I SEE YOUR TRUE COLORS SHINING THROUGH
The month of June, for me, is usually celebrated with great joy, as people from all walks of life come together in the name of love to celebrate PRIDE Month. First established in June of 1999 as Gay and Lesbian Pride month, the movement has grown to encompass the entire LGBTQIA+ community’s evolution around the world, resulting in outdoor celebrations and parades featuring millions of people vibrantly sharing truly unique colors against the grey backdrops of most city centers worldwide.
These city centers, instead of being the stage of one of the world’s most joyous celebrations, are today under siege, and, sadly, they need to be. Instead of rainbow banners, signs read “I Can’t Breathe” while others read “BLACK LIVES MATTER” as hordes of emotional protesters make their voices heard. Our country is suffering today more than ever before, it seems. We are all struggling with the new challenges that COVID-19 has brought to our health and economy and the true realization that systemic racial inequality is real. The horrific murder of George Floyd has magnified lifelong struggles of racism, hatred, and violence. At times it can feel all too much to understand. We all want to do something but may not even know where to begin. For me, it has started with an awareness and a desire to learn as much as I can about everything that is broken in our system so I that can make an impact in both my personal and professional worlds.
I have to say, my heart feels torn apart. I’ve witnessed what the immediate impact of COVID-19 has done to my beloved hospitality industry. I have stood by clients, friends and employees suffering from the emotional, physical, and economic outcomes the pandemic has brought on. I have been obsessed with the continued mistreatment of the black community and the protests themselves. We all wake up every day to try and fight the good fight only to ask the question, what does winning really look like? Yet, while the world is indeed opening up slowly (hopefully safely) and our eyes have also been widely opened to the systematic struggles that black people face in our country, it seems we truly are only at the beginning of the battles ahead of us.
One magnificent beauty of the resilient hospitality/media community of entrepreneurs, innovators, dreamers, and doers that I love so much is the ability to take action and share information that may help others. Below are a few of the top resources and funds that have been shared by EATER, the James Beard Foundation, Thrillist, and Bob Cut Magazine among others. They are great to reference if you would like to find a way to learn more, participate, contribute and protest peacefully.
PRIDE IS MORE THAN A PARADE – IT’S A PASSION
All this said, I still have genuine pride in our country and my community. I have a need to celebrate what being gay means to me. I believe that if any community can seek to understand what black people have endured in this country, it is the gay community. I feel it is my duty to speak up, too; not just for myself and the LGBTQ community, but also for my hospitality community, my Jewish community, my San Francisco community and for marginalized communities everywhere. I was truly touched by Senator Scott Weiner’s quote while explaining the reasoning for cancelling San Francisco’s Pride event this year:
“Let’s never forget even in our moments of celebration, massive work lies ahead to create a world of justice and equity for all. And, even in our deepest despair, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, as long as we’re willing to fight to get there.”
To this end, if you will indulge me, I am proud to share my journey of discovering the real me. And while it was very tough at times, I’d like to give you permission to laugh, if even just a little bit. We must always remember that with all the challenges that life presents us with, humor and love are very crucial to our sanity and even our survival. So, I invite you to get your grin going, and be ready to turn it into a giggle.
MY COMING OUT STORY
Many of my friends and I have shared our coming out stories and let me tell you, for quite a few of us that closet was tightly closed for a very long time. For me – it took till I was 30 (just a few short years ago) to finally break free. As many of you know, my wonderful mom Gerry passed away when I was just 19. She was my very best friend and my protector. I believe she knew I was gay all along (most moms do) and always covered for me. Like the time when I was obsessed with going with her to the beauty parlor and sitting under the dryer, or when I was insistent on picking out her outfits every day when I was just eight years old. Of course, she gloried at my passion for the divas and we sang show tunes together daily. My favorite was our now famous duet of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Yes, my mom’s motto for life was “don’t let anyone rain on your parade” and while I tried to live that way, once she died, everything changed.
Unfortunately, my dad didn’t understand it all and really pushed me to be the kind of man he envisioned his son to be. I believe now he was trying to protect me in some way. He and my mom were called into school quite often (middle school and high school were the toughest years) because I was being bullied or I was refusing to take gym (I was so scared, but I also really wanted to take home economics in its place). After my mom died, things got worse –so I snuck deeply into the closet and stayed there for the next 12 years. There were women, sports, and manly activities, but honestly, I knew who I was, and I was becoming more aware, getting stronger, and my secret life was getting emotionally out of control. I knew what I had to do, and I also knew I could lose my family and friends in the process. On the eve of my 30th birthday, Michael, my then boyfriend (very handsome, I might add) gave me an ultimatum – come out, acknowledge me to your family and start leading a public life or I’m out of here. That very night, I broke the news to Ricky and Heidi (my brother and sister-in-law). I will never forget Heidi dropping the phone and screaming to my brother – “I knew it!! He’s gay!” My brother’s reaction was a bit politically incorrect, but I knew in my heart he loved and accepted me. Next was my dad — sadly, that didn’t go so well. He told me he couldn’t embrace my lifestyle and didn’t talk to me for almost 10 years.
The next night at my fabulous 30th birthday party, I came out to the world and introduced Michael to everyone. In one moment, my secret was out and the euphoria I felt was incredible. What had been my problem was now the problem of anyone who didn’t support me, and honestly, I knew they wouldn’t be in my life very much longer. Sadly, Michael and I parted ways about a year later, but I will always be grateful to him.
Now, looking back on the last 25 plus years (trying to avoid telling you how old I am), I believe being a proud gay man has enhanced my life in ways I could have never imagined. I have a wonderful career, the respect of my peers and a family and friend group that continues to show me unconditional love and support.
And I now have the unique honor of being the Uncle/Dad to another proud and successful gay man – my nephew, Zach, who came out to us about two years ago. Putting it quite simply – he is an awesome person who I love with all my heart. (His mom is incredible as is his straight brother, too).
Each of us has a unique story and something about us that we struggle with, live with, or hope to overcome. It takes amazing courage to be who you are meant to be – whether it is your sexual orientation, your race, your religion or so many other things. Sometimes a very loving reminder that we are supported and we are accepted is just what we need to keep going. As world tension continues and the strains between us become even more real – a smile, a hug (yep, I’m still going to hug you) or a simple word like PRIDE – can bring us together. I am proud to know each and every one of you. I will continue to march passionately forward for all my causes. And on that note, remember the role you play in every life you touch, and be gentle.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
With empathy, solidarity, light, love, and PRIDE,
P.S. — We are proud to be included in The San Francisco Business Times’ Annual Top Fifty LGBTQ Owned Businesses for the 8th year. This year we ranked number 22! On behalf of the hard working team at af&co., we couldn’t be prouder.
Turn Around Bright Eyes – Announcing “Pivot” as the Word of the Year
Hello all —
I hope you are all safe and well as we head into the eighth week of Shelter-in-Place. It used to be rare for me to be home and now it seems this is where I am almost all of the time, and to be honest, I’m not loving it. The beauty of representing the best chefs, restaurants and hotels meant never having to cook for myself. But, like the many other adjustments we are making, I am pivoting with the continuously shifting circumstances. (I have even learned to make a mean veggie omelet.)
Pivot may as well be the word of 2020, especially if we plan to survive it. Before we can even begin to talk about the new normal, we must imagine how all of the elements will return together. It eludes us like a secret recipe. As Governor Newsom said, “there’s no light switch when it comes to the reopening of California. It will be more like a dimmer toggling back and forth between more restrictive and less restrictive measures.”
While we are starting to see stories of cities coming back online (with overwhelming but necessary restrictions), we are also engulfed in conversations about how these models will possibly make sense for hotels and restaurants and whether we can all survive and possibly even thrive with our new reality. The angst and unknowing is justified, yet we still have a choice in how we show up each day and continue to fight the battle. Even with the concerning realities that surround us as we worry about shutting down for good, we are doing better than we were just two weeks ago. We are warriors! We have moved past the paralyzation of fear and grief and are catching a glimpse of light on the other side of the hill. Just eight weeks into this nightmare, we are realizing that we are still not there yet, and everyday wonder if we will make it to the top. There is no one to push us uphill but ourselves, and even if we have a strong support system, we dread that it may not be enough. And so, we keep fighting even when we don’t know exactly what will greet us on the other side. I believe and have been telling myself during my sleepless nights, that we must try to complain less and focus more instead on what problems need solving now and in the future. And if you know us Jews, we thrive on complaining, so this one has been extra tough for me.
Survival will be the success stories of those who are able to navigate these shifting challenges with nimbleness. The groups like the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and The Bay Area Hospitality Coalition that are lobbying for support every hour of every day. The restaurants that are completely re-imagining their spaces (inside and out) making it as easy as possible for people to pick up to-go orders without getting parking tickets or having to touch anyone. The hotels that are thinking of the idea of “cleanliness theatre” and those talking about who will wear masks and who won’t. The ones who are making the choice to look on the bright side as hard as this may be. (I’m convincing myself as I write this.)
One thing I can say for certain is that the new normal will be anything other than what we are living at this moment. It will evolve every day, every minute and keeping up with it all, fighting the fight daily and celebrating the smallest of victories can be satisfying and yet exhausting at the same time. (Wait a minute, am I talking about a past relationship – I’ll save that for story for another time.)
Eye of the Tiger
My “new normal” includes a walk to pick up groceries and a face hidden behind a bandana (which steams up my glasses regularly). I think about the fashion brands who have pivoted to create stylish facemasks. If I’m going to have to wear one constantly (thank you Mayor Breed for keeping us safe), I’d like it to look good. So many companies like Cayson Designs and Hedley & Bennett that create most of the uniform apparel for the culinary industry have pivoted to create facemask lines, a perfect example of an innovative turn in a time of need. For me, as I smile at people passing on the street, I realize that most of my face is hidden. It makes me wonder — are my eyes enough? Do I look crazy? And even with this new focus on our eyes, we still can’t quite yet see the future. Like the facemask, we are currently all coming up with new solutions overnight. For me, it leaves minimal time for sleep amid pulling all-nighters to fill out loan applications and create new operating models. There is little time, or the brain space required to see the bigger, future picture. And, all this alone time has clarified the difference between social distancing and emotional distancing. I think we all need contact more than ever. (I need a hug! Wait, I’m complaining – okay I’ll stop!)
Yet, the collective warrior spirit of our industry motivates me to press on, as I watch restaurants (many of our clients) turn on a dime. Beloved favorites like Gott’s Roadside have transitioned completely to online/pick-up and others like Lazy Bear have completely changed their models –check out their Camp Commissary! Some have pivoted their business models with thoughtful marketing tactics to address the new environment. At TCHO Chocolates, a growth in website sales led to an updated digital ad strategy to help chocolate lovers who are sheltering in place make more purchases from home. (As we write this I am nibbling on a delicious almond and sea salt dark chocolate bar – dark chocolate is healthy right?) Myriad Gastropub like so many others is supporting its team with a GoFundMe campaign and selling digital gift cards. Perbacco recently launched Perbacco Alimentari + Enoteca: an online grocery store that will serve prepared ready-to-eat meals along with a wonderful curated assortment of products and wine, while Palette is offering meals for home in the most creative artful delivery presentations that bring its brand to life. A neighborhood gem like the Park Cafe Group is offering online orders (with no fees!) of its heart-healthy foods available curbside at each of its four locations. And then there’s One Market who is offering curbside pickup and delivery of their amazing deals (50% off select bottles of wine!) through their Raid the Cellar online wine store. I could go on and on – as these stories of determination and inspiration are happening worldwide as our beloved industry fights to hold on.
Love Is A Battlefield
Our unwavering support for one another and the communities we live in continues. This industry, while down, is truly working to support each other and everyone in it, and it is incredible what is being accomplished. The team at Quince and Cotogna (Verjus too) have created a restaurant relief fund: Feed the Future, a not-for-profit charitable foundation aimed at helping their employees and local farming communities in the supply chain impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are raising funds with an amazing online auction. Oakland’s alaMar Kitchen & Bar is offering free meals for displaced restaurant workers in conjunction with Chef Ed Lee’s Restaurant Workers Relief Program. And my hero, Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen and Frontline Foods has garnered incredible support from restaurants worldwide (and Oprah –another hero for another story) are feeding the hospital teams that are working tirelessly (and putting their own lives at risk) to get this &%$*# virus under control. I am sure like me you have cried many times since this all started but gestures like these do indeed lift me up.
They say a crisis can lead to creativity – so as we turn to planning, we face new learning lessons about social distancing, delivery, takeout, touchless everything and so much more. We look (and hope) to be getting people back into our hotels and dining rooms. We are reminded that the culture of timing and the deep need for connection must be a balanced effort. In order to give hotels and restaurants the opportunity to survive, our industry (the industry I know you all love) is seeking answers. Constant lobbying, discussions about relief, recovery and re-emergence, developing reopening strategies, and creating innovative marketing plans are now part of our daily lives.
When I am down, these stories from the battlefield and the passion behind them motivates me to put on my own boxing gloves, after my mask of course (and no eye rolling about the boxing reference) and join the fighting spirit that is this industry. We will win this battle as long as we remember that we must go the distance in the ring.
If you want to set up a time to chat, I’ve pivoted to learn the beauty of Zoom, and would really like to see your eyes (and your smiles)! Let’s look ahead to the future and believe that somehow, we will get past this if we at least try to look on the brightest side of a currently uncertain reality. Hang in there. Don’t give up! Use your eyes in new ways to see clearly ahead, and who you are and may become from all of this. Never forget that the future is still very bright indeed. We just need to make it up and over the hill to the other side. I plan to be there waiting for you with open arms and a huge smile.
With love, respect and gratitude,
Thinking about offering take-out or delivery for the first time? Here’s some advice from Chef Sergio Monleon of Berkeley’s La Marcha Tapas Bar
Over the past month, countless restaurants have had to pivot their business models from dine-in only to offering exclusively takeout or delivery. It’s not a simple process, but there are tools that can help make it easier. We are inspired by the incredible job Chef Sergio Monleon of La Marcha Tapas Bar in Berkeley has done to ensure his restaurant survives past the pandemic, and wanted to share his hard-won tips and tricks with you.
After a lot of research, hustle and implementation this is what I did for La Marcha and these are my recommendations for all restaurant owners. I had none of these systems in place before March, and if anyone needs help getting in contact with the right people let me know. I highly recommend getting ready for this style of dining, who knows how long we’ll be like this.
1) Change your POS to Square for Restaurants. I had a lower credit card processing fee before, but honestly full service Square is key for this all to work. Plus it’s free during this right now. It also has a payroll feature that is cheaper than Gusto and also streamlines the process. Syncs with Quickbooks and a number of other apps.
2) Sign up for weebly. It’s an online store with a curbside pick up request option. It links directly to Square, and you can set it up to print tickets directly to your kitchen printer. People order online, select a pick-up date and time, and I have it set to print 30 minutes before it needs to be ready. Super easy to use, also free right now during this pandemic. Lowers in-store transactions allowing for a safer environment for your staff.
3) Sign up for all third-party delivery companies. Some waive their commissions for the first 30 days. Plus they all send out professional photographers to shoot your food, at no cost to you. Turn them off during peak hours later, if you want. Or cancel them all together. Raise your prices and offer in-store pick up discounts. The next service is where it’s at anyways.
4) Sign up for Go Parrot. For $150 p/month and $6.99 per delivery, it basically allows you to be your own delivery company. Charge a delivery fee to cover your cost. It’s way less than the 30% commission these other companies take. There’s so much more to this service but I’m keeping it short and sweet for this post.
5) Sign up for Chowly. For $99 it will communicate with all your third-party delivery companies and send them directly to Square, which prints in your kitchen automatically. I was managing 5 tablets, and during the rush that’s not fun. I’m happy to pay $3 per day to not deal with that headache.
6) Upgrade your Yelp business profile account. It’s also free right now. There, you can add tags to your business (like “offers delivery” or “take out” or “vegan friendly”) so you show up in relevant searches. People are on Yelp searching for restaurants that offer take out and if you don’t do this you won’t be showing up. There are other useful marketing features they’ve added like adding posts, pictures and announcements that can reach thousands of people. Take some of those professional Grubhub pics and make some Yelp posts to announce what you’re still offering during the shelter in place. It’s free advertising.
7) If you’ve ever used OpenTable or any other reservation system, they have useful marketing tools. You can at the very least download the emails and send out some blasts. I see a spike in our sales every time an email blast goes out.
8 ) you should also be boosting Instagram & Facebook posts and running ads on social media. Highest ROI I’ve seen in marketing. You can get very specific as to who your target audience is, what their interests are, their demographics, etc.
There’s other less essential but super useful services and apps that have helped tighten up operations. My last piece of advice is to be flexible and ready for whatever might come our way. From back to regular business, to extended quarantines and everything in between. Oh, and that it’s ok if something doesn’t work out. I have to remind myself of that one daily. Failure and mistakes are not always a bad thing.
I don’t know if this is useful for anyone, but hopefully it helps. And if anyone needs introductions to any reps let me know. I’ve become friends with some of these people during this whole process lol. And I don’t get a commission from any (already asked) but still down to help make an introduction by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published with permission from Sergio Monleon of La Marcha Tapas Bar, an Ellipses former client and dear friend. Originally posted April 9, 2020.
af&co does not receive commission for any referrals or links in this post, but if you need our help please do not hesitate to ask!
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