To me it's about a shared vision. It's about optimism, and a sense of family. It's about working hard, but also having plenty of fun. Tasting all the while. I haven't really been around the restaurant, other than the occasional lunch every year or so, in more than 25 years. When I go, I'm always aware of how few familiar faces I see. I'm also aware of the faces that are still there, and faces that are long gone--some gone from the restaurant, some gone from this life.
A couple of weeks ago I stopped in with my parents. People were working hard to get the restaurant ready for its reopening. And not only the carpenters. Waiters and cooks were bustling around, some cleaning, some working on refinishing chairs. Cooks were bringing up a lunch for everyone. I had to hold myself back from the bowl of tapioca pudding with cherries. Comfort food.
Incidentally, in the last week I also saw that the New York Times 'Room for Debate' section was discussing the question of tipping. Which led me to a few articles from past years about the question of tipping in restaurants. Chez Panisse adds a service charge to all checks; further tipping, while allowed, is not expected. It makes sense to me. I like the idea of a business that works together. The employers paying their workers a living wage, complete with health care, vacation and sick leave. The idea that the employers have a responsibility to their workers as well as to their customers and suppliers. The idea that the workers are part of the business, and that the way they do their jobs matters. That they have a responsibility to their co-workers, employers, and customers. Seems like it serves everyone--employer, worker, and diner--well.
Reading about how Chez Panisse got through the fire, I couldn't help thinking, once again, that the restaurant really is a family. Like any family, it has its share of struggles, and is always evolving. Like most families, the people there matter--and the family comes through best of all when everyone is in it together.
Here is a few of those articles:
New York Times, October 9, 2008, 'Why Tip'
U.S. News and World Report, March 16, 2009, 'Alice Waters: Why Her Waiters Don't Expect Traditional Tips'
CBS SF Bay Area, February 23, 2013, 'Chez Panisse Service "Charge Not" What Many Customers Believe It To Be'