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,