Moments before we valiantly fought off another tsunami of curious foodies, UNH graduates and their families, Kristin gathered our beloved staff together for a mandatory meeting in the booths. When she politely demanded that the entire crew—including the kitchen—be present, the happy, adrenalin-jacked mood turned tense. Kristin and I agreed earlier in the week to wait until Sunday to deliver the news, fearing a fatal breach in morale. The news we inevitably had to deliver would shock the system and make cooking, serving and dealing with the hoard of Mindfuck Weekend guests an uphill climb. The staff could quit on us. They could lose momentum, focus, motivation…respect for both of us.
For months, the restaurant at 56 Main Street had been shedding the image a lot of locals had of it as a stodgy, expensive, archaic, museum dinosaur. Fine dining, at least the 1982 version it that had been in place before our arrival, had been drained of oxygen by the pandemic. White tablecloth restaurants, if they hadn’t pivoted to takeout and/or more casual fare, were choking on their own pride and self-important menus. Many had already closed forever. But, as we like to do, Kristin and I reimagined and reinvigorated the restaurant and turned it into a cash cow. We didn’t do it alone, of course. The good folks sitting before Kristin in the dining room nervously sucking down staff meal were equally responsible for the restaurant’s quick turnaround.
Kristin ran down the shift’s particulars: the big hits are at one p.m. and six, take out is disabled online, street dining is canceled due to threat of rain. She gave a heartfelt thanks to the team for the weekend’s effort and informed them about the rave reviews on Open Table and social media. Then she took a deep breath. Her voice, trembling from the weight of the words she was about to deliver, turned contrite and conciliatory.
“…that said, when Spencer, Peyton and I moved here, the ultimate goal was to buy a house and find a quiet and safe place to raise my daughter. But y’all it’s just too expensive up here and the housing market is horrible. Even if we could find a house, we couldn’t afford to live here without dipping into our savings. We have LOVED working with you. We’ve made so many friends up here. But, because of the economic situation we find ourselves in, we gave Doug notice on Monday. Our last day will be June 19th.”
I looked around the room. Some were shocked, others sad, a couple of them—the newest recruits–appeared more interested in staff meal. Josh and Charlie, my two battle-worn infantry soldiers in the kitchen, who, for the next few hours, would be inundated with chicken parmesan, flank steaks, horseradish-crusted haddock and gluten-free pastas reinterpretations, were visible confused. Well into the third beat-down in a 72 hour span, they looked like starving pirates about to mutiny.
To quell any anger directed our way or an exodus that would threaten the derail service, I immediately aired dirty laundry, “They could have saved us by offering more money. But instead, they’re just letting us go.” An intense anger, now directed at the owners, filtered onto the faces in the room. Let’s call her Alice, our senior-most server and devoted foodie evangelist pulled Kristin aside and told her she “hated” the owners now. This was not an intended consequence of our decision. But we both understood it.
Unwilling to fuel an uprising, I manned my station on garde manger and finished the last bits of my mise en place without engaging in the usual pre-service chit chat. A few minutes later, we were back in the thick of a battle that lasted over six hours.