It’s hard to believe how fast a year can pass. On June 8, 2018, a ripple was felt around the world when Anthony Bourdain took his own life. On that day my newborn son was exactly one month old – he’s now a little over a year and walking. Life goes on for the rest of us.
It’s rare that someone is so well-known AND so well-liked. I’m not a writer or philosopher or psychologist, but a year ago, I felt the need to jot down my connection to Anthony. I never met the man, although I always hoped to, but my preferences, tastes, business and life were inspired and impacted by his relatability; his realness.
In the last year, my thoughts and feelings have moved past his connection to food, his connection to Hawkers and his connection to the movement towards authenticity that our generation is desperately pushing forward. Not because these things are unimportant, but because there are things even more important. What resonates today, a year later, is Anthony’s connection to a string of tragic memories that span every lifetime – memories that we all unfortunately share and connect to – with a common thread of depression, addiction, and suicide. After I think about Anthony as a person, I start thinking of him as a heart wrenching statistic – another addition to the list of incredible people who have fallen victim to mental illness. Robin Williams, Kate Spade, friends, employees, colleagues, family members; the list goes on. The list of those who are suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar, and panic disorder. I think about those who are getting the help they need – but even more so, I think about those who are not.
Over the last several years, mental illness has gained some awareness, but still nothing relative to its widespread impact. Mental illness is everywhere – with a hotbed right under our noses. It was dubbed the “dark side of the industry” by the Wall Street Journal in an article last year highlighting the addiction, depression and other mental illnesses that are so prevalent in the restaurant world.
So, here we are. In an industry that seems to, at best overlook and at worst promote, toxic lifestyle choices like alcoholism and drug abuse. An industry that depends on the addictive personalities of those drawn to it who feed on the adrenaline rush of a volume shift or the organized chaos of a Friday night behind the line – consider me guilty as charged. Now, we have a choice. We can look at the restaurant industry as a problem that needs to be “solved,” or we can look at it as an opportunity to seize.
Every week I give a 90-minute orientation at Hawkers to all new managers. I briefly explain the origin story, offer perspective on our company’s history, and highlight our mantra, mission and values. One of my favorite parts of the monologue is when I unveil our mantra – be disruptive, always care, never compromise. I explain that “always care” is at the center of the mantra because it holds our organization together. It’s the glue. It doesn’t matter how hard we work or how innovative we are, if it’s not built on a culture of caring, then it is a house of cards. In our industry, we don’t know what that bartender or dishwasher is going home to at night, but we can be sure that for the 4-6 hours they are with us each day that they are surrounded by a community who cares for them. Caring doesn’t mean it’s a free for all, but in fact quite the opposite. Because we place so much emphasis on culture, we have to be that much more careful to be sure no one is taking advantage of it – rigging the system and leaving their teammates as collateral damage. It is a very fine line.
Our culture is meant to create a safe place where team members can go to someone, anyone, if they are struggling, and seek help. If our organization cannot help them, then we point them to a place or a person that can.
So, I’m sure you are wondering – is it working? Every week, there are situations that make me think it is — and others that make me question it. At the very least, my hope is that we contribute to pushing the conversation forward. A conversation that isn’t loud enough yet. Mental illness is real, and it impacts many of us and those we love every single day. The world we live in is a wonderful, broken place that is filled with wonderful, broken people – all of us. No one is immune.
Amidst the celebration of Bourdain Day today, I want to not forget what I felt a year ago – a small taste of what so many feel every day as they mourn their loved ones who were lost in tragedy. I want to remember Anthony’s amazing life, but I also want to remember his tragic death, and continue the hope that we can move towards a world less broken.