I have some free time to post here again 🤣 🤒
My goal here was always to share with people that I consider friends and mentors, and so while sharing details is fine, for me it's always been more about what I would have talked about with you if we were having a beer on Sunday night at our favorite bar. This post is some big stuff - none of it really good, and I've been chewing on what and how to articulate any of it because this is the internet and most of you don't even know me let alone like me or care about me since for most of you I'm just a screen name (that comes off much more melodramatic than I intended.)
Things were rolling along very nicely through February. From the beginning we were hitting all of our sales figures and paying all of our bills, including our first large investor payback. I had done things the best I knew how, and I remind you dear friends, that this is my first "real" restaurant - meaning, big city, food critics, large body of yelpers, scale in which I rely on others beyond myself, and lots of people making money off of my and my team's efforts. And so I rolled into March with high hopes of award season and feeling pretty good about what we had accomplished. I can think of only a small few dishes (our of the nearly 100) that we created since opening that were dogs. A few nights with complaints of over-salting, and the like. And that's a great segue into my first comment.
I had received a couple of pieces of feedback on social media from followers (not friends) that I lacked humility. I know that I post a lot about what we do...and I do it because 1) I want to market to people and develop a brand and awareness of what we're trying to do; and 2) I think what we do is really cool and it excites me. I've had a month plus to think about all this and I certainly can't argue the point. On one hand I know I always give credit to staff, to farmers, to media, but I'm sure that some people don't view my bragging that way. I've tried to think about how and what I post on social media, and I've tried to watch what others do. In New Mexico the market was so small that if I wasn't constantly self-promoting we would have never made it financially because the pool of potential customers was so small. I think in St. Louis, it comes off as cocky and lacking of humility. Is this part of "Midwest-Nice?" I don't know, but it's led me to step off all social media (one of two reasons...second one coming). I'm currently operating under the thought that I don't have the skills or maturity to understand the nuance of "informing" and "lacking humility," so I've ceased my personal pages and turned the business pages over to staff. Technically this isn't the worst thing in the world. We were using my personal pages because I had established friends and followers, but now the restaurant does as well. And, it will be nice to focus my time more on running the restaurant.
The second big issue was awards. I know they should never be the goal, but they were/are very important to me because they allow me to see how I'm doing. Part of that goes back to New Mexico where I never had a food critic visit the restaurant for dinner. Never. Plenty of travel writers, but never food. And nestle into that mentality the idea that I've been a student of the JBF award winners for nearly 15 years. I look at what is important to the foundation, and hence to restaurants, and integrate that into what I do. I don't do forage, zero waste, local sourcing, ethical staffing, etc because of JBF awards, but I am aware of them and integrate them because of what I've learned through the JBF awards. Does that make sense? A couple of weeks before the semi-finalist announcements I was interviewing a new PR firm and was told directly that we wouldn't get consideration because the foundation has encouraged its committees to focus on diversity. And sure enough when the list came out that focus was loud and clear in our region, and quite frankly I support it as a way to make long-term change in restaurant leadership and how the media decides who deserves recognition. Knowing what i knew I was disappointed but not upset, and turned my attention to a local ranking that was to be released two weeks later.
To keep this brief because it is still extremely painful for me, the critic did not visit our restaurant despite having given us one of the highest reviews in recent years. I called my peers on the list and they all got visited for the rankings. It really took me to the lowest place I've been in my life (at least since I was an angsty closeted gay teen). I don't want to get into this much more than what I have except to say that I only know my perspective and what I learned by talking to my peers. There's always more sides to the story. And yes, at some point I need to have a conversation with the critic and find out if I did something wrong or if I just don't have all the facts on the process. Either way it's an icky conversation that reeks of nothing more than sour grapes on my part, and I am very well aware of that. The painful part of this is how I watch my peers (pre-COVID) bragging about their listing and congratulating their team knowing all along that we were treated differently. It's immature of me. It's petty. But it's also a real emotion that I've been struggling with, feeling black listed or grey listed, and yet knowing it's very possibly all just made up in my head. So thank god for COVID to distract me because at least now I can apply my knowledge, skills and effort to maintain my business, whereas with the other situation I feel completely out of control and defeated. Again, way more drama than I prefer to share this publicly. And it's with all this in mind, partnered with my previous issue, that led me to get off social media - a place that used to be my refuge from the long hours of social isolation in the kitchen, which has now become painful and disheartening. For now I've had to give up that social network as well.
And finally we get to COVID. We're closed until further notice. I got my PPP funds on Tuesday night after the application went live. I've been focusing my staff on specific research areas since they're still on full payroll. My sous and I still go out and forage a few times a week because otherwise we'll lose a season of ingredients. And I'm strategizing about what we look like once we get on the other side of the pandemic. To that end I sent a short survey out to our mailing list and receive amazing feedback that we'll use to tighten the program up even more. I'll stop there.
Take care everyone. I'm still very raw. And I hope this was (or will be) a bit useful to someone in the future.