In fact, not everyone tries to escape the restaurant industry.
One day in October, my friend and I sat down for a meal at Chisai Sushi Club, a new sushi restaurant in San Francisco in Bernal Heights. Tired of presenting and meeting deadlines (me) and under-stimulated by entirely remote technical communication work (her), we launched ideas to reinvent ourselves. We were thirsty for action, for a more lively work environment, for a real sense of action. How about going to work in a restaurant? we reflected, emboldened by the fatty sashimi and dry sake. Wouldn’t it be fun? In 2021, against all odds, it seems that many San Franciscans had the same idea.
The past year and a half has put hospitality under a microscope in the Bay and beyond, and it hasn’t always been pretty. On the one hand, the unprecedented stress and the constant reversal of the pandemic scenario have highlighted the more human aspects of the industry – collaboration, solidarity, ingenuity. Simultaneously, sexual harassment and discrimination grabbed the headlines almost every week, while COVID-19 highlighted unsafe working conditions and a lack of structural support within the industry; customer reaction; and general chaos. The dominant narrative at this time was one of workers leaving the industry, causing staff shortages and portraying hospitality jobs as anything but desirable. But while some people were leaving restaurant work for good, others decided to go on board.
Being attentive to one’s own needs had certainly become a top priority in the Pandemic Fog. What if you were spending really too much time at a job that didn’t give anything in return? What if you’re bored – and that boredom is inherently unbearable? What if working in the hotel industry was the answer? For Matt Tillquist, asking these questions has led to a major career change. Tillquist, 25, was a writer and editor living in Denver, Colo. When stay-at-home orders started arriving in early 2020. Then her branded agency announced a permanent work-from-home situation. . “I had a hard time with work[ing] from my house before, and then I was like, “Man, I can’t see people anymore,” he said.
Tillquist, an avid cookbook reader, had been following chef David Nayfeld and his successful San Francisco Italian restaurant Che Fico on Instagram for some time, when a post about the vacancies appeared on his feed. in August 2021, he decided to act. In September, Tillquist accepted a position as a preparatory cook and moved to San Francisco shortly thereafter. He’s not sure exactly why he was hired – it may have something to do with the heartfelt message he sent to Nayfeld, whom he has since lost track of but which definitely included the word ‘passion’.
A similar situation happened for Wade Branstmer, 51, who, in the summer of 2020, was a college art teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was faced with unemployment after his contract was terminated during the stay-at-home orders. So Branstmer, who was a server at the university, decided to move to California; a fortuitous job offer on Indeed.com led him to a server position at Pabu, a mainstay of the Mina group. The general manager gave him the job on the spot. Branstmer liked that someone was willing to try their luck with him; he’s been at Pabu since August 2020. “There’s a sense of teamwork, as opposed to just being alone in the classroom,” he says. “The opportunity to make a quick buck was the initial draw, but then the money stabilized and I realized I was going a whole day without a teacher’s meeting, administrative issue, or discipline issue. ”
Many aspects of his previous job weren’t limited by his teaching hours and weren’t paid, Branstmer says, which made him feel guilty, even at home, whenever he wasn’t working. He now earns almost twice as much without burnout. Tillquist also reports a major financial upgrade. The concrete nature, here and now, of restaurant work has been “liberating” for both, and a big bonus for others as well. Hannah Lee, 34, a line cook at Nari, worked at Google as an operations manager. “While I was working in tech, I felt like I was still working,” she says. “Now when I leave work, the job is done. It’s amazing, like a really nice mental break.
During the pandemic, Lee briefly shifted gears by working for a nonprofit “and cooking at home, a lot.” When her husband encouraged her to pursue her interest in cooking, Lee enrolled at the San Francisco Cooking School for an intensive six-month program from May to September 2020. She had always thought of pursuing her passion for cooking. , she says, but cooking school was a retirement chimera. No more; after an internship at Nari, Lee stayed. “My intention was not at all to go to work in a restaurant,” she says. “But I really respected the female-led team at Nari and felt lucky to be in such an amazing space.”
Lee loves that his “deadlines” these days are cooking perfectly prepared meals – and nothing else. There is that elusive sense of an intense presence, even an emergency, to overcome the prolonged boredom of the pandemic. And Tillquist is also feeling the change: “In my previous job, I would wake up, have a Zoom meeting, and then pretty much lay on the couch and make copies or edits all day,” says- he. “Now he gets up early, takes two buses to work, sees five people before 9 am, then 20 people before the end of the day. ”
Much like Lee, Alan Reinhardt, 44, used the pandemic to embrace a long-standing passion and make it work. After years of touring with the Chanticleer men’s acapella ensemble, the blockages forced him to stay put. “The pandemic forced me personally to take a break, to take stock of what my life has been like,” he says, which prompted him to step away from singing and apply for a job at the wine bar and shop in Polk Street Biondivino, where he was already a member of the wine club. In addition to pursuing a career in audio book storytelling, Reinhardt says he now enjoys daily social interactions with “incredibly interesting” customers and learning more about Italian wine. “Being on stage, there’s an element of me that presents something and you take it all. At the store, it’s more about practicing the art of conversation, ”he says. “Once you realize what makes you happy and alive, you never want to not have that again.”
One thing is for sure – whatever the reasons, there has never been a better time to be embraced by the Bay Area restaurant industry, even with little to no prior experience. “During the pandemic, restaurants weren’t able to support loyal staff, so some people moved away from the city, and that filtered out the right people,” said Mayanka Somiah, 32. “So a lot of good restaurants are looking to fill positions – now is a good time to go and learn. Somiah should know. Although she has spent years working in the hospitality industry as a front desk manager in places icons like Quince and Californios, his most recent job was at Google, working on its sustainable food initiative.
Now, she’s back in directing the show as the COO of the new Nisei Restaurant and Iris Bar adjacent to Russian Hill. “I’m in love with the rush, the chaos, the balance between physical work and office work in restaurants,” she says. “During the pandemic, I really missed it. But Somiah is also the mother of a 17 month old son, and she is more than happy to highlight the flip side. “It’s hard, I’m not going to lie. I wouldn’t recommend it to parents, unless it’s your last resort, ”she says. “At Google the benefits are much better, but I’m here out of a passion for the restaurant industry.”
At some point, Somiah plans to return to the tech world. And temporality – although, in many cases, completely infatuated with the industry – is a common thread for many hospitality workers. Tillquist plans to explore culinary writing in the future, marrying her skills with her love of cooking. Branstmer dreams of growing up in the Mina group, perhaps by applying his teaching experience to training or HR (he’s been told his dream is very realistic). But then again, isn’t everything temporary? In 2021, we should all know the answer to this.