For Chefs, Mother’s Day Is Like Every Other Day Now—Far from Normal
Some restaurateurs will be working through a holiday they vowed to never work again. Others are determined to make the day special.
Pretending to relax on Mother’s Day has never been easy for chefs with kids at home and a line out the door. Food & Wine spoke with five women who are using this Sunday as an opportunity to contemplate motherhood, reevaluate their businesses, and potentially treat themselves, all while keeping their loved ones close or, when necessary, at a distance.
Ann Redding of Uncle Boon’s is hoping for a little extra sleep.
Ann Redding and Matt Danzer were trying to decide on this Sunday’s Mother’s Day special when I called. They’re still working seven days a week, fulfilling delivery and takeout orders that just about break even, from the kitchen of Uncle Boon’s Sister, just around the corner from their apartment, while their son Leo plays on the dining room floor. “We’re all going stir crazy here, so we take the thirty second walk with our son, and he can play in the dining room for a change of scenery,” Redding says.
Last week was Leo’s third birthday. He celebrated with his grandparents via Zoom, and Redding fulfilled her most satisfying quarantine order yet: a dozen chocolate cupcakes for the occasion. But she still hasn’t decided on a Mother’s Day meal—for herself or the online menu.
A year ago, Leo slept until 5:30 a.m. on Mother’s Day, and after working past midnight, Redding and Danzer celebrated with a simple meal. “My husband made scrambled eggs with some bottarga shaved on it,” she recalls. “More than that it was about pausing to do something nice, and for us that’s special and different.” Another nice treat this year is that their son has started sleeping until 6 a.m.
The extra sleep is a blessing. During the day, Redding has a hard time turning off her mind. She’s a workaholic, and says it hurts to analyze their numbers, knowing they’re just breaking even. “It’s a blessing when Matt and I are home at the same time with Leo, but it’s so hard to enjoy it and I wish I could enjoy it more,” she says. “We have to stop ourselves at storytime because we’ll just start talking about work.”
Sarah Minnick of Lovely’s 50/50 is treating herself.
Sarah Minnick, pizzaiolo owner of Lovely’s 50/50 in Portland, Oregon, isn't sure how to celebrate Mother's Day—not ever, and especially not now. “I’m a single mom, and my mom is also a single mom, and it’s not a holiday we ever celebrated,” Minnick says, although she did buy her mother flowers to support a florist neighbor. “My mom has a real disdain for this thing, and I think it trickled down, so if there’s one thing we may do away with after all this, it’s this.”
On the days she’s not moving pizzas—150 a week, via Instagram, text, and Venmo—she’s been rethinking the essential services restaurants provide, and how to make the experience healthier for herself and her staff. One thing that won’t change is how much Minnick loves working with the women in her family. Her mother and sister are co-owners of the restaurant, and her 15-year-old daughter has had her food handler card since she was twelve. “She’s been drawing an hourly wage since last year, and today she’s scooping ice cream and folding pizza boxes,” she says, proud to offer her a getaway from at-home learning.
What is changing? Minnick’s pizza-centric environmental activism. “I applied for a small SBA loan for $10,000, because I wanted to buy a new electric pizza oven to get off wood-burning.” She didn’t want to blow her nest egg on the upgrade, but the loan just came through and her new toy’s due to arrive by the end of the week. “The romance of wood is fake, so let’s get real about global warming, air pollutants, and chopping down trees.”
She’s also moved by the direct and immediate engagement offered by texting with her customers, who overwhelm her with gratitude after pickup, from a distance. She recalls only two complaints after 2,000 pies sold. “They’d send me a photo and I’d say ‘yes that pizza looks beautiful, please don’t order another one,’ and then we’d both agree they’re just not pepperoni people,” she says.
Curate chef Katie Button is concerned.
Four generations of Katie Button’s family live in Asheville, North Carolina. That includes her mother, and her mother’s mother, but it won’t be before Mother’s Day morning when Katie Button even thinks about celebrating. She thought by now the holiday would be business as usual. That misjudgment has taken a toll on Button’s optimism.
“I thought when we closed that the whole country was going to shut down for two weeks, everyone will stay home, and we’ll eradicate it,” she recalls, still in disbelief. “We shut down reservations for two to four weeks back in March, but we were still taking Mother’s Day bookings.”
“When I became a mother I decided I didn’t have to work on Mother’s Day again,” she says. “Our teams had been so good I could lean on our employees and cook a meal at home.” But now she’s worried about mounting bills, the ineffectiveness of PPE loans for the restaurant industry because “a two-year payback is a really shitty loan at 2.5x your payroll,” how anyone is supposed to operate at 100% labor and 25% capacity, how to see her mother while social distancing, and how she won't be able to see her grandmother.
“My grandmother lives in an assisted living facility where they have strict guidelines about visitation, so we Google Duo’d a few times and she’s been able to see me, but she has trouble getting video on her side,” Button says, lamenting it wasn’t that long ago that getting people to gather was what she does best.
Lindsay Jang of Yardbird Hong Kong has company.
“Last Mother’s Day, we had a quick dim sum lunch because my daughter Lili had a gymnastics competition all afternoon. Then the kids went to their father’s house and I got a massage at home,” recalls Jang. Since the COVID-19 crisis hit Hong Kong, and the world, however, she’s never seen so much of her friends and family. “Matt Abergel—my business partner, co-parent, and friend—and Eugene—my boyfriend—are cooking for me at our house, and Eugene’s mom, sisters, and their families, are coming over too!”
That doesn’t mean work isn’t always on her mind, just like every other restaurateur who’s open for business. Jang’s worked on Mother’s Day since she was old enough to work at Golden Capital, her parents’ Cantonese-Canadian restaurant back in her native Alberta. But she’s learning to make peace with the distance she feels from her long-delayed Los Angeles restaurant right now. For years, rumors of the famed Hong Kong yakitori expanding to Los Angeles have excited West Coast diners, and just a few months ago the opening felt imminent.
“LA is still in the cards,” she says. “If anything, I’ve really started to embrace change without warning, and I’m hopeful for the future and the plans we’ve made for the US.” While she has a hard time digesting the way the pandemic is playing out stateside,, she has no shortage of chefs, cooks, and sommeliers to keep her stomach settled. “They’re keeping me well-fed and nicely buzzed.”
Rachel Yang of Joule will do brunch.
“This is the most time we’ve spent with our kids ever,” Yang says, finding a silver lining in the current crisis. Yang’s two sons got out of school earlier than the restaurants closed in Seattle, and now she sees her boys every morning, getting them ready for class in front of the computer. Weekends, however, have required some adjustment.
“We’ve gone back to when they were toddlers, when they didn’t have any school and their weekends were our weekends,” she says. “We only work five days a week now but our days off are Sunday and Monday; they know Friday and Saturday are busy and they can’t see us.” On top of that, breakfast is usually dinnertime for her and husband Seif Chirchi, but this Sunday will be a special occasion.
“We always have a tradition at home to do a big Mother’s Day brunch,” she says, an overlap between home and Joule, which is offering a $100 brunch in a box for Sunday morning pickup: eight courses from deviled eggs to porchetta, plus a mimosa kit. The couple committed to no longer working on Mother’s Day a few years back, and now they’re looking forward to a day spent close, while keeping their distance from everyone else. “It’s bizarre to go outside, but the weather’s so nice now and at least outdoors in nature you don’t have to wear masks,” Yang says.
Yang knows how fortunate she is, that not everyone can go outside, and not everyone has $100 to spend on Sunday brunch. So for the past week she’s made a point to share personal recipes anyone can make on a budget, and so foolproof even their kids can assist.
“I wanted to share my Mother’s Day story, and in Korea mothers eat a traditional Korean soup when they give birth, so I want to show how to make seaweed soup congee as a breakfast item with leftovers,” Yang says. “Sunday doesn’t have to be stressful, and we can all use a relaxing, fun morning.”
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