Keeping up, or making every attempt

Dear Feastlings,
Twenty-five or twenty-six years ago- it all runs together after a point- four of us opened a tiny restaurant called the Dish. For a number of reasons, some happy and some sad, it doesn’t exist anymore, but today I’m thinking about what I really liked and really miss about it. Sure, I liked the food, though I’m sure if I looked at an old menu, I’d be unimpressed with my work there, and I really miss all that beautiful mismatched china, so much so that when I’m feeling blue, I’ll often treat myself to a one-off plate for home to serve on, despite the fact that, well, I don’t serve dinner at home all that often. Occupational hazard. The wine list, of course, dwarfed even Feast’s current list, and was a marvel.

The thing I’m particularly missing about the Dish, though, is its manageability. On any given night, even a weekend, the most we could seat was forty people, so there’d be two of us on the line, a dishwasher, a frontwaiter, a backwaiter, a busser and a bartender. An owner would host until things slowed down, and we’d clean up that kitchen that was maybe 10′ x 20′ at the outside in no time, and I oversaw every plate.

Comments about my micromanaging tendencies aside, I watched over every plate that left that tiny kitchen, I ordered every morsel of food that came in the back door and saw every scrap of waste that went out. I handled all of it, and worked the line each night besides.

Yesterday I spent much of my day lining up speakers for this weekend’s wine tastings,

(here’s Saturday’s:

No tricks, just treats!

and here’s Sunday’s:

Halloween tasting- the fine line between terror and terroir.

and I’m happy about them both,) and shuffling around items for our upcoming dinner with our buddy Kent Callaghan, who was gracious enough to share some library releases with us for the occasion:

Via satellite, via schmatellite

I ran over to Mission Garden to load up on some of their quince and square up with Emily Rockey, the genial genius head gardener there, and I talked November menu with some of the kitchen crew, and catering jobs with Amy, our catering director, wine orders with Katherine, our wine director, and before I knew it I was out on the floor, checking on guests to make sure people were happy, and then I found myself floundering: “what’s today’s soup?”

Pause. It was cannellini bean and kale this morning, but I couldn’t be sure.
“Can you remind us what’s in the special?”

Um, nope. No, I can’t. Aly made the special, and I didn’t even have time to check it out before I came out into the dining room. The fact is, Feast has grown steadily for over twenty years now, and while I haven’t been able to oversee every little item like I used to at the Dish, I had been able, at least, to keep it all together. I stopped doing the caterings myself and hired a catering director, who’s already fairly up to her own eyeballs. Mike, who would show up to work as a dishwasher on his skateboard at the Dish all those years ago, now runs the kitchen at Feast, and he’s busy enough to need Gaby and Dave to do a lot of the ordering, and Dave and I do the menu work these days. Katherine oversees the wine list and wine logistics, Kevin runs the shop and all of us scoot around the dining room helping people choose something that will compliment their meal. One Aly creates cocktails and another Aly creates dinner specials. Mary Ann runs the dining room but relies on Humberto at the door, and on and on. The servers keep an eye on their guests, and the runners and bussers follow up. The line cooks and prep cooks each have their niche, and we all rely on a dish crew of five to keep things running. And ultimately, when things are going smoothly, this group of nearly fifty people keeps tabs on the other scores of purveyors we rely on, and the drivers and pickers they in turn count on, and they let me know when someone has broken into the storage shed again- twice this past week- or when the linen company shorts us aprons and the produce company shorts us sorrel. And on and on.

I’ve been able to keep a finger on Feast’s pulse through each and all of them, but my twenty different jobs have been transformed into thirty or forty jobs of late, and I found myself out in the dining room wondering every bit as much as our guests how we were serving the Arctic Char, and was, as I’m wont to be, embarrassed.
I’m grateful, of course, that Feast is big enough and busy enough that I’m still experiencing an inability to keep on top of it all, but I’m also thinking fondly of the days when I wiped the rim of every mismatched plate, and when I could literally drop the pan I just used into the dish sink without so much as a step from my stove and keep going. And I knew what today’s soup was.

I know it’s foolish to wish for a tiny restaurant again- we’re through the most challenging part of the pandemic and now into what’s only the second most challenging part of the pandemic, so I’m confident we can keep making our mortgage payments despite our limited capacity and the new tendency of the work force to skip the interview they scheduled, or agree to come work and them change their mind and unceremoniously blow us off on, say, day one or two. But I’d love to feel like I could keep up again.

Clearly, an immediate prescription would be to stop squandering my limited time on these dramatic emails, but there are two things that have been keeping me from having a psychotic break since March of 20-20: a daily bike ride and a cathartic email a few times a week. That said, I’ve gotten it off my chest for today, and I got to let you know about the tastings and dinner that are coming up, so I’m off to see what the soup will be today. Have a good day, everyone.



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