Sitting at the eve of the one year anniversary of the passing of my Dad, I'm moved to write something hopefully impactful about why restaurants matter.
Growing up in Bethesda, we had packed streets of independent restaurants. Places where you knew the owner, Chef and servers. Places that showed you the age of the restaurant, and gave you the clear understanding...they had served A LOT of people, and knew what they were doing.
The kind of place where you get seated, and your 62 year old server says, "same as last time?" They actually knew you, and usually remembered what you liked. They knew that you didn't like too much garlic, and could tell the Chef that.
As a buddy says, everyone wants to feel smart, important and valued. What better way is there than walking in and being recognized, respected and almost automatically served the exact thing you like? (Reminds you of Cheers maybe, right?)
In 2022, we face a unique landscape in the restaurant world, one that seems like a battle starved wolf...walking through the bush. Eyes still vigilant, still hungry, but definitely suffering from a few stab wounds and lost battles. We're here because we survived the War...maybe won? But at least here to fight another day.
Let's get to why this matters.
Restaurants are gathering places from the earliest of times. Somewhere to rest your weary bones, get sustenance and go out again into the world. Obviously now we've evolved quite a bit, we have modern interiors, elevated food and menus, even apps to make it easier. Don't get me wrong, I love all that, but the ESSENCE of what restaurants do is much simpler and also much more powerful than all that.
Restaurants to me exist to make a memory, celebrate a victory, sometimes to heal wounds...but at the end of the day, to CONNECT people together.
I've often said (I'm sure to many with much chagrin) that if you sat a bunch of disparate people together that couldn't even speak the same language down, and fed them a meal together, there would be so much communication and shared experience that we'd probably never logically predict.
That being said, the current landscape of restaurant growth is promising...numbers are looking better, but with all the worry of COVID and more, eating more to go, and so on...let's remember that sitting and breaking bread is more important than ever.
Put down the phones, devices etc and do the hard work to "gently encourage" communication. Read between my lines, and sometimes force it. We are so worried to offend anyone, there often times seems a gravity towards devices to " keep the kids occupied"...wrong in my book.
I grew up dining at the dinner table, not a "kids" table, not with a device, but just eating and listening to my family stories and learning from my elders.
Wine bottles empty, dessert long over, espresso cups empty...we sat and learned of our family history. Stories from my Uncles, dear long time friends of my parents...not always something grandiose, but REAL stories of real people that I still remember to this day.
I think that this matters, and doesn't exist enough. Perhaps I'm wrong...but I'm sticking to my guns.
Don't take the easy route and pacify your kids, let them squirm and roll eyes...they'll be ok. At the end of some time, they might just appreciate WHY you made them sit with the adults.
To encourage the continued growth of independent restaurants, let's do what we can to encourage entrepreneurs in the food space to keep chasing their culinary dreams, to keep risking their fortunes, to pursue their passion behind food, drink and service. THESE are the future of food, where innovation happens, where things are passionately put on a plate, or in a glass... to make a statement. Cuisines have souls, and they should be respected and allowed to flourish.
Restaurants are the real fabric of a city, and I hope and pray that we don't succeed to the Starbucks of the world, and become a megalopolis of non descript dining spots with overly phone concentrated 20 somethings who's idea of "service" is getting all of your order in a bag of to go food from an app. Don't get me wrong we love and appreciate all our food orders to go, but let's just not forget the magic of dining together in public.
Thanks for listening, and thanks Mom & Dad for instilling in me a love of dining. I miss you daily Dad.
Chef Tony Marciante
P.s. The image at the top is of our beloved original location, Chef Tony's on St Elmo... it' has been demolished to make way for YET ANOTHER nondescript condo building in Bethesda...as apparently we need more.
So you took a leap of faith and came over!
For us at Chef Tony's, we created the "3 cs" principle to encompass what we believe in beyond just selling food and having a business.
"Community"...we believe that food creates bonds within people (and other mammals) and even if from different backgrounds, we feel something more when eating together.
"Conversation" food and dining together is an amazing way to bond and have meaningful conversation...sometimes even if we don't speak the same language.
"Connection" take bites of a dish together, and you instantly feel a connection. Sometimes to each other, sometimes to a memory of when you had that dish last, and even so powerful as to remember a loved one, family member or a place you were in the past. Its' powerful.
It's for these reasons we realized and continue to grow our purpose behind feeding so many people over these years. It's truly an honor to be a small part of peoples lives, and enhance the quality of them.
We have gathered over the years for so many reasons, but when we researched the facts, we found a few core reasons.
From the Atlantic
"“Dinner’s ready!” is the traditional cry with which Western mothers used to call their playing children indoors and grab the attention of their newspaper-reading husbands. “Dinner’s ready!” We’re about to eat, so drop what you’re doing. The call represented the most important moment of the day, a confirmation of family life, of the caring role of the mother and the authority of the father. So it went on for many generations, in many countries."
The article goes on to extole the virtues of drinking a glass of wine in a restaurant in Spain being so much more than at home, looking out your common window to a view you've seen so many times.
Perhaps it's this, the combination of consuming food and drink, in a particular setting, with particular folks that burns that memory into our brain, and releases endorphins that make us so happy.
This is why we do what we do...and why these last few years have remained so challenging...are we happy to sell food to go? Of course! It has definitely helped our business, and helped YOU to hopefully connect at home. But for us, the real joy comes in seeing our guests in the restaurant, connecting over food and allowing us to serve.
From the Smithsonian site I thought this passage on 🔥 FIRE was pretty amazing
"Fire, by keeping people warm at night, made fur unnecessary, and without fur hominids could run farther and faster after prey without overheating. Fire brought hominids out of the trees; by frightening away nocturnal predators, it enabled Homo erectus to sleep safely on the ground, which was part of the process by which bipedalism (and perhaps mind-expanding dreaming) evolved.
"By bringing people together at one place and time to eat,
fire laid the groundwork for pair bonding and, indeed, for human society."
However you slice it, getting together to eat is so important to us as humans... we hope to encourage you to realize and remember it's importance...
and perhaps share a meal with us.
Be well, eat well and stay safe...
Chefs Tony & Sonia, and the team at Chef Tony's
Our Visit to the Crabhouse...
The above short video shows the amazing amount of work that goes into making beautiful Maryland crab meat a reality.
This century old crab house puts out 750,000 lbs of crab meat a year, and that is all by hand.
Invest 5 minutes to learn where your food comes from..
Chef Tony (I'm in the video)