When COVID-19 hit, Chef Aaron Staudenmaier knew his job was to use food to take care of the community. He was the brainchild behind the popular grocery kits that debuted at Whiskey Cake, which is part of Front Burner Group Dining, at the beginning of the pandemic. Whiskey Cake was one of the first, if not the first, to launch these innovative kits in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Whiskey Cake and eventually all Front Burner restaurants became a conduit between local farmers and the community. They turned dining rooms into warehouses and found ways to keep their local vendors afloat during unprecedented times. The eight-unit concept is based in Dallas, Texas. Here’s Staudenmaier’s story:
“For me personally, it’s been a rollercoaster. Not only is it a ton of work, but it’s also the emotional stress of knowing the lives and careers of people on the team are at stake. I have a daily/hourly reminder that every decision I make could impact someone’s livelihood.
My job as concept chef is like being a ‘camp counselor,’ with 50% of my time spent teaching people how to cook and the other 50%, I’m showing them how to keep their head up and keep going. It’s a role that I’ve always had in every kitchen, but it took on a new meaning these last few months. There have been a lot of lessons and advice on how to stay resilient, strong and never be afraid to ask for help. As chefs, we have a tendency to be a little prideful, but if there’s ever a time in history to say, ‘I’m not doing so great right now, and I need some help,’ this would be it. It’s okay not to be okay. It’s important to talk to mentors and support groups around you.
There’s something to be said for the fact that all aspects of our restaurants are collaborating and trying to figure out a new normal. I don’t know if there’s ever been a time in our industry where we’ve come together more.
At Whiskey Cake, we’re going to keep doing the best things we can do for our guests and our neighborhoods. Everyone thought that ‘to-go’ was going to become the new standard for restaurants. I really think the pandemic has shown people that no matter how many versions of Grubhub or Uber Eats there are, there is no replacement for going into a restaurant and having that communal feeling. The longer this goes on, guests are realizing they miss the restaurant experience.
We will get to a point where people will feel safer going into restaurants. We know the mask and gloves and safety practices in place will make guests feel secure. Restaurants that aren’t following safety procedures and not being up front are the ones who won’t survive this pandemic. Reviews about safety will rank just as high as those about food.”
This is part of our Stories from the Front Lines series.