Wishing all the mothers a Happy Mother’s Day, but also sending out my greetings and prayers to all restaurateurs today too!
I grew up in a restaurant business and in many ways, it would be impossible for me to separate the difference of being home or being there because our family restaurant was home to us in so many ways. Often, we considered it our first home since the family house was second. I took my first steps at Nino’s and I imagine I learned to speak early on because of the environment and rich language exposure of all the people talking with me. In addition, imagine the social intelligence and behavioral action research I was innocently collecting by having so many layers of people, cultures and decades to observe. I had this data collection experience from birthdate to 50 years old. Even if I had other jobs, my own business, or a different career path, you could be certain you would see me there nights and weekends my entire life, “working.” Working a labor of love.
It is Mother’s Day and for 50 years I spent it at Nino’s on this day. My mom spent 58 years, and for her it was an honor and gift. Knowing we would celebrate her on another day, but Mother’s Day was for our guests and their family memories. I started as a hostess at 5 years old plus I helped clean tables and take phone orders too. That then gave me the position to teach the hired hostesses or bus people how to do it too. By 10, I had made the Press Telegram newspaper several times over from my birth announcement, to our family dynamics, to me being the youngest hostess ever.
I graduated to waitress at 11, and it was there then, “world watch out.” Having observed waitresses and waiters my first 11 years so closely and intimately, I took the skills necessary and added my personality, care, and enthusiasm to be the best at it. Realizing the sales part of it enhances the dining experience. I could not officially sell the wine before 18, but I could talk about what was the most popular or what I heard other people like at the other tables. Let's face it, I paid attention. Of course, I couldn’t pour it or fill their glasses until I was older, but we were a team at Nino’s, so everyone was happy to help the liquor part of my tables and I helped them with the sales/ dining experience at their tables too. I was already mastering my clientele, meaning those who would ask to sit in my station. This included my K-12 teachers. Yes, my kindergarten teacher too! Knowing everyone’s favorite dishes and their particular preferences of how they liked their meals served or prepared. What side needed to be substituted and when. I realize now that took incredible skill, but at the time it just seemed the natural thing to do when you love and care about what you do and the contribution you make in life for others. Dining was a big deal to people, always has been, and I took great pride in being their waitress.
Adding to my job duties was taking more responsibilities of the money, hiring, training, and terminating too. As I was graduating high school my parents decided to make me the manager. I was 17 going on 18. So, I graduated high school and they were off to Europe for 4 weeks leaving me in charge of one of the busiest times of Nino’s. I broke two sales records while they were gone and every “fire in the kitchen” so to speak, happened and I gratefully led us through those too. We had a wonderful relationship with our Long Beach Police Officers, and they would look out for me too. Making sure there were patrols in the area as I was locking the restaurant by myself late at night.
For our community, it was also the place where you had your first job so they would return there with their families and work associates too. It was where I was birthed into the philosophy of teamwork and where everyone felt they belonged because of their contribution. Our restaurant employees were like family members of all ages and backgrounds sharing our time together as ONE. Dynamics could be of all sorts so not that situations were always perfect, and this is truly where my mentoring, coaching and consulting business started. It was innocently and organically at Nino’s. When you have first entry level job holders, it is also a time to consider the big world out there! Wanting guidance and support we talked before, during and after on how to explore opportunities. Me probing with a lot of questions too. These relationships grew over the years for me to witness their life, meet their families and be there when they were seeking more coaching or consulting.
Even while I had my own career, three degrees and many certificates later, you could find me at Nino’s after my workday there. Running the restaurant meant I could be found cooking in the kitchen, waiting on tables, cleaning tables, helping the dishwasher or being a bartender too. This was after a full day of my own obligations to my career or graduate school. Before COVID-19, I still could run into former students and their parents and they exclaim to the person I’m with, “I don’t know how Carina did it! She taught all day and worked all night and weekends at a restaurant.” Yet again, Nino’s was my home first and it didn’t feel like work even if my legs and back would feel otherwise. To my heart, being there felt like being with family, not just with my blood relatives, but the entire crew felt like my family too.
I can continue many more milestones and recall many Mother’s Days too, but then I’d have to add more layers and that would become more chapters, which would make my story a book. I’ll stop here and say, if you own a restaurant business you know it’s anything but a bricks and mortar business. It’s blood, sweat and tears of a business putting every ounce of energy and time into it! As a restaurant owner, you are there for engagements, showers, weddings, birthdays, graduations and funerals too. Also, for our restaurant the Christmas season was a busy time as well. We closed Christmas Eve and Day because my father believed all our employees were human first and on holidays they needed to be with their own families first and foremost. If they had no family, they were in our home celebrating with us. Yet the two busiest days for restaurants are generally Valentine’s Day as number one and Mother’s Day a close second if not number one for some locations. These are the flagship days of our industry. I’d be remiss not to say this pandemic is killing our independent restaurateurs. My heart goes out to them especially today.
Many employees can be covered through the stimulus paychecks in which I hope they are actually being able to be helped in a timely manner, but for the owners, I just don’t know what is happening to help them or to reopen later. Especially because the restaurant business is not about the money, it is a labor of love and it is a way of life. Both have been stopped from them like a death and I just cannot imagine how they must feel today when they wake up feeling they should be preparing for all the mothers of our world. Instead they are closed or limited to having takeout. Nevertheless, restaurateurs are imaginative, hardworking, passionate, and relentless entrepreneurs. I wish them well and I hope for the best for them too.
I know it is impossible for us to support all of our local businesses at once, especially if we have been financially impacted by this COVID-19 stay at home orders, yet let’s help where we can. How to help? Share love with posts of photos past dining in their establishment or memories told about dining in favorite local eateries! Even after all these years in the business and having closed our family restaurant three years ago, I still wake up knowing this was my day to work with love for all the mothers. I cannot imagine what it must be like to not be allowed to open my doors to serve mothers and their families on this special day.
The data suggesting the majority will not be able to come back or survive from this, is staggering. Let’s be the triage for them until we can better understand what the future might bring for them with the kindness of our words, shares and appreciation for them today and this day forward. Happy Mother’s Day to all! Including our restaurateurs!