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, Sean Fowler, chef and owner of Mandolin in Raleigh, N.C., shares his story.
The coronavirus pandemic is a generation-defining event that has suddenly and violently shifted the world as we know it. I wouldn’t even begin to try to predict what will happen tomorrow, but I know that when this pandemic has run its course, our world will be irrevocably changed, and we will all be different people as a result.
Dealing with these dramatic changes has been an exercise in resilience, humility and compassion. As a father, a business owner and a chef, I have been forced to make countless decisions based off of limited information with constantly changing variables. I have tried to weigh, carefully, the effects of these decisions on the health, safety, financial well-being and overall welfare of my staff, my guests, my family and my community. We have all been forced to choose the least egregious of the bad options we have been dealt.
As a restaurant, we have pivoted, adapting to our new reality by launching a prepared food and provisions delivery service called Mandolin Farmhouse Foods. We are offering scratch-made, family style, heat-and-serve meals. We are also delivering eggs and produce from our farm along with other local artisanal products like bagels, doughnuts and chocolate. In doing so, we have found an outlet for ingredients from our farm and are helping other local businesses. Like so many small business owners, we launched a brand new business overnight. We attempted to fill a hole in this new marketplace, while keeping guests safe, my staff employed, and trying to meet the needs of our community.
After 20-plus years in the hospitality industry, I still believe that serving people is a noble calling, as central in times of crisis as it is in peacetime. We have made every effort to operate Mandolin Farmhouse Meals in a safe and responsible way that provides an essential service to the people in our community. In the process, I have managed to keep over half of my staff on payroll, with most of my back-of-the house-working over 30 hours a week in a socially distanced kitchen. I anticipate bringing everyone back on board when we are permitted to re-open.
On a lighter note, we have also seized upon this new quarantine-fueled appetite for digital content and virtual experiences. We began doing monthly farm dinners at Mandolin Farm over the past couple of years. Since we cannot bring people to the farm right now, we are bringing the farm to the people with virtual farm tours every Monday and Friday morning on Instagram Live. We are trying to get people out of their homes for a half an hour and give them some tips for their home gardens in the process.
This is part of our Stories from the Front Lines series.