The restaurant that saved my life.

10 Apr

People have asked me for months “why don’t you open your own restaurant? You’re food is amazing!” I could tell them that the long version (written here, now) is that a wise man once told me “you can’t jump to step 23 standing still on step 2.”

I didn’t always want to own a restaurant or even work at one. I wanted to be a children’s Pastor. I know what you are thinking. There are recipes for Jag Bomb Jello Shots on your blog and you wanted to be a children’s pastor? Yes. I did.

After high school, I moved from my hometown of Bismarck ND to intern for a very large, some would call mega, church in the suburbs of Minneapolis. I loved every minute of the 2 years I spent performing theatrical productions, hours I spent with youth, etc. I loved it so much I wanted to pursue a job at this church.  I became the Youth Pastors Administrative Assistant. It was a great job. I had felt like I didn’t have a home in Minneapolis and this job provided me with an almost instant group of friends, advisors, roommates, and a life.

I spent 2.5 years at this job. Summer camps, missions trips, directing the drama team, setting up for events, and so so so much more. Then, one day, I was sitting in the church sanctuary before a service reading the church bulletin when I saw something that made my heart beat out of my chest. “India Missions 2008” My church was going to India and I was supposed to go with them. I knew it immediately.

In what felt like 6 very short months later I was on an airplane to India, believing I would see the beautiful land that was depicted in the movie “The Little Princess” I saw when we landed. I was very wrong. This trip was a world wind. In 3 weeks I saw more hurt than I had seen in all of my life. I met children whose parents had thrown them out on the street, I didn’t wear shoes. I woke up in the middle of the night; every night, scared to death.

What was I doing with my life? Who was I? It all seems so stupid. It all seems so small. The kids I work with at youth group think they know problems?! The kids who were begging me for money for an orange in the market know problems!

By the time the trip was over I knew something had to change. I wanted to do something that mattered. I had always been told “If you don’t know where you are going, stay where you are.” Please. That wasn’t going to work. 3 months later I was called into my bosses office. It had been the 3 worst months of my life.  Long story short, I lost my job. Along with my built-in support system.

After that I found myself falling into heaps of crap. My car that I put the first mile on was repossessed, I couldn’t find a job that could pay my bills, I didn’t see anyone at all, I cried on a daily basis, my boyfriend (now husband) and I broke up only because I couldn’t have him see me like this, I was utterly depressed. Directionless, and so far in a hole I thought my life was over.

The final straw  was the day I drove a car that someone had very very nicely given me, to a coffee shop 1 block away and in process was pulled over for not wearing a seat belt. I didn’t have my insurance card on the car and my license was expired by a week. So they towed it and gave me a hefty ticket. I screamed, walking, all the way back to my apartment. Screaming even more when I realized the rent for that apartment was due the next day and I didn’t have it.

All I could think to do was wait for my roommate to get home to call my mom (my phone had been shut off) and beg for a bus ticket home.3 days later I was back in North Dakota with no idea as to what I was going to do. Alone. Hopeless. More tired than I could ever tell you.

That night happened to be my Dads birthday and we went to the one restaurant in North Dakota where you get -for free- any meal you want for your birthday. When my family and I walked into the restaurant without even thinking I asked the hostess “Are you guys hiring?” I filled the application out while eating my dinner. Turned it in during dessert.

The next day I received a call from the general manager, we booked an interview for the very next day. During the interview, she asked me normal interview questions and then asked one question that I will always remember “what brought you back to where you came from?”

I told her I was in a bad spot, trying not to give a stranger who might hire me too much information. She was the one person who in the last 6 or 7 months that didn’t look at me like “girl, what the hell are you doing?” instead she said “well, I’d love to offer you the job. I’m excited for you and I believe in you!”

And that was that. I started working the next week. I did my job the best I could. I studied the menu for hours. I didn’t want to screw this job up. However I didn’t talk to anyone really for the first 4 months. I would work, go home and write down what I wanted to change about myself and my life, go back to work for my second shift, come home and think about what had gone wrong, go to sleep, repeat. At first I served my tables, made the money I needed to send back to the black hole of debt in Minnesota. The only thing that got me up in the morning was the fact that someone, my general manager, believed in me.

After some time I decided I needed to make friends and actually do things with people so I went to a going away party for a cook. At a bar. At a bar. AT A BAR. I ordered a coke. 25 years old and I didn’t know how to order a drink at a bar. Nobody cared though, they all talked to me. This smokey bar ended up being my breath of fresh air.

Suddenly, I had friends who introduced me to more people and I started got back on my feet and not feel so depressed. I started to think about how much I enjoyed serving customers who had a story and being around people who liked serving food and the buzz of the service industry. I started cooking again. I started smiling again. I felt like I had direction again because of the manager who believed in me and because I had somewhere to go everyday where I could do something I enjoyed.

This restaurant provided me with something I completely forgot had existed. Real people. People who didn’t know or care what church was. People who were hurt, people who wanted some direction as mush as did. People who needed something to hold on to as much as I did.

I decided to start doing my job at this restaurant in a way that would bring in regulars that I could talk to. At the end of my span there I had a few. There was a little girl, Sarah, and her mom who came in every Friday night to get Chicken fingers and rice with ranch from me. We would sit and talk until I had to close. I also met an 18 year old who came in 3 times before his 14 month tour in Afghanistan. This restaurant was a place where people came to talk, enjoy, and live. This is where I decided that I wasn’t going to take life for granted. I was going to open my own place where people could come to talk, enjoy, and live. I wanted to learn about this place. Grow, thrive, give back,  there. I finally wanted something again.

The co workers who became my friends, the manager who believed in me, my regulars who hugged me like I was their best friend, that place, saved my life. I know it may sound stupid to you, but all of this made me come alive again.

Right now, 2 years later, I am back in Minneapolis. I’ve come a crazy long way. I work at a different restaurant now but the deal remains the same. I do not just work there. I learn, grow, thrive, give back,  there. Every time I pass a place in uptown that looks like it would be a perfect bakery or cafe, my heart beats a little faster.

That is how a restaurant saved my life. And one day, I intend to do the same thing for another young person at the restaurant that I will call mine. When you see a server going over and above for you, it might be because she is just trying to do her job. Or, it might be because in a really crappy situation; she might be finding direction and hope in a place where some just come to eat, but others leave satisfied.

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