” And then I show up to Alex's attic where he's like busy composing the synth score to this bad movie I'm in and he's like, "I can decrypt this. I just need time." And I'm like, "Alex! We don't have time!"
ALEX: The one thing we don't have is time!
PJ: Your only other line is enhance.
JASON: Can we enhance that? Can we enhance quadrant 4?
ALEX: Basically, I'm—you guys are saying that I'm Kevin Smith in Live Free or Die Hard.
JASON: You...oh. You you wish. You wish you were Kevin Smith in Live Free or Die Hard.
PJ: Okay, so where so we're at yes, no, basically no?
JASON: And I'm a no no no. I — except for knowing some of these keywords.
PJ: So what keywords do you know?
JASON: You know, I know um I know Epstein is obviously referring to Jeffrey Epstein. I know it refers to his island and so forth. I know that. I know there are Epstein connections to the Clintons, so I know that. Um #pedophelia #childtrafficking, isn't this all the QAnon stuff and all that is kind of down this rabbit hole? Am I in the right zone?
ALEX: Yeah, yeah.
JASON: But I don't know who Rachel Chandler is. I don't know what Wayfair is.....etc.
JASON: And I don't and I genuinely don't know what Reese Witherspoon is doing in this scenario? Um I'm I'm worried.
PJ: Okay, so Alex, do you want to walk it out?
ALEX: Yeah, so basically, you've been dropped into the latest QAnon conspiracy.
JASON: Oh, okay.
PJ: So it's a QAnon thing?
ALEX: It is a QAnon thing.
JASON: [overlapping] This is a QAnon thing. Oh wow.
PJ: It's not just Qanon-like. It is like QAnon brand.
ALEX: It is not QAnon-like. It is very much QAnon brand conspiracy.
JASON: Got it.
ALEX: So the way that QAnon works is it's essentially like a shot gun that sprays anybody that like, they'll go after celebrities but then anybody who's within proximity of a celebrity, they also get some of the buck shot. You know?
PJ: Like basically, if you've been in a picture with a famous person?
ALEX: Yeah, like for example, if you're a young woman who was in a picture with Bill Clinton that that’s been online for years, it might come to pass that 2020, you are suddenly at the center of this-of a conspiracy.
JASON: I see. Okay, and that is the woman that we're talking about here.
JASON: Who is-who is, you know, identified in this thing.
ALEX: So Rachel Chandler (JASON: Oh boy.) is—I've done a bunch of research on her and it's very hard to do because she's not like a super public person. She's like a socialite.
ALEX: She used to be a model. Now she's a photographer. She's married to a Guiness beer scion.
ALEX: They're just like...
JASON: Got it.
PJ: [overlapping] They're fancy rich people.
JASON: They’re- they are people in the world.
ALEX: Super rich socialite.
ALEX: Um unfortunately, I don't know if it's fucking serial killer movie. Like if it's like police procedurals or what that has taught people to believe that like everybody who's committing a crime has to telegraph it somehow.
ALEX: Um, there's this profound belief that Rachel Chandler, her name is Rachel Chandler, not because that was her name at birth but because she wants to signal to people that she was um Jeffrey Epstein's child handler, aka Chandler.
PJ: [overlapping] Oh my God. No.
JASON: That she changed her legal name as a way to illustrate her job title?
PJ: Why don’t they-why-why this Chandler of all the Chandlers?
JASON: Cuz she’s in a picture with Bill Clinton I bet.
ALEX: Because she's in a picture with Bill Clinton on what looks like a private jet. And even though it’s been proven it’s not Jeffrey Epstein’s private jet, it has nothing to do with Jeffrey Epstein at all, the QAnon people are convinced that this IS Jeffrey Epstein's private jet…
ALEX: And that they're on route to Little Saint James, which is the island that Jeffrey Epstein owned in... the Carribean?
JASON: I-I don't know. I know there was an island but I don't know....
ALEX: It's in the Virgin Islands. So this poor woman has been pulled into like this conspiracy theory uh where she is basically being painted as, like a ringleader of Epstein's child abuse ring
PJ: But okay, and—sorry to interrupt you so quickly, but like um—and maybe this is like an unanswerable question but like why— why this, why now?
ALEX: Because Q put it in one of his drops.
PJ: Ohhhkay. Jason, do you understand Q and his drops?
ALEX: Q is a person or collection of people who go on the internet and post these very sort of abstract—this very abstract and open to interpretation—
PJ: They're like horoscopes but for like crazy boomers. Like it's like vague sort of haiku-y posts that then after the fact Q fans can read and be like, "Oh, three birds fly at midnight." There were like three planes that flew at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and therefore like Q predicted whatever.
JASON: I see.
ALEX: Here's one I can read you from July 9th of 2019. I'm picking this totally at random. "Welcome to Epstein Island. Ask yourself, is this normal? What does a temple typically symbolize? What does an owl symbolize? Dark religion? Tunnels underneath? How many captured in Rachel Chandler's pic? Rooms indicate size. Hallway shown? Symbolism will be their downfall. [PJ: Okay-] These people are evil."
PJ: If these questions are like derailing or whatever just tell me. But like this has actually been a question I've had is, because QAnon, prior to Jeffrey Epstein being a thing, like being a known person, was constantly talking about sort of like like made up child sex rings and the idea that like Trump was uh, you know, fighting the deep state and like trying to stop stuff like this. Now, in a world where there's actual evidence of this horrific, horrific thing happening, but like Trump is friends with Jeffrey Epstein or at least was like buddies and was in pictures with him. Like how does that...how does that inform like Q mythology? Do you know what I mean?
ALEX: Oh boy, do I have an answer for you.
ALEX: So I was wondering this too. I've been wondering this for a while and I actually, recently, tried to figure this out. So apparently, the idea is that video from 1992, where they are at a party watching cheerleaders dance and seem to be talking about how attractive they are.Trump, basically, has been undercover trying to bust him for decades.
JASON: Oh wow.
PJ: [overlapping] Oh the idea is that the reason Trump has been photographed...or actually videotaped with Jeffrey Epstein, talking about how Jeffrey Epstein is his friend and Jeffrey Epstein likes young women, is because he was an undercover real estate mogul trying to stop it from happening.
ALEX: And I got to see this all happen in real time this week. I got to see the sort of conspiracy community synthesize a new piece of contradictory information. Uh, this week.
PJ: Which was?
ALEX: So as you know, Trump is very outspoken about calling people losers and weirdos and blah blah blah. And um Ghislaine Maxwell, who is currently being charged for helping Jeffrey Epstein sexually exploit underage girls, her name came up at a press conference, and Donald Trump was asked to answer a questions about her. And his response was, "I wish her well." And…
PJ: Which is super weird. Which is a super weird thing to say about a person.
JASON: Yeah, for somebody who is up on those charges.
ALEX: So, at first, I went into the conspiracy sub-reddit to watch people talk about it and people were just like, "Why does he always stick his foot in fucking mouth? It's unbelievable...... blah blah blah blah blah..." And there was like a lot of like gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. But then by the following day, what it was was a signal—it was a threat to all of the actors, who might try and assassinate her, that he will be watching. “I wish her well” means, “you better not touch her because I am here to make sure that justice is served.”
JASON: Oh wow.
JASON: It’s so- it's so interesting, this idea that um the online community has to decode or synthesize this stuff? When you described earlier the post that Q had put up?
JASON: “Welcome to this. The temple looks like this or what does an owl symbolize?” It literally sounded like you were starting a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
ALEX: Oh my God.
ALEX: You know...
JASON: You know? And that us as the players are gonna have to decode and figure out how to move through this world that you've created. This-this cryptic world of puzzles and games and codes and figuring it out. And to figure it out means you are now enlightened. You're on the inside rather than the outside, right?
ALEX: Exactly, and that brings us to Wayfair. That brings us to Wayfair.
JASON: Okay, what is Wayfair?
PJ: Okay, I know—this is the part where I have a tiny little whatever of knowledge. Wayfair...
ALEX: Is an e-commerce company that sells furniture and home goods.
JASON: Ohh, okay.
PJ: Okay, well that was what I was gonna....
JASON: Oh, so it's just....
PJ: Yeah, they sell like wholesale furniture.
JASON: Got it.
PJ: My mom used to have a discount there, for some reason. So she'd be like...
JASON: Savage flex PJ. Savage flex.
PJ: (laugh) It is.
ALEX: I was gonna say that it's incredibly suspicious given all of this.
PJ: Alex, you really want to go down that road? Nancy Warren will hear this program.
ALEX: (laughing) I'm sorry Ms. Warren.
PJ: Mrs. Mrs., Alex.
JASON: This is...this is fascinating, right now.
JASON: Is that...is that your...your Mom is Nancy Warren?
JASON: Meh, I'm just saying.
PJ: My mom has a Twitter account that's like her name and some numbers after it and she only uses it to tweet at the ReplyAll show account to say like, "Those guys really work hard and people should appreciate their work."
JASON: Oh wow.
PJ: "Do not give them too much guff if new episodes aren't coming out on time."
ALEX: That's really funny.
JASON: Is she the one that has said on the ReplyAll Twitter that Jason Mantzoukas is a real hunk?
PJ: Mom, I'm sorry that this is happening.
JASON: Every episode, is she the one that says, "I hope it's a Jason Mantzoukas episode," everytime?
PJ: Mom, I'm sorry.
JASON: Jason Mantzoukas, what a snack.
PJ: Mom, I'm so sorry. (laughing)
JASON: Didn't your mom put up a post, "I tried to... see it's weird. I tried to use one of your mom's tweets that said, " I heart Jason Mantzoukas. #snack #hollywoodbadboy #thezouksisloose.
ALEX: Um, I actually got my-
PJ: So Wayfair’s a furniture website.
ALEX: Okay, so, the way this Wayfair stuff started is someone, I think, totally independent of QAnon....um noticed that there were these incredibly expensive cabinets on the website Wayfair. They are like these industrial cabinets. Um, as a matter of fact, why don't I screen share with you guys, so you can take a look at this.
PJ: Oh my God!
ALEX: Can-can you first describe the cabinets? Just describe the cabinets.
PJ: They're really.... they're the cabinets they give you at generic dorm room university. They're just like big white industrial dorm room cabinets.
JASON: They look like- they look like, yeah. Industrial cabinets that you might put in the garage to put like rakes and brooms in so forth in.
ALEX: They remind me of the cabinets that I used to keep the vegetables in at Subway.
PJ: Alex gets twenty bucks every....
JASON: I think PJ and I did a pretty good job of describing them, Alex. But then you were like, people need to know I worked at Subway. I need people to know.
ALEX: I'm just gonna sit this one out. You guys can figure out the rest of it.
PJ: Oh! The cabinets are really expensive. They're $15,000 Subway vegetable cabinets.
ALEX: They're very expensive. It's true.
ALEX: The logic that they-that this person had was, "The cabinets are very expensive and they all have women's names." So the names are like Samia, Noria, Urizia. They all have the names of women. And...
PJ: As like the product line.
ALEX: As the product line- as the name of the product.
JASON: [overlapping] Like the same as like Alexa or....
JASON: Or you know or like the Ikea lines that have all their weird names.
JASON: Like the Billy bookshelf, is the Ikea bookshelf.
ALEX: Then they started scouring like missing persons databases.
PJ: Oh, if you type in this woman's name to see if a person with this name has ever been kidnapped.
JASON: And lemme guess: they found people whose names match these cabinets that are missing, assuming then you can basically go to the Wayfair website and order a person? Right? Under the, under the guise of ordering this cabinet.
PJ: I just want to say even for a conspiracy theory, this is so nonsensical.
Pj: Like the idea that they're like, "Yeah, a furniture company that MUST be involved in trafficking because they have a suspiciously expensive cabinet”?
JASON: Well, I mean, listen. If your mom has a discount, it's a lot cheaper. I'm just saying
PJ: Mom. Mom, I'm so fucking sorry. [laughing]
JASON: I mean, like your mom is now, I believe, by the transitive property of mathematics involved in child trafficking.
PJ: I really want to just tell my mom to skip this episode. I feel like she's gonna be so stressed out. [laughing] She's a great mom.
JASON: [laughs] She's a great mom. How dare you.
ALEX: So, so, as near as I can tell, this whole conspiracy theory originated on Reddit And I just want to read one of the top posts in the thread where I first saw it. Uh it's by someone called Skydiving Squid, they have 387 up votes on this thing. "An associate of mine discovered some items being sold on Wayfair a couple days ago and reached out to me asking if they seem suspicious."
PJ: An associate of mine? [laughing]
ALEX: The items we initially-
PJ: Another Looney Tunes from the internet. That is so....
ALEX: “The items we initially we found were white cabinets being sold anywhere from $10,000-$18,000 USD. Each cabinet was identical yet somehow at different prices and discounts. Now, if that's not odd enough, each cabinet had a girl's name and a number between 4 and 12 next to it. Every name we looked up was a child that recently went missing.
Yesterday morning, someone on Reddit discovered pillows that were selling for $10,000 on Wayfair. These identical pillows can be purchased on Amazon for $32. Here's the thing, Wayfair is scrambling right now. [PJ laughs] Initially, they said this was a conspiracy around a price glitch of their specific white cabinet. Wayfair, essentially, called everyone on this subreddit, directly, idiots [PJ: (indistinguishable)] for making something out of nothing. A price glitch that only affected only one product? A glitch that duplicates the same product multiple times? Assigns different prices between $9,000 and $18,000 and gives them all missing female children's names and ages? We stumbled upon a child sex trafficing front on Wayfair and now Wayfair is scrambling. Those kids are....”
PJ: Wait, but also—sorry to interrupt. Why would they be hiding the children in pillows?
ALEX: I don't think they're hiding the children in pillows. I think the idea is...
PJ: Oh, you don't even get a cabinet.
ALEX: You say, you want a Eurizia cabinet, and then instead you get a—
PJ: If you kidnap the child and you sold on a wholesale furniture website that my mom has a discount on—I'm sorry mom—why wouldn't you at least change the name of the child?
ALEX: I - That, I don't know.
JASON: Doesn't that seem like you would be like leaving a pretty obvious like trail?
ALEX: Guys, you're asking me as though I have something to do with this. I don't.
JASON: You're the one reading it, like I will say, passionately.
PJ: Very passionately.
ALEX: Okay so then they say “I have the screenshots. I have screenshots of all their white cabinets, black cabinets and pillows. The FBI has them now and hopefully they're doing something to stop Wayfair. I doubt the corporation’s involved but someone with access to their sale site is. I just hope the idiot can't somehow delete the system logs or get too far. This is another win for Reddit, but it's far from over.”
JASON: Oh wow.
PJ: Oh my god.
JASON: I mean, like really, it really is, you're describing—what you're reading and what you're describing is someone, who believes themselves to be on like a hero's journey.
PJ: It’s also awful because there are actually missing children. Like, somebody’s kidnapped kid is getting, like their name I mean, is getting dragged into this stupid furniture conspiracy.
ALEX: And on top of that, if you’re then to follow it to the next leap, which is, they found someone who worked at fuckin’ Wayfair, the actual dob-job title was Assistant President and Recruiting Manager Rachel Chandler…
So now they’re hassling two Rachel Chandlers. A Rachel Chandler, who's a photographer, who has no need to work at Wayfair for any reason. And some other Rachel Chandler who has nothing to do with the one who also had nothing to do with a child trafficking ring.
Like, Wayfair had to issue a statement, which to me is like so—it like it speaks to sort of the just the tidal wave of people who are willing to buy this.
Like, so, lemme, lemme find their statement... typing…
They- they said quote "There are of course no truths to these claims. The products in question are industrial grade cabinets that are accurately priced. Recognizing that the photos and descriptions provided by the supplier did not adequately explain the high price point, we've temporarily removed the products from the site to rename them and provide a more in-depth description and photos that accurately depict the product to clarify the price point." It seems totally reasonable.
PJ: God. Well, we're at a very sad yes.
ALEX: We're at a very sad yes.
JASON: Oh god. [PJ laughing] Yes yes yes, I guess.
PJ: Should we go back to the Tweet?
ALEX: yeah, sure. Do you want to explain this tweet uh uh to us, Jason?
JASON: Sure. Okay, so again the tweet is: “Expose Rachel Chandler (Epstein's child handler) Recruiting manager at Wayfair. #child trafficking #savethechildren #knowthyenemy #Wayfair #Wayfairtrafficking #pedophilia.”
And then it is pictures of this socialite Rachel Chandler but then a linkedin profile from a different Rachel Chandler, who works for this company called Wayfair. A picture of the socialite, Rachel Chandler, with Bill Clinton. Then...and then, my favorite picture, which has Reese Witherspoon, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Wayfair director Andrea Young.
And my, now, understanding of this is to all say that is this part of this theory that there are pedophiles, who are using, in this case, the Wayfair company, uh, online catalog and finding these expensive cabinets. The cabinets are so expensive that the only way they could be charging this much money for these cabinets, that have female names, and so the theory that is being proposed, is that the Wayfair is you are able to order children from their company under the guise of, "I'm ordering this industrial cabinet. And that this “Rachel Chandler” is actually not Chandler but is "child handler" Chandler. That's what's this is purporting. Right? That's what this Tweet.....have I done it right?
ALEX: Yeah, you've done it right.
JASON: Ugh, I wish I hadn't.
ALEX: Sorry. [laughing]
PJ: Such a terrible terrible.....
JASON: I wish I hadn't. I don't want it. I don't want to know all this. This is why I'm not on social media.
PJ: [laughing] This is why you get all your social media by podcast.
PJ: Coming up after the break… scandalous jam.
PJ: Welcome back to the show. Uhh Jason, what else have you got?
JASON: Okay. Next one is....okay. So I know a little bit about this. So but I don't know a lot about this. So....
JASON: But I'm curious because it is um Los Angeles, where I live adjacent to. So this is from Jack, @ I am Jack Manning. And then, it is...okay. Now the tweet is—the tweet has a-a-a structure to it, which is in the upper left hand corner it says, "Mold on jam." In the upper right hand corner it says, SQIRL and it’s S-Q-I-R-L, which is a restaurant here in Los Angeles, "Sqirl on Virgil Avenue." And the, below those in the middle is the hand holding emoji. And then it says, "Unwanted organism on host." Okay?
JASON: That's what it says. Now, I know a little bit about this, in that....
ALEX: I know nothing about this, just to be clear.
JASON: Okay, I know a little bit about this in that I saw a headline about the restaurant Sqirl serving moldy food.
PJ: Oh, it's so good.
ALEX: It's a good one.
JASON: I know that this tweet is about that?
JASON: But so, I'm like a...I know, I guess, I don't know. I know 30% of what this is maybe?
PJ: Oh, you do not know 30% of what this is.
JASON: Oh really? okay....yeah.
This ama- this is even better.
PJ: Yeah, oh God. Okay. And Alex, you know nothing?
ALEX: No. I mean, now thanks to Jason, I know that Sqirl is a..is a...
JASON: Sqirl. Okay, so just for background....
JASON: Sqirl is a very popular—it's been around for, I'm gonna say, maybe the last 6 or 7 years, incredibly popular Los Angeles like lunch, brunch, hipster spot that has like high end granola and yogurt—
JASON: And like very yummy but like very basic kind of brunchy kind of food.
PJ: Alex, just so you can get a sense of Sqirl, can I just show you this video of like um—it's like a Food Network video of them making blackberry jam at Sqirl, just so you can like see and describe the place?
PJ: Okay wait, let me send you the link and you can screen share. Okay?
ALEX: Okay. Alright, here we go.
PERSON: Just east of Downtown Los Angeles, is a small cafe called Sqirl.
PJ: It's...this is just like Joy the Baker from the Food Network, learning how to make like the vaunted Sqirl jam.
PERSON: But what they're really famous for is their jam, which is made by Sqirl's owner, Jessica.
PERSON 2: Hi Jess.
JESS: How's it going?
PJ: It's just like a cutesy hipster whatever.
ALEX: Yeah yeah. It looks like a lot of places in New York.
Clip: You’ve come to the right place. I was think today we can do...
ALEX: Alright, do you want to keep this going?
PJ: Yeah, white walls. Nice lighting. Jam. Okay, cool.
JASON: PJ, have you been there in your...
PJ: I was taken there by fellow podcaster Hrishikesh Hirway from Song Exploder.
JASON: Yes. Fellow friend of all of us, yes.
PJ: And like a cool, you know, like.....
JASON: Of course. Of course, Hrishikesh Hirway would take you to Sqirl.
JASON: I indict you all.
PJ: So this place is like it's a very cool. Like it's like one of those places when Hrishikesh took me, it's kind of embarrassing cause it's such a hipstery popular like capital C Cool place but it's also really good. So we're gonna go. And we did. And it was great. And as like a pretentious person, I was like, "I went to Sqirl." Um and I was like bragging about something I didn't understand.
But so what I didn't know and what basically this whole story came out a few weeks ago was like wonderful, which is like Sqirl, the first thing they got famous for was the woman who started, this chef named Jessica Koslow. She was really good at making jam. And she made this like delicious jam that everybody was crazy about. And like before she made a restaurant, it was like she would go to like farmer's markets and like the Sqirl jam is still like the thing. There's like a Reply All producer, who like for reasons that will be become clear, I'm not gonna name who bought lots and lots of Sqirl jam and keeps it in—or previously, until a few weeks ago, was keeping it in the freezer as like a special treat to eat.
JASON: Oh wow. A backlog of that jam.
JASON: She was cramming that jam.
PJ: She was cramming the jam.
PJ: Okay, so so so I don't know what it was, like two weeks ago or whatever. This guy named—wait, let me look this up. I want to get this right. This guy named Joe Rosenthal, whose just like, does not live in Los Angeles. I think he lives in the midwest. He is a mathematician but he also likes to blog about food.
And he started posting on his Instagram account, he had like 20 Instagram stories, which he called the fungal. And he was claiming that Sqirl, this beloved fancy like emperor's new clothesy L.A. restaurant, that when they made this special jam, they made it in unsanitary conditions and that it was growing layer and layers of mold. And that instead of throwing that jam out. They would just scrape the mold off the top and then sell everybody the jam.
JASON: And can I ask you a question? Because that is—that's basically what the headline I saw was.
ALEX: That's so gross.
JASON: But my question was like, I know there are some foods that mold is part of it, like cheeses and stuff like that. Right? This is bad, right? This isn't like good? This isn't a way you make jam, is it?
JASON: Ok good.
PJ: No. No.
JASON: Okay, that was what I was wondering.
PJ: Jam is—and I had to look this up after this happened but jam is definitely not supposed to be moldy. It’s not like how blue cheese is moldy on purpose. Like the chef, Koslow, she said that the reason her jam was molding is that it’s low in sugar, but then her former employee said, “no the reason her jam is moldy is because there’s a mold-covered fan spewing mold spores over the jam as we’re making it. In any case, this mold was not supposed to be there.
JASON: Got it. Great.
PJ: So let me send you guys a picture. I'm gonna just text this to both of you. You guys have your phones, right?
PJ: So this tipster leaked a photo of the purported mold bucket...where when they scrapped the mold off, they would keep it in this bucket that was especially for that.
JASON: I have not received....oh. Ohhh woah! Ohh. ohhh.
ALEX: It looks like someone tossed a bunch of paint chips into some jam.
JASON: Oh..that...woah, that just literally triggered my gag reflex. [overlapping]
ALEX: Ugh, that's so gross.
JASON: The way that the—oh my God. It is...my eyes watered and it triggered my gag reflex. The, specifically, the way that the mold is pushed up against the edge of the barrel, like folds and folds of mold like has been pushed...ugh..ugh...ugh.
PJ: It's truly disgusting.
ALEX: It's so fucking gross dude.
JASON: Wow. This is next level gross. Holy shit! Wow! Okay.
PJ: Yeah. And according to Joe Rosenthal’s informant, they were making this jam is an illegal secret kitchen space, that was purposely hidden from health inspectors. According to him, they told him that when the health inspectors would show up, they’d be locked in this windowless room, they would have to turn off all the lights and block the door with garbage bag so that no light would leak out and the health inspectors wouldn’t see it.
ALEX: Oh, so they're like cooking their kitchen books. They have the...they have the... they have the kitchen upfront and the real mold kitchen in the back.
PJ: At least that is the version of the story that Rosenthal said he heard from the former employees. Jessica Koslow, the chef, has a slightly different story, which is, she says like “yes, I did have a” she calls it a “secondary kitchen that the health department didn’t know about.” She says they were only using it to store jam, not make jam, and she says that it was sort of like a shortcut she took in the early days and eventually, they fell into health department compliance, is what she says.
But the other thing that Koslow did that sort of, I think made people trust her less is that when this came out and people were arguing about like what exactly happened, she basically said the thing your brain wanted to tell you, Jason. She was like, "You know, like some food has like mold on it. Like cheese has mold on it."
PJ: "You know, this might seem gross to you guys but like, the reason that I know this is okay is because we’re operating under the guidance of a micologist", like a mold expert. This guy Patrick Hickey, like he said this is totally fine. And she was like, "You know, that, that bucket, like that was something we had for like a second like years and years ago." So then the tipster sent another picture of the bucket but with a date stamp on it of 2019. And the Washington Post gets in touch with the renowned mold expert and he's like, "I've never talked to this woman."
PJ: "I have no recollection of telling her anything." He was like, "I guess I said in an BBC interview or something that at home, if you have like jam in your fridge and there's a little mold on it, you can scrape it off. But I would have never have told a restaurant to scrape mold off the top of their jam as like a normal matter of course.
JASON: What? Wow. Okay. Holy cow.
PJ: And then the sort of like last step of it was that, and I don't know like Los Angeles neighborhoods really well, but I guess like, the neighborhood that she's in is sort of like a a neighborhood that's been gentrified. And that restaurant has been a part of it. And she'd given quotes like a few years ago about like how like, the only way she could make her restaurant work was by taking lots of shortcuts, which she said in like a puckish way, because people weren't thinking about moldy jam, and also by like living in a real shitty neighborhood, which I think people were like, "Oh, this is gross and ethics of it are gross and this place that everybody loved like maybe we do not love so much now.”
JASON: Interesting. I mean, like how has this not come out sooner if this is what's been going on for years? Cause I can't...I can't stress enough. Sqirl is like a very popular restaurant, you know, in Los Angeles. It is not like just like a little neighborhood spot. It's like—it's a popular place. So, like I'm surprised...In other words, I'm surprised this hasn't come out simply by the nature of how much press Sqirl gets.
PJ: I think partly that um...[laughs] That this may have come out when it did, is that uh, the chef was um, was on a kind of a publicity tour because um, she's the author of a new book. I think it's publishing this month. Uh, yeah, July 21st, 2020. It's called the Sqirl Jam book.
JASON: Oh boy. It's not called The Mold And the Beautiful?
PJ: It's not too late.
ALEX: Oh my God.
PJ: “"This is a food whose time is come" declared Mark Bitman about Sqirl, the much beloved Los Angeles restaurant that locals stores and critics like all flock to. Sqirl all began with the jam....”
JASON: Mark Bitman? The minimalist cooks at home Mark Bitman?
PJ: [laughs] Yes. It just- it makes me happy because it feels like um it's so stupid. And It's so— I mean, like people...people who worked in that restaurant, who feel like they were mistreated that's not stupid. But like fancy people eating moldy jam feels like it belongs to the world before we had to all live in caves because the pandemic. Like it just really....
ALEX: I just want to say that in the industrial cabinet at the Subway I worked at, everything was very clean.
JASON: Yeah. I bet. I bet.
PJ: Wait. Alex, you worked at a Subway?
ALEX: Yeah, you didn't know that?
JASON: Maybe it's a call back? Maybe that part was cut out. We don't know!
ALEX: Can we...make a note, please cut that part out Sruthi. So this will just be a second reference that we reference to having existed in the past.
PJ: They were also, by the way....
JASON: And then the conspiracy theorists can be like, "What was said?! What was that a call back to?!”
ALEX: The missing 17 minutes.
JASON: ”Release the full tapes! Release the truth! Release the Sruthi cut!”
PJ: Is is weird that is all about stories about like secret underground terrible things happening but then sometimes they happen.
ALEX: So what happened to this restaurant?
PJ: I mean, they’re still open. They've gotten a lot of bad press. The book is still coming out. Koslow has apologized, she’s said something to the effect of like, "You know, back when we were starting out, we were scrappy. We had cut some corners. I would not cut those corners now. I don’t know, I actually like—my—this was like—you know when just like a story like, I've been to this restaurant, one time. I didn't eat the jam. It shouldn’t matter
JASON: It's your favorite restaurant.
PJ: Favorite restaurant. But I was like, enjoying it soo....Like I read every single thing that was published about this stupid contreversary and the only thing I didn't get to see, which I am still curious about is just like, like tomorrow, is there still a big line outside of this restaurant? And I feel like maybe for the 40% of people that are like, “I'll never eat there again,” there's like 20% of people who are like, “oh I've been meaning to check that place out. There's probably like no line right now.”
JASON: Yeah. So this is a—just so I can do the whole bit.
JASON: Uh, this is a tweet, cause I think I...Oh, sorry Alex. Do you get it?
ALEX: Uh, yes. I think so?
JASON: PJ, you already got it.
PJ: You say that a little bit like I'm not sure if you do.
PJ: Do you want to recap the tweet?
ALEX: Oh oh. I get it. Yeah, I get it. I can recap it if you want.
PJ: Well, I don't want to put you on the spot.
PJ: Surely, you've done your math homework.
ALEX: Oh, so would you like me to do it?
PJ: Yeah, do it.
JASON: This is a wild...this is wild to be a part of.
PJ: Things got out of control.
ALEX: Okay, so it says on one to the left, it says mold on jam. To the right it says, "Sqirl on virgil avenue." And then the handshake, underneath the handshake it says, "Unwanted organism on host." Meaning that mold on jam is an unwanted living organism on a host, which is the jam. Sqirl on Virgil Avenue is a restaurant that has gentrified a....that has helped a rapidly gentrified community and is itself an unwanted organism on the host of this neighborhood. Am I right?
JASON: I think so. Yeah, that makes sense.
ALEX: See, I told you I got it.
JASON: Yikes, guys. That's a yikes.
JASON: Food stuff, for me, is like that's...I really...like my eyes watered and I got like gaggy looking at that. I urge everybody to seek out that picture cause it's a straight barf.
ALEX: We’ll, we'll put it in the show notes.
ALEX: So you can see straight barf.
JASON: Please put it in the notes.
P: So, the unavoidable. Jason, thanks for doing this.
ALEX: Yeah, thank you.
JASON: Guys, what an absolute delight.
ALEX: I mean, basically what we did is gross you out and tell you about horrible things that are going on in the world.
JASON: It's a bummer. You know what?
PJ: Yeah, the world was a better place before you went into your closet and turned on your microphone.
JASON: Now, I'm gonna walk out of my closet into my house and be depressed for the rest of the night. Thanks guys. Thanks.
PJ: You're welcome.
JASON: What a great Friday night.
Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and me, Alex Goldman. Our show was produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung, and Emmanuel Dzotsi. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. We were mixed by Rick Kwan. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Lisa Wang. It is Lisa’s last week on the show - Lisa stayed on longer than her intended internship to continue to help us during this completely unprecedented and bizarre time, and she’s great, and we will miss her a lot.
Special thanks this week to Brandy Zadrozny.
Our theme song is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Additional music production by Mari Romano.
Matt Lieber is that satisfying mechanical click and whirr of a jukebox switching records.
You can listen to our show on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. We’re going to be replaying some of our favorite episodes for the month of August while we work on new stories. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you in September.