As part of our Stories from the Front Lines series, Restaurant Hospitality reached out to restaurateurs to share their experiences during the coronavirus crisis. Here, Brendan Vesey, chef and owner of Botanica Restaurant and Gin Bar in Portsmouth, N.H., shares his story.
Tonight I watched a movie on the couch with my kids. It is Friday and I can’t shake the feeling that I am not supposed to be here. I have a restaurant to run with staff, customers, and investors all counting on me. Counting on my presence to carry the day and get us through another night.
A vague sense of panic hovers, as I think about my unemployed staff and the restaurant’s mounting bills. Like independent restaurants all over the country, lost revenue threatens to steal our dreams.
And still, I am more privileged than most. The restaurant has an understanding landlord and I am married to someone who works outside the hospitality industry. My family is financially stressed, but we are fortunate to have stable housing and health insurance. And there has been an outpouring of support for the restaurant, both financial and intangible, from our small community. Is it OK for me to find temporary comfort in this idle state?
I started a paper route at 12 and I haven’t had this much time off since. I have always defined my value by my work ethic, as many chefs do. When there is a lot to do, we get in the kitchen early and stay late. The feeling of pride that comes from controlling a dish, a station, a kitchen, a restaurant, becomes part of our identity. Family and friends become used to celebrating weekends and holidays without us.
When my 5-year-old and 8-year-old cuddled up to me on the couch, I realized that to them my value doesn’t come from my productivity. To them, I matter not because of what I can get done, but because I am their dad.
When this crisis is over, we have a chance to remake our industry, our businesses and ourselves like never before. Let’s use this time to reflect and refresh. We can come back better than ever with businesses that are better for ourselves, our employees, and our guests.