“Start Me Up.” The Rolling Stones. “Spirit in the Night.” Springsteen. “Stir It Up.” Bob Marley. Not more than a few weeks ago, we were rolling into Nashua, N.H., ready to rock a new restaurant while seeking song titles that would best embody our vibe — a bit more hip and socially dynamic version of our first two Stones.
In painting the above picture, I was rallying our leadership team while off-loading some of the adrenaline that was pumping through my veins, every minute of every day. The opening of Stones Social was to occur nearly 12 years after Moonstones of Chelmsford, which arrived 14 years after Cobblestones of Lowell. I’m not what you might call “impulsive.”
Yet here we were, discussing how we had launched our flagship with just three key holders. By the time we opened Moonstones, we were eight. Now we were a team of 19 strong — leaders whom we entrusted with “our babies” — evidence of the proportionally greater opportunity and growth that comes with expansion.
Let the good times roll!
But less than a month after that euphoria, I painfully chronicle the results of this debilitating crisis — a pain that grows more acute with each word I type, laying bare our collective nightmare — all 80 of our employees laid off in the blink of an eye. Imagine. Having just one choice, and that being to force 100% of your beloved workforce into joblessness and fear. I cried that day.
Like millions of others, we are struggling mightily. Every minute of every day. The newly hired single mother who immediately sought our assistance for her baby, to the 25-year general manager who never before envisioned her career at risk. Many have no time to struggle with the why — they have mouths to feed.*
We are fraught with how to survive. With the redeployment of a courageous few, we have attempted to morph our hospitality-rich environment to batch cooking and packaging for pickup, maintaining a whole new level of safe practices while also our reputation for remarkable food. Our new normal — this business model formed to battle the mounting debt, fear and doubt that loom simultaneously, like a devil’s prong.
We are struggling, too, to understand. Commiserating recently over beers — properly spaced in case you are wondering — we grappled with the reality that none of us knows anyone who is sick. Not a family member, neighbor or friend. We see the news and are imperiled daily by the specter of the big picture — menaced by how we are now living. Healthy yet scared. Bored. Desperate. Shuttered. Uncertain. Bankrupt. And without hugs.
As a small group, we are currently doing what we do. We innovate and problem solve. Restaurant people are epic warriors. We protect each other’s families and our guests, as both are accustomed to relying on us for more than sustenance, but for care and comfort — a home away from home. Quite often we are the port in someone’s storm. But never quite like this. Not after Cobblestones’ fire of 2001 nor the Great Recession several years later. Back then, there was a level of certainty — a map of sorts where strategy had us moving toward a distant beacon, a glimpse that better days lay ahead. This feels different.
Amidst it all, we are considered “essential,” permitted to drive to work each day upon empty roads. Like in those postapocalyptic movies — a lifeless wasteland — the lack of traffic the faintest of light in days otherwise filled with dread. Can we can save our businesses? Can we reemploy our people? Will relief and aid “bail” us out like the banks and the carmakers and the Wall Street folk of before. Or will we be offered only more debt? How essential are we really? Our political lobby is small. Despite our national workforce of 15.6 million people, or the billions we produce in taxes, we tremble on behalf of our industry and the many who live paycheck to paycheck.
A friend and fellow business owner said to me early on in this mess how he had “never worked so hard for so little.” I smiled while comprehending how much we were factually working for. All of it — the whole damn thing, man. We are fighting to avoid the loss of a lifetime’s worth of dedication, effort, sacrifice and success.
Our lyrics today are a lot less emboldened, the beat less zippy — this titanic gulf from yesterday, when all our troubles seemed so far away. We preach that together we will pull through, hoping that a “minimum” of lives will be lost and that maybe proactive societal change will occur in respecting the science and heeding the warnings. Before the “next time.” Before it’s too late.
*Should you be in a position to contribute to our suffering workforce, the Stones Hospitality Employee Relief Fund can be accessed by clicking here. Please stay safe.