“I love a good love story” – those were the words that Bob Ortiz uttered when he stopped into my office the other day. At first I wasn’t sure what he was referring to and then I realized it was Bill‘s blog post from last Monday. Many of you resonated with the message of love, the toxic restaurant culture (that it can be), and the restaurant angle that we’re embracing in Chestertown.
It’s only fair that I have the chance to share my side of the story though, so here it goes.
I still remember the first day of my sophomore year, walking into my world history class with my friend Liza. As we settled into our seats at the back, I couldn’t help but notice an incredibly handsome and mature-looking guy sitting directly in the middle of the front row. I leaned over to Liza and questioned whether he was really a sophomore at the age of 19. She assured me that there was no way he was 19, so I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this mystery man. Little did I know that this encounter would lead to something truly special.
The semester began with a question from our professor: “What is the oldest form of alcohol?” As the class pondered the answer, the handsome guy in the front row confidently raised his hand and declared, “Mead, the ancient honey wine.” Little did I know that on our wedding day, less than two years later, we would celebrate with a toast of mead. It’s funny how life works, isn’t it?
As fate would have it, we crossed paths again that evening in Princeton, New Jersey. He was the new bartender, and I was the new waitress. However, contrary to what he may have told you, I didn’t actually see him waiting outside the classroom on that first day.
AND he forgot to tell you all that he had a GIRLFRIEND!!
If I had seen him, I definitely would have struck up a conversation.
Our restaurant romance
Over the next two years, we created countless memories while working together in the restaurant business. Late nights after closing, he would introduce me to different varieties of alcohol, allowing me to sample and learn (don’t tell anyone – I was underage but truly liked a Bahama Mama). Those were simpler times, without the complexities of today’s computerized systems, so we could easily comp items and taste-test after hours. But amidst the fun and laughter, there was also a dark side to the industry.
The dirty truth
The high-stress environment and constant anxiety were overwhelming at times. However, the allure of good cash, particularly for two young individuals saving for a wedding and their future, was undeniable. It was addictive. Yet, there were aspects of the business that I wish customers understood.
Let me share something personal that I probably shouldn’t, but I feel compelled to do so as we are trying to create a “counter-culture.”
During my college years, while working at an Italian restaurant in South Jersey, I experienced a very uncomfortable encounter. My manager, who was significantly older than me, made inappropriate advances when I went to turn in my cash at the end of the night. I found myself alone in a closed room with him. Thankfully, I managed to extricate myself from the situation and never returned to work there – ever.
Then my next restaurant experience was where Bill and I met. I didn’t have the “closed door” experience there, but a theme that continued in this next job was the amount of choice words and pans thrown around the kitchen. You could truly feel the stress as soon as you pushed open that swinging kitchen door. Apparently, it was accepted as “restaurant life” but I still can’t figure out why.
Regardless of the behavior I witnessed as a server, there was one incident that will never leave my memory. I had to fire a ticket (that means you need a course made so you go into the kitchen to “fire” it – remember this is before you could do it via a computer so you had to verbally “say”fire” it). The chef came around the counter, gestured with two hands toward his groin area, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “only if you suck my xxxx.”
I can still vividly remember the feeling of complete disgust, shame, and horror as I spun quickly out of the kitchen. Not only did I have to put on a fake smile for a room full of customers, but also for a very loving fiancé (who was a Division I wrestler and would have crushed that chef if he heard that comment). Later that evening, I told Billy what had happened and literally had to hide his keys so he didn’t drive back to work.
After reading our two blogs (here is a link to Bill’s from last week), you have a better understanding why we have said for over 20 years, we would never own a restaurant. You know might even understand why we hesitated even calling the Modern Stone Age Kitchen a restaurant. It’s been called a “foodery” for years as we did not want to be associated with the restaurant culture. In our minds, verbal and sexual harassment, went hand-in-hand with the restaurant industry (late ’90s early ’00s).
A culture change
Fortunately, things have changed over the 20+ years since we left the restaurant industry, but there is still work to be done. We must expect more as customers and employees. No one should be subjected to harassment in the workplace – any work place.
After sharing last week’s blog post, we received messages from numerous individuals who have witnessed or experienced similar incidents themselves. It is simply not acceptable and needs to change.
Despite the challenges, working in the restaurant industry over the past 20 years has allowed me to meet my husband, create cherished memories with fellow servers and customers, and truly help get us started financially. Now, we are ridiculously proud of the restaurant culture that we are consciously creating as a family together here in our community of Chestertown, MD. At the Modern Stone Age Kitchen, we value individuality, celebrate our employees strengths, and support their growth in positive and meaningful ways.
Over the past two weeks, we have been conducting personal, uninterrupted interviews with each MSAK team member. One of our questions is, “what is your favorite thing about working at the MSAK?” Unanimously everyone shared a sediment about our team, the atmosphere, the customers, the vibe, the message/mission. Here are somethings they shared:
- the message, the atmosphere, the family culture
- small town feel
- the people and the message
- everything – I love the rush of customers
- everyone is nice; happiest place I have ever worked;
- the positive environment; what we do; family element; positive impact
- social piece with team and customers
- positive attitude of everyone in a helpful atmosphere
As we like to say, we hope you #TasteTheDifference of our food at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen, but equally important, we hope you can #FeelTheDifference when walking through the doors of the MSAK.
And maybe we need some mead on the menu? What do you think??