It will have been eighteen months to the day this Friday, eighteen months since we were told that at 8 pm, we’d shut our doors for an indeterminate period of time. We could serve food to go- we were regarded as an essential service- but there was no Paycheck Protection Program or Restaurant Revitalization Fund. We were terrified that we’d have two weeks or more of shutdown.
We skidded, holding our breath, into a brick wall. The dining room was dark each night, filled with carryout boxes, if and when we could get them. Our suppliers had run out, so we packed food first in boxes with Chinese brushstrokes on them, then in boxes too big and too expensive for the food inside them. We cut our hours, and we cut them again. Our guests were generous and kind, but takeout is takeout, and people gradually ordered less and less often, and when the governor let restaurants reopen, we took another massive dip in revenue.
We relied on driving meals out to people in Oro Valley and Green Valley, and everywhere in between; we created Zoom wine tastings and did events with the Learning Curve and had wine discounts; we took food to hospitals and first responders, to shelters for people and for animals, and to assisted living facilities, way stations and other organizations, and we did it with all of you.
We reopened for dinner four months ago, and for lunch one month ago, and I’m here to tell you, it’s far from over. Whether it’s the guy who asked me if I noticed a “dip in business” during the pandemic, or someone who innocently and naively tells me how great it is that we’ve made it through and isn’t it wonderful that it’s over, I have to restrain myself from pummeling them. I get that they have no idea what restaurants have gone through, or what we’re going through, or what we’ll undoubtedly continue to go through, and that knowledge helps to suppress the urge to throttle a sweet but clueless stranger. I opened a link to a fellow restaurateur’s post on LinkedIn the other day, and while it’s more about thinking twice before you post on your favorite social media platform a snarky review of a restaurant over a minor issue, it’s full of little statistics that I feel like people should know about.
At the end of it all, though, it also makes me realize how lucky we are. I walk the dining room here every chance I get, partly to help guests find a bottle of wine to accompany dinner, partly to make sure we’ve held up our end of the bargain and made food for you that’s worth what we’re asking for it, and partly to help clear tables or pour water. What I’ve noticed is that more and more people tell me each week, some of whom I recognize and some of whom I don’t, tell me that they read the emails I send out, and often.
I’m usually a little embarrassed and uncomfortable at the realization that I’m spilling my thin-skinned guts to hundreds of strangers every day or three, but I’ll be damned if I’m not grateful that all of you who’ve come to know me, and to know my irritating quirks and compulsions and my fragile and delicate state, have come to regard me, and often favorably, as a person. I’ve spent most of my career being the restaurant that I worked in- I wasn’t Doug, I was Doug, the chef at Boccata, or the Dish, or Feast- and now, thirty-nine years later, I get to be Doug, the quirky, compulsive, fragile and delicate guy you kind of know. Or the guy you really know.
This morning, as is my wont, I had finished maybe the second or third cool and refreshing bike ride I’d had since May, and was enjoying a perfectly roasted coffee at my neighborhood spot, when a guy I recognized came up to me and said, “Doug, right? Aren’t you supposed to be writing me a depressing email right now?” He patted me on the back in a friendly, caring way and said, “you should mention you had a beautiful cup of coffee this morning,” and walked away smiling and chipper. And he left me smiling and chipper as well. I realized that even with as many people who undoubtedly hit the delete button or roll their eyes when I bemoan my fate, some forty-five hundred people have my back, and that makes me well up with gratified tears. For eighteen months, you’ve supported our donation runs, and shopped for your wine here instead of a big-box store, and tipped our crew like they were members of your own family, whether you know us or not, and I think I speak for the whole lot of us when I say that we couldn’t be more thankful to you. We’ve watched our fellow small businesses close, and despite the persistent belief in some that it’s pretty much over and the dust has already settled, I think we’ll keep watching small businesses close, and it will be because they don’t have a coterie of caring people like you looking out for them.
Our job, then, while we’re still- thanks to all of you- open and trying to make good things happen, is to be to someone else what you’ve all been to us: a stranger who wants to lend a hand and be good to someone who needs it. I’ve just gotten off the phone with Matt Schmidgall, the Program Operations Manager at Youth on Their Own, and we’ve been postponing and postponing our donation run to them because the students just hadn’t been coming in to pick up their supplies at YOTO, and I was ready to hear that with school in full swing, they were back again and stopping in periodically.
It turns out, though, that they’ve been fewer and farther between- they’ve gotten used to being able to utilize the new Covid protocols- ordering their shampoo, say, or a backpack, or a blanket online, and picking it up after a YOTO staffer or volunteer delivers it to their school. So our plan is to dovetail our operation with YOTO’s- since they already have a weekly delivery system in place, we’re going to prepare food according to their schedule and get food out to the kids that way. I’ll let you know as we develop the system when it will happen, but in the meantime, you should know, if you don’t already, what Youth on Their Own does for students experiencing homelessness:
Meanwhile, thanks to the kindness of strangers, we’re still at it. There’s a wine tasting on Saturday, as per usual,
and Sonoran Restaurant Week still has five more days left,
and our regular menu, of course, is available for your enjoyment. We might even get all the meat and produce we’ve ordered today, though I have my doubts.
Now, I realize that Tennessee Williams is a bit dark for an email that’s meant to be uplifting and full of thanks, but it’s a heck of a scene, and art is good for the soul, even if it’s dark. So here you go. Thank you all for solicitously putting us between yourselves in the back seat of a big roomy Buick and driving us off to safety. We’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.