Welcome to Editor-in-Chief Marty Rosen’s regular Wednesday afternoon column. He’s been covering food, dining, performing arts, and culture in Louisville for a quarter-century, and has been a contributor to Food & Dining Magazine since the first issue. Marty served as dining critic for LEO Weekly (2003—2006) and The Courier-Journal (2006-2014). In addition, he has written for Louisville Magazine, the Kentucky Department of Tourism, The Voice-Tribune, and other publications.
These days, our daily post is almost entirely comprised of statements, solicitations, sales catalogs, and magazines. And nearly all the envelopes fall into two standard categories: business letters or greeting cards.
A couple of weeks ago, we received an envelope so unusual that I hesitated to open it.
Our address had been written in ink in a neat, legible hand, but there was no return address – signaling either that the sender desired anonymity or that the sender had complete confidence in the ability of the US Postal Service to complete its appointed rounds.
The envelope itself was of a sort I’ve not seen in decades. It wasn’t flashy, just a simple off-white. But the dimensions – more slender and delicate than a business envelope – reminded me of the old days, before emails, texts, and messaging apps put an end to the era of personalized handwritten notes and cards.
This envelope didn’t contain a note, just gift certificate from Time 4 Thai, the superb Frankfort Avenue restaurant that had just reopened for carry-out a few days earlier. The only inscription on the gift certificate was a reminder to tip – though I instantly knew the sender (thanks, David!).
The gift itself was a gracious and generous gesture. But more importantly, it was a reminder that those of us who are in a position to do so can amplify our voices and raise awareness of our favorite places by using gift certificates to encourage others to experience the places we love.
It’s one thing to post a review or a recommendation. But even under the social distancing guidelines you can use gift certificates to share a favorite meal with a friend – and if you’re so inclined, I guess you could even schedule a telemeal talk about Pad Kee Mow and spice ratings while you dine.
Great dining experiences are defined by grace and generosity. And it is grace and generosity that will get us through this crisis – along with rational decision-making based on sound science.
I started working in the food industry at 15, and in my young years worked as a cook, bartender, and manager in both chain and indie establishments.
People go into food and dining for various reasons. For some folks a bar or restaurant is primarily an investment – a business much like any other business, where the primary measure of success is financial return on investment.
For others – both owners and workers – the risks and rewards are richer and more complicated. Those folks invest not just their money but their spirits in the art, craft, and technique of hospitality. For them, the work itself is intrinsically rewarding, and the financial return is just a happy – but urgently important – way for them to afford to do something they love to do.
That latter group approaches food and dining the same way that all creatives approach their work – artists, actors, musicians, potters, painters, dancers, and, for that matter, hosts of creative entrepreneurs in all kinds of fields.
Creatives are resilient problem solvers who thrive on uncertainty, risk, and unpredictability.
Food and dining is not a field for risk-averse folks with a yen for predictable outcomes. It’s a field full of folks who know that every shift of every day of every week of every month of every year of every career is fraught with uncertainty.
Larry Rice (of The Silver Dollar, The Pearl of Germantown, and a veteran of places like El Camino and 732 Social) has ridden this roller coaster for a long time. A few days ago, he made a post to his Facebook page that seems to sum up the prevailing zeitgeist among the culinary creatives in Louisville.
“I have no fucking idea”
Only real answer to:
“When is it safe?”
“What’s it going to be like?”
“When will/should restaurants and bars reopen?”
Or any other COV-19 related questions.
Food and dining professionals are not scientists or politicians (well, some of them are, actually). But their culture is based on a unique blend of independent thinking and collaborative effort. Their collective empirical front-line understanding of how our society actually works is enormous.
You can support them by ordering for curbside pickup, by buying gift certificates, and by rewarding the independent restaurateurs who demonstrate by their actions that they are focused on ensuring the safety and financial security of their staff while letting us all share in the work they love.