The answer hasn’t really changed since forever ago when I started in this crazy industry. It’s a gut feeling: I have to get back in the kitchen. It’s what I know. It’s what I love. When all the shit went down, I knew what I had to do: Keep only the essential people, reduce hours and offerings, be smart, dig deep, make it work. We did that. And since then, we’ve been figuring out how to rebuild and regrow. It hasn’t been easy or fun, but it does feel right. And we are still standing.
When I was younger, I would often have to talk myself back into the grind with, “Well, at least people will always need to eat.” I needed to reassure myself when I was hitting the fifteenth hour without a proper meal or a break, and knowing I was not making enough money to afford anything fun, that I was doing something worthwhile. It wasn’t about money. It was about fulfillment. [There was] fulfillment in the idea that I was always learning and honing a craft. Fulfillment was serving guests delicious food. Fulfillment was the idea that my work made others feel good.
The basic idea of what I do—what restaurants do—is still my why. I want to face a challenge, be creative, and nurture. People still need to eat. They trust us to feed them. It’s really that simple.
…Am I happy right now? Not really….Would I Rather be doing something else? Absolutely not.
But am I happy right now? Not really. My daughter was diagnosed with a terrible disorder the same week we were told to shut down our dining rooms. She is the most important thing in my life, and her disease will get worse over time; it has no cure and no treatment. I should be working on that all the time—and on nothing else. At the restaurants, the staff is constantly scared they’re going to get sick, no matter the safety precautions and added protections. The financials suck. Sales are way down. We are just trying to get through this without going out of business. Some of the guests are rude and not very understanding. The pressure and the fear is always looming.
Would I rather be doing something else? Absolutely not. Despite all of it, this is still my happy place, even if I’m not happy at this very moment. There is something uniquely rewarding about restaurant life and being a chef. We thrive off of the challenge. We love pushing through the tough stuff. We are a community. A family. We are stronger together. We need each other. We support each other. One of the silver linings of this whole thing is what we’re doing to protect our staff. We have completely reconfigured how we pay our entire team: Every single hourly employee is in the tip pool and now everyone from the dishwashers to the bartenders makes a living wage. We have eliminated staff drinks. We are supporting mental and physical health. We are rebuilding, regrouping, and rethinking everything. We have hit the “reset” button and are trying to take advantage of this crisis to make our workplace, and our team, better for it.
I guess the short answer could have been: Why not? The people need to eat. And we need to feed them.
What is your “why”? Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to email@example.com.