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.
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