How a 2019 Best New Chef Is Getting Her Team Through the Pandemic
The third annual Food & Wine Best New Chefs mentorship program, which took place in late April, looked a little different this year. Unable to gather in person, the 2020 class connected via video conference to talk through the professional, personal, and industry-wide challenges posed by the pandemic, and heard from hospitality veterans like Andrew Zimmern, Angie Mar, and Chintan Pandya.
2019 Best New Chef Caroline Glover, whose Aurora, Colorado-based restaurant, Annette, has been closed for weeks due to shelter-in-place orders, spoke candidly about how she and her tiny team have been handling enormous amounts of physical, emotional, and mental stress. Here are some of the lessons she’s learned about staying sane while staying in business.
Start your day with a check-in
Glover, who runs her restaurant with her husband, Nelson, says the couple have started waking up a couple of hours early, but not doing any emails or meetings. “We take time to check in with each other before the day starts," she said. "It’s not a lot, but we need that.”
“I think I had to go through a pretty big personal transition in order to be a good boss. Being transparent and vulnerable was the most important thing,” said Glover. “I just wasn’t communicating effectively because I was so used to putting my head down, but sometimes in order to get people on your side, you have to completely open up and be transparent, even down to the financials, I don’t leave anything out.”
Glover says restaurant operating financials should be something we talk about as an industry more comfortably. “We’re all trying to make a profit but also pay everybody a fair wage.”
“Every single day, there’s a lot of crying in the restaurant," she said. "That’s something that I am definitely not afraid of anymore. I’m scared, my staff is scared, and we come together every single day and check in and ask, ‘Do you want to keep doing this?’ It could change, and that’s ok. If my staff’s not on board, then I don’t have a team.”
The Annette team holds Sunday night meetings to talk about the week, including what worked, what didn’t work, and how much money they brought in. “They know what we have to make in order to pay their salary and health insurance," she said. "At the end of the week, we look at the numbers together. If we hit them, there’s a lot of crying and we’re happy."
Make time for levity
“We try to keep it light, but at the end of the day, cooking during this pandemic is heavy and hard,” Glover said. After providing her team with produce from vendors, she realized that what they really wanted, surprisingly enough, was junk food. “Stuff like candy, and trail mix. So we built this crazy makeshift shop in the restaurant with quart containers of candy. It’s a weird little morale booster.”
Glover says she’s been picking up cans of Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb, Twizzlers, and other little comforts that bring her staff joy as they cook through COVID-19.
“A lot of comforts are taken away right now," she said. "And I want to provide for my employees as much as I possibly can. If that means bringing junk food in, well, that works.”