I find myself a bit spooked by the number of times I stumble across someone in the dining room whom I barely recognize, or occasionally whom I’ve never met, and they say to me, “Oh, are you Doug? I know you- I get your emails.” It’s unnerving, for sure, to have a relationship with a number of you whom I’m meeting for the first time in the restaurant, but I’m grateful for it. It’s been a couple of years now since I’ve gotten a reply telling me that I’m a jerk or a crybaby or a racist (for serving white gazpacho in the days after George Floyd was suffocated under the knee of Derek Chauvin,) but I’m still not quite used to someone who looks unfamiliar to me in the dining room pointing out to me that we’ve now corresponded for months or years.
It’s odd, but pleasantly odd, to have people I don’t know, or people I barely know, telling me that they’re concerned because one email or another had me sounding depressed or fearful- to have someone you don’t recognize expressing genuine concern and care for you feels like having a new babysitter you’re immediately comfortable with. It’s having an interloper in your house, but one whom you immediately trust.
I know it’s already late in the week- probably Friday by the time I get this sent out- and that a few of you tonight will have expressed concern, but it’s as okay as it’s ever been this week, if not more so. Yes, two people walked out last Saturday, one fifteen minutes into his shift after being told that if he wanted to get his final paycheck before payday as requested, he would have to get along with his coworkers for his final two weeks. No fighting, no yelling- just be polite for two weeks. Within the course of those last fifteen minutes, he yelled at me for a few of them, declared he was sick, and walked out. The second one had what the rest of the staff surmised was a methamphetamine-induced explosion and left in the middle of service with all of the tickets printed up in long ribbons strewn on the floor and half-hanging from the garbage. It was, by all estimations, a crappy night for those of us who stayed to pick up the pieces.
Crappy a night as it was, though, it turns out that the things you expect to be the most horrible are often the most freeing: when Feast first opened, and I went two years without a paycheck, it was hands down the most freeing experience of my life. Finding out I could live on savings and borrowed money was a revelation. And now, finding out that the person by whom I’ve felt held hostage for months could leave and we’d be just fine? That’s the second most freeing.
The aftermath of the pandemic and the ensuing staffing crisis we’ve been dealing with for about a year now had left us petrified. Could we get along without this competent cook who treated the majority of his coworkers with complete disrespect? We didn’t think so. For months, we’ve been tiptoeing around some of the more disappointing members of our staff for fear that we’d lose even one mediocre person.
Missed a shift altogether without calling? You’re in trouble, but we hope we’ll see you tomorrow. Called your coworkers a slew of offensive epithets? Hey, please don’t do that again. Unless you feel you need to. It’s been a rough go for us, and I can only imagine it’s been the same for thousands of other businesses, but we’ve felt constrained to button our lip and put up with every enfant terrible who’s showed up for work the following day, because, well, they showed up for work the following day.
We still can’t even reopen on Sundays yet, but I can’t tell you how freeing it is to reply to a foot of angry, unreasonable, accusatory texts, “blocking this number,” and go on about my business. Indeed, it wasn’t just the second most freeing experience I’ve had since opening Feast, it literally made me feel lighter.
If you’re one of the small handful who tells me they’re worried since I haven’t written as often, don’t fret on my account. I’m learning how to jump without knowing for sure and hope there’s a safety net, and so far, there’s been one waiting to catch the lot of us. The kid who quit by text the day before Easter because they needed her at her new job showed up today for her last paycheck, and had in tow another former staffer who’d quit without notice. And yet, we’re still somehow okay. Galvanized, maybe. We have another month of busy season to go, and once Mother’s Day and graduation are over and done with, we’ll all recharge, and with any luck, rebuild.
Until that time, we’ll just put our heads down and keep at the things we always do. Last night was Dine Out for Safety and we helped SACASA raise some good money- if you joined us, we and SACASA thank you.
This Saturday, we’ll have another wine tasting, just like we’ve always done on Saturdays.
And next weekend, the 29th and 30th, we’ll have a tasting here on Saturday, a bonus tasting of Israeli wines at the Jewish Community Center on Sunday at 1:00,
after which I’ll scramble back here and we’ll host by Zoom a tasting of wines of the Pacific Northwest at 3:30. Then I’ll sleep for a bit and we’ll hit the ground running on the 2nd with our May menu, which as of this moment I still haven’t resolved. I’m working on it, though. Between interviews. Wish us luck.