Friends & Ray’s Teammates past and present,
It is not lost on anyone in our neighborhood or staff that we have had above average amazing deck weather in April. Combine that with our repositioned lunch program and our new Café happy hour we would have been incredibly busy serving families anxious to break from the winter blues and soak up some goodness at Ray’s. Instead our ‘home away from home’ has been quiet. Although there is much to do for a few of us here, the empty hallways, kitchens, dining rooms, flight paths, and boat traffic lanes make for a quiet workplace. The din of the crew and our guests is gone for now and that has revealed a new atmosphere. The noise of seagulls, water lapping against the pilings, the laughter of children learning to ride their bikes in our parking lot, and the rain drops on the metal roof, is now clearly audible. Additionally there is an abundance of wildlife out and about as we humans stay out of the way for a while.
When I first started here almost 7 years ago my first quest was to understand Ray’s. Seek first to understand. Part of what I did was to come in early and sit in various chairs in various parts of the venues and soak up the environment. Why was this table more popular that that one? Can you hear the kitchen from here? Is this to close to the adjacent table? What’s the view from this chair look like? Recently I found myself doing the same thing. Sitting in an empty dining room looking for clarity. Seeking again to understand. But this time it is to understand where we are now and what is next.
I also needed some inspiration for this newsletter which I started to pen in my head a few days ago. Then late on Friday night April 24 my wife shared with me an article posted in the New York Times Magazine written by the venerable restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton of the famed Prune in New York City. I started to read it and was immediately captivated. Then as I progressed through the article every emotion I have had about Ray’s since March 15, 2020, and this crisis, became clear to me. When I finished I collected my composure. Then I read it again. And began sending it to my colleagues and teammates as a way to show them we are not alone. If you are in the restaurant business you will most likely have lived some, or all, of the things she speaks to. If you are not I hope it provides a glimpse into the life of what it feels like to be in the restaurant industry right now and how/why there is so much solidarity among us.
Certain industry books or articles serve as milestones for me. Reminders of what we restaurant leaders are doing for each other, and to what end. The prose penned by Gabrielle is that defining piece for me amid this crisis. I can’t thank her enough for the way she put the emotions I am seeking to understand into words. I hope she reads this newsletter and understands that we are here together 3000 miles apart.
Knowing we all may have some down time on our hands I have listed the four books that have defined stages of my short 40+ year career. I hope you may read/listen to them and share some of the pride that we do as industry teammates.
Flash in the Pan: Life and Death of an American Restaurant by David Blum (1992). I devoured this as a 23-year-old kitchen manager and thought: Is this how the restaurant business really is?
Eight years later Anthony Bourdain peels back the onion with Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000). This book gave credibility and inspiration to line cooks across the globe. I cherish my first edition hardcover. I also share with you as a separate piece Mr. Bourdain’s article “On Reacting To Bad News” 2017 as it provides his reflection on Kitchen Confidential. It’s important to understand and appreciate how his perspective changed.
Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business (2006). I not only read this cover to cover a multitude of times but have gifted it to friends and colleagues over and over. In my opinion Mr. Meyer takes the famous Maya Angelou quote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” and defines a generation of hospitality leaders with his take on that.
Kevin Alexander’s Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End (2019). Much of this takes place in the mid 2000’s Portland Oregon restaurants scene so it really strikes home to us here in the NW. A solid glimpse into one of our local chef icons, Gabriel Rucker and Naomi Pomeroy, among other things, and among other restaurant heroes around the globe.
The restaurant crews I cut my teeth with back in Pennsylvania as a young kid and then here in Seattle as a young adult, the contacts I made, and the people in the various circles that intersect all have service in common. Service to guests and service to each other. This crisis will define our generation of industry people. We are the authors of the new normal when it comes to safe and responsible hospitality. It is in our DNA to deliver that service. We will not let you down.
Douglas Zellers, GM and co-owner