I Can See Clearly

By Cecelia Jones, general manager at Uncle, West Washington Park, Denver

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Headshot of smiling Black woman with afro wearing overalls.
Cecelia Jones manages one of two Denver-area ramen shops. / Courtesy Cecelia Jones

I am writing this sitting on the sofa and it is a Sunday. It has been a reflective eleven months in our little restaurant. We are still closed on Sundays; we are still open 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; and my salary is still intact. We have retained our entire staff through a shutdown in March [2020] to summer patio service to takeout and delivery only as of October 31. All of our staff is well paid and no one works more than four days a week. I work a 34-hour week in four days, always ensuring I have two days off in a row. My assistant general manager is working a similar schedule. He is a thoughtful and emotionally intelligent young man who has a heart of gold, and who can make a cocktail better than any barman I’ve ever met.

Our motto is that we are only as good as our last smooth shift, and that is a reflection of our restaurant. My boss, Tommy Lee, is known for his generosity and hands-on approach to restaurant ownership. He is the smartest man I have ever had the pleasure of working for. He has set a standard for work-life balance, ensuring that mental health is just as important as the bottom line.

I got into this industry later than most of my peers. I spent eight years as a professional dancer and I lucked into a job at a high-end and well-regarded restaurant in Cherry Creek. I was 28 and still thinking I would return to dancing. I was disciplined, mature, and not your average restaurant worker. I watched alcohol, cigarettes, Adderall, and cocaine control my peers’ lives. I moved up the ranks quickly and eventually managed for the company. I attribute this to my discipline, my attention to detail, and my dedication to what I began to see as a career. But the longer I stay in the industry, the more I realize I am only partially correct. As a whole, the next generation doesn’t view this as a career to be taken seriously. And so many in leadership positions are not helping young people see past the after-work cocktail. 

Fast forward to present day. We are thriving. We are proud of the work we do, even if it’s harder without the satisfaction of guests smiling over their bowls of ramen. But the staff fights every single day to be their best. We here at Uncle are different because we are a kind of gang. We hold each other accountable. We hold each other up. We have protected the sanctity of the work space. And in some weird, mirror-like projection, the workplace has protected us during the strangest time in our history.

Read the full collection of op-eds about bar culture in “Pouring It Out.

Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com

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