The Where I Work series explores San Antonio’s evolving workplaces. It takes readers behind the scenes to learn from the people who work at companies large and small, nonprofits, family-owned enterprises, and in other nontraditional workplaces. Get in touch to share your story.
To say the restaurant industry is a challenge would be an understatement. It involves working with a transient workforce, thousands of moving parts daily, and, of course, paper-thin margins. You have to watch every detail to be successful.
Amid all of that, seeing how food brings people together and nourishes the body and soul makes it all worth it. The bittersweet move my wife Megan and I made three years ago from San Francisco to my hometown of San Antonio to open Maverick Texas Brasserie was worth it.
Maverick’s opening and the proposition of moving back to San Antonio came at a time when my wife and I were expecting our first child. The market in the Bay Area was changing dramatically, making it more difficult to be an operator. We chose to move to bring our growing family closer to our extended family and to pursue the exciting idea of bringing back the things I learned in a different market to my hometown.
We arrived six months before the projected opening day. Construction had just started, and there was much to plan. We were tasked with choosing everything from top to bottom: plates, glasses, computers, how we would present the menus, and so much more. Not to mention the task of hiring an entire team of managers, cooks, servers, and bartenders.
As the director of hospitality and beverage, I oversee every area of operation with my partner, Chef Chris Carlson. While Chef Carlson focuses on the food, I have a hand in all other aspects of the business. One day I could be tasting Volnay from the highly anticipated 2018 vintage, and the next day I’ll be fixing the dishwasher. From a romantic standpoint, we hope we are providing a place that brings people together for some of their most important moments, alongside a place to kick back to forget some of the worst. We do this by taking pride in our offerings and our people. My team’s passions translate into the offerings you see on your menu cards.
Alyssa, on the line, may be eager to put into practice the new technique she is working on, en pappiotte (in paper), and this could be our Gulf Fish offering of the night. Brittany, behind the bar, excited about the mint growing from our hydroponic herb garden, might be behind the Mint Connection drink you ordered.
When my passions expanded from food into wine and their partnership, I learned about how important it is to know how the grapes are farmed and that the juice is not manipulated in the winery before bottling. This translates into a list composed of mostly wines with organically grown grapes made in a natural way.
Then in March 2020, the world as we knew it came to a halt. COVID-19 arrived, and we watched as overnight our reservations dropped from a thriving restaurant to a quiet standstill. We started to hear about New York and San Francisco initiating mandatory lockdowns and soon we, too, were forced to close our doors. We found ourselves suddenly in survival mode.
We tried to pivot, selling curbside for a few weeks, but the numbers did not make sense. We furloughed close to 60 employees, including ourselves. In the same breath we started discussing how we could possibly pay bills, vendors, and health insurance for our team. We then started to liquidate wine and liquor to keep some cash in the bank for paying bills. We were able to preserve cash and stay in a holding pattern for the close to five months of the restaurant being shuttered.
Opening the restaurant back up in August 2020 was a more difficult task. Staff did not want to come back; some were fine with unemployment, some scared, others had epiphanies and were taking online classes to save endangered species of animals. From a staff of around 60 before the pandemic, we found ourselves down to around 35. The list of CDC guidelines for restaurants was seven pages long and took away basically every avenue in which you could possibly make money in this business.
Most of us in the restaurant business are working harder and more hours to see the bottom line of how much money we lost this month. How do we bleed the most slowly? With the vaccine rollout, it is relieving to see the guests returning and our numbers starting to climb. But we have a lot of ground to make up.
Despite all the struggles of the past year, we still have passion and drive, and we are working toward a better day. We’re happy to see our guests again and to continue providing a space that brings people together. And we have just one request for those of you who enjoy dining out: Show empathy for your local restaurateurs and restaurant workers, especially at a time when we need it most. We have all been through a lot.