Twice in as few days I’ve thought to myself “This is why I opened a restaurant.” It’s not something I think often. Most days I’m focused on one or more of many tasks right at hand – payroll, new menus, inventory, employee matters – sometimes there are so many trees that even the existence of the forest can be in doubt. When those moments arise they are poignant. They are clear. They are warming, and they are what get you through the rough times, the drudgery and the low times when you have to talk yourself out of quitting.
Last year, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was slow. So slow that this year, we decided to run a skeleton crew -half a kitchen (Deon and 8-Ball), Jimmy behind the bar, no SA, only Seth on the floor, Ike and me. We had a single eight top on the books by noon and we expected a repeat of last year. Then, around two-fifteen, the phone started ringing. A six top, another eight, a five, a few deuces and seven top called in. Deon picked up on the impending rush and made a call to Connor to come in. No such luck in the front of the house, there wasn’t anyone available. Despite the big crowd and the small crew, the night went off without a hitch. The reservations had been timed and seated by Ike in such a way as to allow Seth to manage the flow of ordering and Deon and crew to push out the food in waves. When Seth felt the weeds growing around his feet, he sent me in to the dining room to buy him some time. drinks and bottles of wine never hesitated at the service well and Jimmy ran food,
taking pressure off Seth who was flying without a co-pilot. We felt busy, but not hectic and the guests never noticed that we were understaffed. It was like the classic image of the ducks on the pond…everything above the water looks like calm sailing and everything under the water looks like chaos. As the last guests walked out through the front door around 10:00 the workers’ ballet moved into it’s third act. Deon and crew cleaned the kitchen, Jimmy broke down the bar and Seth and Ike reset the dining room. Within 30 minutes it was all done. As the front and back-of-house crews assembled for a shift drink with a couple of waiting girlfriends at the bar, Deon and I brought out a half-sheet pan of roasted marrow bones, arugula dressed in vinaigrette, pickled onions and grilled bread. We all dove in and a collective, pleasureful moaning chorus, interspersed with giddy laughter played to an audience of flipped chairs and empty tables. After one bite, I stood back and took it all in. I talk a lot to my crew about the notion of creating a culture where we hold each other accountable and enjoy each other’s company. For a brief moment at the end of a long shift I could see it all come together over a few roasted bones and a round of drinks.
The second reminder of why I went into this business came on Thanksgiving Day. Most workers in the service industry get one day off for Thanksgiving. Some get even less than that. If your family is in St. Louis and you work in a restaurant in Jackson, there’s no reasonable way you can make it home and back in just a day. To show our appreciation for the hard working front and back-of-house workers in Jackson, we open our doors to anyone in the service industry who wants to join us for an afternoon meal. I cook the main meats and ask that everyone bring side dishes and desserts. This year, our friends at Whole Foods Jackson donated a beautiful turkey from White Oak Pastures which we roasted whole. We also poached two whole boneless turkey breasts in duck fat and butter, roasted a whole pork loin and got a fantastic smoked Boston Butt from The Pig & Pint. We filled the big communal table with all sorts of food and three two-top tables with desserts. About 40 people joined us and everyone pitched in to help clean up. We even got to feed Officer Thompson, who is our regular patrol officer from JPD. Next year, we’ll make it bigger and better.