There are, of course, lots of people who you meet and who change you. People who inspire you and people who push you and people who show you sides of the world and yourself you never would known without their help.
But when you really look at your life and the people and events that change you fundamentally, for me at least, the list is pretty compact. But today I want to talk to you about one of these people, someone who took an enormous risk and hired me at the alarmingly young age of 20 to be the chef at their restaurant, and not only showed me an entirely new way of cooking, but also allowed me to watch as she owned a restaurant that used beautiful ingredients, paid everyone over minimum wage and truly contributed to the community that I live in.
For anyone who knows me well they know that I could only ever be talking about Mary McIntyre.
When I moved into my apartment over 6 years ago, while I waited to meet the landlord I ran into a friend at the café in the building. It was a beautiful space, filled with light, vintage furniture and small children. There was great coffee, and smiling servers hustling plates of gorgeous food around strollers and little ones to tables filled with stylish people, about equal parts parents and single people. I ate a salami sandwich, a crisp baguette, filled with bocconcini, parm, salami, roasted tomatoes and olive mayo. As soon as I moved into the apartment upstairs I became a devoted customer.
About a year later that devotion turned into a job, a chef job. It was my first job running a restaurant and it was a steep learning curve, and lord or lord I made some mistakes. But it was Mary who encouraged me and pushed me and made me a much better cook. It was Mary who showed me how to use middle eastern spices, taught me the importance of using the best produce, and made me appreciate that an egg can, and should, go soft poached on every meal.
But it wasn’t just her kitchen finness or passion for food, it was that she was passionate about using great ingredients, even if that meant taking a bit less in profit. She paid every person on staff more than minimum wage to be an example of a small business who looks after their employees. And she didn’t call us employees, she called us family.
For years I’ve always used her an example of what I want to do with my life, how I want to run a business, how I want to contribute to my neighborhood.
Today is Little Nest’s last day. Our terrible landlord has forced her rent up more than double in the last 4 years, and she has been forced to shut her doors. I have worked in many restaurants in my life, but never have I been anywhere with more love. There is so much care and thought in every little part of the restaurant, and I am absolutely heart broken to see it go.
It has been a landmark for my adult life, as has Mary, for showing me time and time again that it is possible to own a business that feels ethical, that you can run a café that uses great produce, and hires great people. You can and you should run a business that way, and I will forever hold myself to the standard left to me by Little Nest.