what I do, who I am

The man and I decided to lounge by our fire tonight.  It was a long, gray, wet day with the prospect of another long, gray, wet day on the horizon.  So Lucy and I curled up on the couch, with John in a lounge chair, with the music filling the house with the sounds of Melody Gardot, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra and fire gently crackling in the background.

I began to think, as the day wound down and the tension began to ease from my shoulder blades, about how long I’ve really been in the hospitality industry.  I remember working the concession stand for my brother’s little league team — selling all sorts of colorful candy treats to parents and friends there to watch the games.  And helping out at my aunt’s campground in my teens — learning very quickly that the British and Americans spoke two different versions of the same language.  Beginning my first high school job bussing tables and running food at an exceptional eatery and learning the elegance of casual fine dining first hand — the knowledge needed to properly ensure a diner’s enjoyment.  Three years hawking burgers and loaded potato skins at a huge corporate operation (and in multiple locations to boot!) that taught me nothing if not systems and their effectiveness.  I thought about my ex-Uncle and all the things he taught me about steps of service, how to clear a table, properly pour a bottle of wine, to appreciate the artistry of a chef.

It isn’t surprising at all that I’ve found myself fully immersed in the industry in my mid-thirties — even if I spent a lot more of my time waiting tables bemoaning it and wishing myself anywhere else than appreciating the knowledge base I was growing.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with restaurants.  It’s hard, back-breaking work with very little lasting financial reward and it’s every day, all day and night.   On national holidays, restaurants have additional staff.  Not less, and they certainly aren’t enjoying the day like everyone else.

But somehow, i can’t imagine doing anything else.  I live it and I breathe it.  It’s an integral part of who I am.  If I know nothing, I at least know restaurants.  The culture, the ebb and flow, the politics.  It brutalizes you, pulling you back when you most want to leave.  It’s an addiction, a constant fight for perfection that will never occur.  I’m so indescribably proud of my little restaurant and all it has provided a foundation for: new locations, new concepts, more brilliant restauranteurs and chefs.  And yet it absolutely breaks me on a daily basis, pushing my patience and capabilities to their absolute limit.  It makes me want to quit, it often makes me cry.  But it also lifts me up at unexpected moments, and brings such unadulterated joy for flashes of time.

It doesn’t surprise me at all, when I think back and look at the path I’ve walked, that I am the director of a restaurant company.  But it also takes me completely by surprise that this is where I’ve gotten to, because despite all the experience and all the time in the trenches, I still feel as though I know nothing at all.