Finding a renewed sense of purpose in crisis, and rediscovering the foundation of hospitality.
By Angie Mar as told to Chris Mohney
Angie Mar’s family has been in food for a long time, especially around Seattle, where her late aunt Ruby Chow is a beloved local icon of Chinese cuisine. Mar herself cooked in several of Andrew Tarlow’s New York restaurants—Reynard, Diner, and Marlow & Sons—as well as The Spotted Pig, before taking over the kitchen of the Beatrice Inn. In 2016, she took over the Beatrice itself as owner as well as chef.
I got back from London a couple weeks ago and found my home, my city, in complete disarray. We made the decision to close on a Saturday night, and we weren’t going to open up for the next week. I just really felt it was the safest option. Then on Sunday, the governor announced they were shuttering all restaurants and bars. And overnight, just in my restaurant alone, you’re talking about almost 50 people without a job.
In the big scheme of things, here in New York, I think it’s something like 250,000 people without a job. It really hit home for me on so many levels, because it’s like, what do you do? How do we cope with it? How do we take care of our family? How do we take care of a team that’s been loyal and has always taken care of us?
It took me a minute to get organized. We decided we would start takeout. No one’s ever going to make money off of takeout. I’m never gonna be able to pay my rent doing takeout. I barely cover my costs, with labor and food. But if I can provide as many jobs as possible to my employees, and keep as many of them working as possible, I’m going to do it, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the human thing to do.
When we talk about the industry as a whole, you’re talking about an industry that really is the fabric of society. We go to restaurants to celebrate things. We go to restaurants to mourn things. We go to restaurants to connect. And this industry is in dire need. It’s tremendously scary right now. And within that population of people who have lost their jobs, I would guess you’re probably looking at 25 to 30 percent, if not more, that are not eligible for unemployment. What happens to those people? What happens to their families?
I talk to my team every day. I check in with them. I’m liquidating my stocks so I can loan them money. That’s where we’re at right now. This is my family and it’s the right thing to do, so I’ll do it. In my restaurant, I have a lot of employees who are single-income households. They have children to feed. That’s why we wanted to get this takeout going, because if I can just cover my overhead and provide jobs so they can put food on the table, that’s truly what matters right now.
I went from a team of 47 people to being there every day by myself answering the phone, accepting food deliveries, doing the dishes, taking out the trash, cooking. Then later on at night, when we open up for takeout and fulfilling orders, I’m still answering the phone and still doing the dishes. This is the absolute worst possible scenario that any business could ever be in. But I feel at the same time very rewarded, because it’s the right thing to do.
We could easily close the doors and just not not do this at all, like a lot of businesses. One thing that has really hit home for me is that we’re not just doing the right thing for our employees—we’re also doing the right thing for our community. We’re feeding the community. We’re providing some semblance of normalcy to the community so they can still come and pick up their food and have a meal like they would if they had some time in our restaurant. It’s really hard and it’s frustrating, but this is New York. We’re strong, and we will make it through.
I’m doing easy, accessible comfort food right now. Creatively, it is a struggle for me because you’re talking about going overnight from a fine-dining luxury restaurant to home-cooked comfort-food takeout. But at times like these, I think about what my father would have cooked for me. We’re doing our burgers, we’re doing our fried chicken, we’re doing our kale salad. But I’m also doing a nightly family meal that changes every day. Yesterday we did chicken and vegetable pies. Tonight I’m doing a beef and mushroom stew. I have no idea what I’m doing on Friday.
What’s been encouraging is that we have a lot of regulars coming in every single day because they want to know what we’re cooking next. Honestly, I think there’s only so much pizza you can order in a week. That aspect has been incredible, just the words of support and encouragement from everybody in the neighborhood and all our regulars. It’s been really great, especially because we’ve only been doing it a week. It makes me feel like we are doing right thing, and we’re we’re doing this for a reason.
I don’t know that I’ve actually stopped to think about how I’m doing personally. It’s almost like processing grief. I lost my father a couple years ago, and this felt a lot like that. It feels like I’m losing my restaurant. It feels like I’m losing my family. It feels like I’m losing everything that I’ve worked for for the past 10 years, and as I built up the Beatrice in the last four years. It almost felt like I was losing it, losing all of it. That’s how it felt in the beginning when I got back from London.
Being in the kitchen every day with the few members of my team I can afford to retain, interacting with guests every day when they come and pick up their food—all that has given me a renewed sense of purpose that I haven’t felt in a really long time. It feels really good. It feels like we’re here for employees and our neighborhood. Even if it is a very small difference, it’s a difference. It’s almost like I’ve reconnected with a very basic form of hospitality. I think that’s the only way that I could truly get through it. Through all of this, I realized and remembered why I got into this business.