Why I Don’t Go Out to Eat 

A few weeks ago I attended my very first socially distanced gathering of more than two people. Ten women together, outside, at a distance in celebration of a friend’s birthday. I realized just how unsocialized I’ve become since March; I was speaking too loudly, was startlingly over aggressive discussing a recent book that was getting popular attention, and was having trouble not airing all of my frustrations of owning a restaurant in this COVID world. I had officially approached preachy.

To my horror, I truly realized what a terrible cocktail guest I had become after being posed an otherwise benign question:

“Nicole, what restaurants are you going to now that we are in Phase 2?”

I get the question of where I eat out a lot, even before COVID.


I was met with blank stares of disbelief. After many more questions for clarification, met with nearly hysterical responses an eerie realization washed over me; I am living in a different COVID world than each of the people sitting a safe distance before me. Most (I can only think of one) of the women in our small group have not been personally affected or know of anyone affected by COVID.



Meanwhile as early as April, many of my staff have moved in and out of various stages of grief. They have experienced the death of loved ones to the virus. They have struggled with loss of income because they have contracted the virus themselves (we have all been tested negative since that happened). They are rife with worry and helplessness hearing about family members in other countries, many of whom have limited access to medical resources who are on death’s door, knowing they will never see these members of their family ever again. They have to quit because of the risk of infecting elderly family members at home. All of my staff, yes, every single one of them, has brown skin, each is an essential worker and each and their families have been working with the public since March. They are living the horror that the rest of us read about as hollow statistics in the daily paper. These humans are not just my “employees.” This is my family and they are grieving.

To better answer the question, “Nicole where are you going to eat right now?” I choose to not go out to restaurants or open my restaurant up to the public because I cannot think of an instance, meal, beverage, or experience that I am so desperate to have that would be worth putting another family member at risk.



Let me preface by saying I am in no way standing in judgment of restaurateurs and other small businesses who have made the impossible decision to open their doors to guests at this time. I will continue to support small businesses by ordering carry-out, curbside, or delivery (picnicking has become my new favorite way to “eat out”). My heart aches for those businesses who have made changes in every phase and that may have to change yet again. The emotional energy and financial strain of changing a business model that many times cannot be underestimated.

What’s more, restaurant workers, the same workers carrying unthinkable grief, are the same people that have become the unlikely enforcers of safety guidelines; reminding guests, even at our takeout window, to please wear masks. To please not pay with cash. To please keep a minimum of six feet apart. To please show any signs of humanity.

I’m just too sad and it’s just too real for those of us working in it to justify the risk. For those of you living in a different COVID world than my team on the front lines, I encourage you to hug your family members and show kindness to those schlepping to get you a frosty margarita at brunch on Sunday. You have no idea their strength.


  • The latest from Nicole
Head Janitor, Chef, and Proprietor | Stomping Ground
Nicole’s cooking style is rooted in, but not limited to, her love of southern biscuits and her diverse culinary upbringing. A military brat, she spent her childhood in the Chicago suburbs enjoying her great-grandmother Mae’s Lithuanian cooking. As a tween, she moved to Paulding County, Ga. where she begrudgingly fell in love with the charmingly perplex small towns of the Deep South. She fondly remembers grubbing on Martin’s biscuits, late-night Waffle House debauchery and cooking with her family. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Nicole started a marketing career at an art nonprofit in Atlanta. At 25 years old, she became the youngest executive at the local Atlanta NPR affiliate. Chasing her dreams, she moved to Alexandria, Va. where she took a short post in the Whole Foods marketing department. Realizing that cooking had been her true love all along, she began night courses at L’Academie de Cuisine. She completed her apprenticeship at Blue Duck Tavern where she was promoted to a line cook after graduation. From there, Nicole worked as a private chef for busy Washington D.C. executives and their families. As grown-ups tend to do, Nicole realized something about her childhood — the best parts were enjoying small town communities, cooking with her great-grandmother and sharing meals with family and friends. She opened Stomping Ground to build a safe and welcoming community around yummy, handmade food from local sources. As her first foray running her own kitchen, she has shamelessly hired better, smarter cooks to fill her kitchen and your bellies. Her great-grandmother’s recipes often appear on the Stomping Ground menu without advertisement and, no, she won’t tell you the secret ingredients. Nicole lives in Del Ray and won’t shut up about how much she loves living there.

If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.


2309 Mt Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301



  1. Avatar AndroidB says:

    Thank you for your honesty, truth, and valuable insight.

  2. Avatar Iliana Hartwich says:

    This says it ALL. Cheers to you for standing up for your FAMILY.

  3. Avatar DelRayDoc says:

    Thank you for saying what you said. I live in Del Ray, worked my way through college and Med school in restaurants, met my husband in one and am a die hard foodie however I feel the same way and would never dine inside a restaurant right now. People are risking their lives to get a paycheck to serve other people a drink-why?!! You do not “need” to eat out period. Support local businesses by ordering to go or for delivery please!

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