Hello Lowell, and beyond! Where do I even begin at 4 a.m., after being prematurely awakened by my brain streaming ideas for this column. “Bad brain, no.”
This is my current blog-address, now that I no longer am able to write for Merrimack Valley Magazine.
More on that later.
On this night, I have slept for only three hours, no matter how hard I tried—this happens too often these days. I tried counting sheep. (True story). I replayed the last nine-holes in my head. (All 52 strokes and the toe wedge). That didn’t work either. I finally gave up and stumbled into my still dark and messy office-closet-guest room, slipping past the bathroom’s whispered allure of a swig of Tylenol PM. I did that following last week’s sleeplessness and felt like “skata” for the rest of the next day—to borrow the Greek word for, hm, ‘not so good’… learned in my early-teenage days as a dishwasher in a Greek restaurant in New York. It was there that I discovered this career while learning many life skills and only the “best” words from my spirited mentors, their being influential in guiding me down this perilous restaurant path. Thank you Demetrious, George, Yiannis, Nick, Sophia, Peter and Aphrodite…
I truly hate waking before dawn, especially when stress related. It’s less awful when going fishing or catching the rare flight to Aruba! I assure you however, that the disruptive culprit most assuredly is not finding subjects to write about. I do that in my sleep! (As you see) The truth is, saving-protecting, and reestablishing our three restaurant teams is what drives most middle-of-the-night nonsense in the 20-20’s. These seemingly never-ending pandemic days of being understaffed, undertrained, unrested and perpetually under fire–while paying increased wages and ever-rising product prices—badly needing more sales, yet unable to handle any more business. This, dear reader, is the foodservice epitome of Catch-22. Add to it, the additional disturbance caused by guests like T. Son who left a one-star review because she “waited ten minutes” and her oysters were “smaller than even China Buffet”. Welcome to my world people. Hey T. Son, honestly, don’t go away mad but maybe, go away. Apparently our grace period of empathy and understanding wanes although I assure you, our challenges do not as too often the tone deaf still manage to fill our ears and demand our already strained attention.
But that’s enough whining for now. As future columns may be written, I will dig deeper into the struggle of my fellow restaurateurs and the ongoing, agony of defeat within my beloved industry, the thrills of victory much less common these days. My eldest daughter, a former restaurant professional herself shared recently; “I remember when the restaurant industry was fun.” Sigh. Yet, we still wake each day with the hope that this current “under fire” status will not last much longer. This daunting business we’ve chosen has been more so than ever before in my own 45-year history—having been doing this for way before my hair began to grey. Evidence? Just ask my friend Michael, owner of Lenzi’s Catering, who recently, temporarily, closed his tavern—”Not enough help”. Or, ask the chef-owner of the 10-years successful, Fuse Bistro in downtown Lowell. I imagine Scott Pelletier would share with you his pain, after the news of his closing Fuse in Westford—his 2nd property—after a five-year run. These fine operators are not alone by any stretch.
But again, this is not where I wanted today’s focus to be. There’s time later to continue to expose my inner curmudgeon—I can, and will, rant! Promiso.
While writing this, morning’s first blue-light began to appear in my window, now alighting my sleepily-positive and grateful feelings, that happy-place where I actually prefer to exist, when I am wise enough to “shake it off” and count my many blessings and fortunes—to take note of the endlessly worse situations that other folks endure. Despite our struggle, to struggle is to breathe, and each breath offers opportunity for brighter days.
A masseuse friend of mine said recently that gratitude is “where the winners circle is.” She’s a kook, in the best of ways, extremely sweet and kind and spiritual. “Winning” for me, means having piece of mind—the favorite expression of our restaurant groups’ newest Director of Operations. Jennifer Alvarez says almost daily; “Piece of mind is priceless.” It is in this pursuit that I intend to remain focused. That is, when I’m not being grumpy.
So, only a few hundred words in, I’d like to “begin” again (and end) this column with further gratitude. I welcome those many readers who followed my column for over 14 years in the Merrimack Valley Magazine—the exact number of readers is a bit unclear but I like to think “in the millions.” (It’s a bigger valley than most people think, wink wink)
For those unfamiliar or unaware, that beautifully created publication shut down after struggling through the pandemic due to reasons ultimately exacerbated by the rising cost of paper. I am often stopped by loyal restaurant guests, or the thoughtful people who I run into at gatherings (or Market Basket!) and am told that my “column is missed.” Hearing that makes me appreciative but sad. I loved writing all 84 since the magazine’s inception, sharing perspectives about our industry, all the family, friends and our amazing teams, the incredible (and nutso-crazy) chefs and the (some just as crazy!) guests—all who have sustained our businesses since, like, last century, keeping me challenged, laughing, and at times crying.
I am grateful to have this forum where hopefully I can try to entertain and inform just a little bit, while trying to avoid sounding “preachy;” Something my daughters have suggested I struggle with. (Insert humble-face emoji here)
I’d like to close with both a gentle suggestion and a quote—one of the very first things said to me when I relocated here 37 years ago; “Be kind.” It was the first advice ever offered me by the ‘Irish philosopher’ and Lowell native, my father-in-law to-be, “Mr Mo” James Moynihan. He proposed this just before I proposed to his beautiful eldest daughter, after our having met at UMASS Amherst. He and I were enjoying our 2nd Lowell meal together that weekend—shrimp scampi and sauteed chicken livers at the old Bob White’s restaurant! (The first having been at the iconic Four Sister’s Owl Diner, where everybody knew his name).
I have spent the following decades trying to heed his simple words of wisdom—and I think have been (mostly) successful. Admittedly, I’ve had my moments. (And, I’m sorry)
Since this is (mostly) a restaurant column, may I respectfully suggest to us diners out there to perhaps ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ before complaining about your local restaurant when things are not to expectation, or as they “used to be”. It is understandably difficult for most people to imagine the depths that my fellow hospitality brothers and sisters are still digging out of, trying passionately each day to return to level ground. We are (all) regularly short a cook, or two, or a server, or two, during any given shift. Our own restaurant group has been unable to offer lunch other than Fridays—not enough staff. We cannot create and promote special events, not enough staff. (How badly do I want to host another wine or beer dinner!?) Often, products we order, don’t arrive, or arrive too late to prepare as our purveyors are short-staffed a driver, or two. It seems that our whole world is short-staffed. And on it goes…
Here’s just a silly thought meant to help; Maybe, next time when the food is taking too long, the new server doesn’t know the answer, while the new, training cooks are trying hard to keep up, just pretend you’re in the Caribbean, on a lazy-sunny day…”Island time.” Smile, wink, order a delicious rum drink, sit back, and think kindly; Life is good, mon. Thank you for reading. -SPlath