Something remarkable happened this week. I haven’t been at liberty to talk about it until this morning, 10:00 EST to be exact, but now I can tell you about some thing that has dominated my thoughts for the past week or so- an impressive feat, given the thousand thoughts that customary scamper around in my head.
Two of you, or two of you that I know of, anyway, took time out of your day and wrote some really lovely things about us, and now, months later, it happens that we’ve been selected as one of five restaurants in our region, one of twenty in the United States, by these people, as worthy recipients of a financial award:
The upshot is that we at Feast are lucky, and humbled, to be one of 20 recipients of a $50,000 grant from Chase Sapphire and the Infatuation.
When they called to tell me, I was dumbstruck. I felt numb and tingly. My eyes welled up with tears. I thought of the tens of thousands of dollars we’ve spent on things we couldn’t really afford throughout the pandemic- fixing and replacing dying and dead equipment, covering payroll during fourteen months of limiting ourselves to carryout only, paying our mortgage and utilities, our purveyors and plumbers and refrigeration people. It’s been the roughest couple of years I’ve had at work. Ever.
It’s had me thinking, though, about a lot at once. After the initial wave of relief and gratitude I felt, my cultural heritage kicked in. I’ve been feeling some guilt, I think even some shame, about receiving this grant. I have a really hard time feeling like we deserve this windfall. Yes, I am absolutely proud of what we’ve done and what will continue to do, but manning the rudder on a ship built of other people’s contributions, while well-intentioned, doesn’t necessarily make us the heroes that others have made us out to be.
I’m eternally grateful to you who wrote and made our case- touched that you’d go to the trouble- and floating a little bit on a cloud that’s lofted us up over the debt we’ve incurred, or at least a sizeable chunk of it. Feast has truly survived the past twenty months, though, not on this grant, not on our PPP loan, and not on my own personal savings, all of which have been shoveled relentlessly into the restaurant while it was on its own figurative ventilator, but more than anything on your generosity and kindness.
Yes, we’ve created some reasons to support us- we started making breads and baked goods, and we created Zoom wine tastings that have given our participants what we think is a remarkable wine education with winemakers and viticulturists, importers and other industry professionals. We delivered meals to outlying members of the community when people didn’t know whether it was safe to go to the grocery store, let alone sit in a room with dozens of other people, eating and drinking. We’ve participated in educational events and fundraisers- there’s another one coming up soon with Child & Family Resources, a little virtual cooking class, that you can learn about here:
Far and away the thing that’s kept us afloat, though, has been our decision to channel your generous donations of meals to people who need them, be it for recognition during the most stressful time they’ve ever experienced, or be it for sustenance as they eke out their daily existence, homeless or transitioning from homelessness, or on a fixed income if they have any income to speak of. You’ve all been remarkable people to allow us to use your donations to keep the staff here employed while feeding the most vulnerable members of our community.
Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money, but it’s easy to burn through: we’ll talk with our accountant, but we’ll likely need to set aside ten or fifteen thousand for taxes on our windfall, I’m guessing, and we’ve spent tens of thousands on equipment repair and replacement- it could easily all be absorbed by what we’ve spent on ovens, plumbing, and refrigeration since March of last year. Still, I’m a bit of a ping pong ball being knocked back and forth between awe at our good fortune and guilt at being one of a lucky few while thousands of other restaurants continue to slog along, robbing Peter to pay Paul month after month.
I’ve been considering a gesture that a yoga teacher once showed me, one hand upturned and one turned down, opening and closing, rapidly, and here’s what it signifies: that giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. You receive with one hand but give with the other. I tried to look up what it’s called, and what school of yoga it comes from, and while I didn’t find the answer, I found an article on Kundalini Yoga and and something the author was calling cash-flow yoga. It was written by a woman who talked a bit about her own background, growing up Irish Catholic, where goodness was somehow equated with poverty.
It was suffused with the spirit of my own mother-in-law, a truly remarkable woman who lived on a pittance of a social security check, earned after sixty-plus years in the St. Louis garment industry, and who, whenever coming into money of any quantity whatsoever, would immediately give it away. Never have I met another person who took as much pleasure in giving. My mother-in-law, the Kundalini Yogi.
So I find myself in a curious place: after seeing myself as a victim of circumstance for twenty long months, I have the opportunity to toss handfuls of cash into the air and call Feast that much closer to financial recovery, but the big pandemic lesson I still find myself learning is how money doesn’t mean as much as I’ve been led to believe. Mary’s legacy to me will be that I want to be like she was, and give what I’ve received.
It turns out we also owe it to the community that’s kept our doors open to give something back, so this next bunch of food donation deliveries is on us- we’re working on arrangements with the Primavera Men’s Shelter, Sister Jose Women’s Center, Casa Alitas, Youth on Their Own, Compass Affordable Housing, St. Luke’s Home, and Covenant House to send out more food for people who could really use it.
And if you’re one of those amazing people who’s been donating meals each month, or even every now and again, this would be a good month for you to send that check to the Food Bank, or to any of the thousands of charitable organizations that have found themselves deeper in the red than they’ve ever been because of all the small businesses and all the individuals they’ve historically relied on suddenly finding themselves without the means to support their favorite charities.
Of course, we’ll tuck a few thousand dollars away for the next refrigerator that gasps its last, but Feast is only so big, and cashflow is exactly that: a flow. If something only flows in and never flows out, you’re suddenly hauling a shopvac to your basement. For twenty months now, we’ve been offering suggestions as to where you can throw a few of your extra dollars, and this month, we already have those extra dollars. Throw them to someone else who needs them- support a small business. Donate to a struggling charity. We’ll be good for the time being, and we’re grateful for your support not only of us, but of anyone who’s having a difficult time.
If you’ve read this far, I commend and thank you, and I’ll mention what I should have been mentioning up front, but today’s news is big news, so forgive the pre-empted bits about our own upcoming events. There’s the Thanksgiving accompaniment demo for Child & Family Resources mentioned above, and two other events to consider- this Saturday’s wine tasting, our first in-person tasting since March of last year,
and a dinner with Kent Callaghan via Zoom, with library releases from the 2013 vintage, also taking place here in the restaurant.
There is also, of course, the November menu to be perused and enjoyed, any day or night of the week, except Monday.
Now get out there and do some good someplace, for yourself, and for someone else, if you can.
And to the two of you who entered us: Wow. Thanks, you two. Thanks like crazy.