Oh, to be a herd animal. While it doesn’t feel like we’ve been herd animals of any sort for the past fifty-one weeks, we evidently are, happily or regrettably, herd animals, and so- we wait. As much as I’d like to be a stunning and dramatic solitary animal, like a snow leopard, or a mole, I’m hanging out like the majority of you, more or less politely waiting my turn for a vaccination. And behaving like a solitary mole in the meantime.
A number of you have tossed out the question throughout the pandemic, “when will Feast reopen its dining room?” and the answer has varied with the pandemic’s various stages. In mid-June, when we were seeing 25-35 deaths a day and everyone was locked down and petrified, it was because in Pima County we were seeing 25-35 deaths a day, and we were locked down and petrified. Interestingly enough, we were still seeing 35 deaths a day only two weeks ago, but presumably because that number was down from the 150 to 170 deaths a day we were seeing in January, we’re either okay with 35 now, or we’re inured to it, because the question is coming more and more often, as are the people who wander into Feast expecting to sit down (though in fairness, those people seem to be of the ilk who are also expecting a burger on the menu, i.e. people who just don’t know Feast.)
I’d put myself in the category of people who’ve become inured to it all- even though conditions are as bad as they were last June when we were panicking, and arguably even worse, since restaurants and gyms can operate at full capacity now- and I somehow feel like it’s not that big a deal anymore.
Intellectually, though, I’m of the opinion that opening everything up will mean that we see yet another in a series of spikes, and people will unnecessarily become ill, and some people will thing it was terrible and wrong, and others will think that it had nothing to do with opening up, and people will quarrel and friendships will be demolished, and in the end, things will inch back to normal, albeit with fewer of us remaining to enjoy what normalcy we get. Again, just my opinion, and I’m sure I’ll hear a number of yours as a result of sending this email.
And the email has already meandered- it was really meant to talk about when and how we might reopen the dining room, and various and sundry detail surrounding that. As it happens, there are more moving parts to reopening than you might think. When I visited with Jeff at Kingfisher yesterday, we talked about their reopening, which they’ve now done three times, and I have to say, it was daunting to me. I’d prefer to just reopen once, as the idea of closing again and scrapping thousands of dollars’ worth of food is a bitter pill to swallow, even if I’d be happy to donate any food we couldn’t use to the Food Bank. I’d prefer to donate food on my own terms rather than do it because we’ve had to close our doors again.
It also happens that when you only offer takeout for fifty-one weeks, you don’t replace those who’ve been lost to attrition. Two of our kitchen crew have left in the past couple of months to follow other pursuits, and we’ve only replaced one, and we lost someone early on in the pandemic who was never replaced. We also have someone whose schedule has perforce changed to oversee some at-home learning, and while she’s limited her hours, we haven’t hired anyone to work the hours she was formerly working. Meanwhile, in the front of the house, as we call it, one server moved away, a busser took a job elsewhere that gave her Covid almost immediately, another server was dismissed, and yet another took a day job with more consistent hours than we had here, but remains here part-time. None of those shifts have required us to hire anyone as a replacement- we just give more hours to those who are still here. In the fall, just before the spike that eventually gave us those 150-170 deaths a day, we were gearing up to reopen the dining room and had a practice night on family, and we discovered that at that point, it really wasn’t worth reopening. For the number of extra hours we’d need to staff for to accommodate dine-in, we couldn’t possibly generate enough extra income by opening for dine-in, unless everyone who came in were game to kick things off with a hundred-dollar bottle of wine. And since we knew that wouldn’t be the case, we knew that if we reopened, we’d be inviting Feast to lose even more money than it’s lost these past fifty-one weeks. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t know how these restaurants with only a couple of years under their belts are doing it.
Now, of course, we’re so close to being vaccinated (essential workers are supposedly able to make appointments to be vaccinated at some point in March, which I’ll believe when I see it; I was told I should see a decision on my PPP loan application by late February, but I’m still waiting to hear about that one as well) that it hardly makes sense to open before the crew can at least get one dose in our collective arm. We have someone who’s particularly high-risk, and a couple more who are, at the very least, skittish about having people who were out the previous evening in some other venue both literally and figuratively rubbing shoulders with total strangers.
So I guess the answer to the question today is, “it looks like we’re getting closer, but until we can get definitive answers to our questions, we can’t give a definitive answer to yours.” And then I’ll set to work answering the deluge of emails. I long to be a snow leopard.
In the meantime, we’ll busy ourselves with the same things we’ve been doing lately: we’ll bring meals to a few shelters, and gratefully, with your help, should you choose to contribute, and you’ll hear more about those as they’re scheduled, but I’m playing email tag with three people today on that subject; we’ll make special dishes for special occasions, like Saint Patrick’s Day,
and, soon enough, Easter, but I can’t post a link until that menu is written. We’ll keep putting on virtual wine tastings
and fundraisers- some where we just spread the word and hope for the best,
and some where we pull out all the stops and make an assortment of wine-paired dishes for you to enjoy
and we’ll of course keep making food
and offering drink
and we’ll start getting ready- we’ll refinish the tables whose tops have been decimated early on in the pandemic by excessive bleaching, we’ll touch up what paint we need to, we’ll fix those dripping faucets and that hobbled water heater, and we’ll start turning the dining room back into a dining room, rather than the storehouse for carryout boxes that it’s become. And then we’ll live right: we’ll clink glasses, we’ll have lively conversation and break bread, and we’ll somehow integrate all we’ve been doing for the past year into what we used to do- maybe our wine tastings will be hybridized so people can still meet winemakers for next to nothing, or maybe we’ll keep on bringing meals out to some of our outlying friends. Like our PPP loan or our vaccinations, it’s anyone’s guess. But we’ll give it all a try, just like we’ve been doing, and we’ll be grateful for your support, just like we’ve been doing, and we’ll go back to being bees and ants rather than moles and snow leopards.