Tomorrow marks two years since it began in Tucson: on St. Patrick’s Day of 2020, everyone in Tucson had to shutter by 8:00 pm, not knowing when we’d reopen. As an essential business, we were allowed to remain open, but within a couple of weeks, it was clear that our dining room would remain stacked with boxes and bags for the foreseeable future. We operated as a strictly takeout business for 14 months. It had its perks: we were all home by 8:30 pm, often earlier. It might have been more of a perk had there been something to do after 8, but I was happy to take my bits and pieces of good fortune where I could get them.
It’s still weird. We still have guests who aren’t comfortable dining indoors with others. We still get people having dinner at 4:00 pm. We still have guests who are outraged and offended that we ask people to wear a mask for the comfort and safety of those around them; heck, we still have people outraged and angry that *we’re* wearing them. We’ve been yelled at in person, and on the phone. We’ve been called stupid, and sheep, and unconstitutional. While it’s clear that some people don’t really understand what nomenclature they’re tossing around, what’s also clear is this: it’s cumulative.
So when cooks and servers, sommeliers and dishwashers hear the siren’s song of “elsewhere” wafting into earshot, it’s increasingly normal to drift after it, swiping at the lure of another industry, another lifestyle, or even only another restaurant. I must confess, after a particularly rough evening, or more likely, a particularly rough week, I hear it too, and I imagine the leisurely lifestyle that I see among my non-restaurant acquaintances for myself.
The galling bit is that the more people move on, the more the rest of us want to, partly because it enchants us too, and partly because every person that moves on leaves that little bit of extra work for each of us who remains behind, until that maddening song is so loud we can barely think. We place ads, but the majority of our applicants are responding to their own sirens’ song. I got a resume for the wine shop position the other day from someone who’s very skilled at operating a forklift, but whose experience with wine doesn’t even really include enjoying it. I had a person apply to fill a saute cook position who’s been a camp counselor. We’re holding it together, but I can hear the stitches popping in the tarp that’s meant to catch us.
Kingfisher closes at 9 now instead of midnight, and they’re closed on Sundays and Mondays as compared to their former seven-day schedule. Tito & Pep is back to being open on Sundays and Tuesdays again after having been shut down, but you can only have lunch to go. Even Vivace stops seating at 8:00 through Thursday, extending their hours to an audacious 8:30 on the weekend. We’re only seating until 8 instead of 9, but we’re on the precipice of needing to cut back our hours like our neighbors have. Unless, of course, we find a forklift operator who can handle six or eight saute pans at once, and a server or two who’s got more restaurant experience than eating in one.
Tomorrow, though, we’ll pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and disregard the PTSD that now accompanies corned beef and cabbage for us, and we’ll put on our smiles and our uniforms, and pepper the menu with extra servings of house-corned beef and cabbage; oatmeal porridge bread; and Guinness chocolate cake. I’ll give you three warnings right now about the corned beef and cabbage: First, it’s brown. We don’t use nitrates or saltpeter in our brine, so instead of thin, springy slices of bright-red beef, you’ll get thick, tender slabs or rich, brown brisket. We’ll serve it with cabbage and potatoes, carrots and turnips, and you’ll feel what momentary comfort you can in a world that’s on tenterhooks every waking moment. Second, we’re in no condition to take preorders- you’ll need to order tomorrow if you’d like some. And third, it’s entirely possible that we’ll run out. Please be kind. We’ve made 300 servings, but 70 of those are headed to our friends at St. Luke’s Home
and another 50 are headed out on catering jobs that were booked months ago. While that admittedly leaves us with more servings than people we could possibly seat in our still-limited-spaced dining room, there’s carryout as well (in fact, that’s why we’re making twenty-odd loaves of porridge bread,) and I know that people have entered that mindset that says, “a little hoarding never hurt anyone, did it?” So be aware that we may have to impose limitations, depending on the flow of the day.
How will we recover from it all? Most likely, with wine. This week’s wine tasting is getaway-oriented, based on a jaunt around the Mediterranean, and will be a tasty one. In the spirit of sticking with the siren’s song theme of today’s email, it’ll be called the Odyssey, and offer wines from Greece, Sardinia, Corsica and Slovenia.
A quick phone call- yes, our phones are working again after a two-hour mishap yesterday- to 326-9363 will allow you to reserve a set of samples, be your preference for tasting in-person or tasting remotely.
We hope you’ll join us some time, whether you get your comfort from corned beef, from the fruit of the vine, or from being someplace in those calm hours between the lunch and dinner rushes. We’ll help out regardless.