On March 16, 2020 I reluctantly taped a sign to the door, “closed due to COVID concerns, see you soon.” On occasion I trust my instincts (working on doing that more often) and my instincts told me that was the right thing to do for our staff. While the loss of revenue was terrifying, looking back now, it was for sure the right thing to do.
This week at a “getting ready for summer” staff meeting we quietly celebrated the end of a year none of us saw coming, a year so filled with challenges none of us imagined, challenges so massive that many would have given up for good rather than simply tape a temporary sign on the door. But we did it, and we learned so much.
We learned that the priority always needs to be the people. While we have invested everything in Jake’s, we would be nothing without the people who mean the most to us. It sounds cliché – something you are supposed to say, but looking back on the year we navigated, there are so many important people that helped us survive the biggest challenges. We learned to love our bankers, our accountants and our attorney. They answered the phone immediately and did their very best to find answers when we all knew there weren’t any. We came to respect our regional politicians, regardless of party line. Many emails and phone calls to their offices looking for guidance were returned; we have relationships with aides in political offices, developed because they genuinely care. Our vendors were amazing across the board. Dealing with similar, but much larger challenges, their focus on us was sincere and they made every request work.
Our staff. Good things is our catch phrase, the reality is that good people make good things happen. They trusted me when that trust came with overwhelming responsibility but they also accepted that they needed to be patient. Together good things would return, but it might take some time. As owners with 30 people depending on us, we never felt the pressure of unrealistic responsibility, they brought smiles to the work place despite the uncertainly and fear that become a part of each of their days and they did it for a long time.
We filled our toolbox. For the first six years of our time as restaurant owners we were overwhelmed pretty much every day. Every single day presented a new challenge. I remember the day that I arrived to learn that a sink drain was plugged. Our staff was surprised and complimentary that I handled the repair so gracefully, we enjoyed the experience together. When they questioned how I kept so calm about it – I said “if this is the biggest challenge we face today, it’s a great day.” From March 16th until this week, I sure wish a plugged drain was all we had to face. But we did it, and the “daily challenge bar” has been set so much higher. But we filled our tool box with new tools that we have become experts at using. Bring it on, plugged drains are nothing to any of us at Jake’s.
This community is pretty special. On April 22nd we were able to provide some sort of “to go” option and we knew we needed to give it a shot. We are certainly not a “to go” restaurant but we adjusted our menus, learned all about packaging and quickly put a new on-line software system into play. It sort of worked. Mother’s Day was a train wreck and we occasionally forgot to send bread and butter but we apologized and delivered that bread and butter and we moved ahead. Staffing limitations and product sourcing challenges made summer a challenge but our outdoor seating provided comfort to many who just needed to see people and you forgave us for our mistakes. You rolled with it, you didn’t complain, you accepted we were doing what we could and you thanked us for giving it our best.
As we return to our groove, as we get our brick oven dialed in and we have a menu that makes us proud, you are back - we are back - and that feels really good. We have found so many wonderfully talented kitchen staff and they are bonding as a team, they work hard – so hard, but at the end of a service they celebrate together because good things are happening again. We have scheduled four outdoor concerts this summer to celebrate the other side together and we can’t wait to watch you smile, and dance, and hopefully not social distance.
Sure we have lost a bit – lost some employees to the stress of the year, lost some friends to the virus, lost lots of sleep for sure, but we gained even more. We have stronger relationships with the people that mean the most, we have a toolbox full of lessons and we have a community we appreciate even more.
Good Things are back.