Tuesday, September 26, 2023 Sep 26, 2023
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And Now, a Word From Dallas’ Food and Drink Industry on 2020

We asked chefs, restaurateurs, bar owners, bakers, and other industry insiders about this rollercoaster of a year. Here's what they said.
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iStock/Elizaveta Elesina
“How was this year for you?” is a typically simple question come late December. But 2020 was not typical and it definitely wasn’t simple. So when we queried some of Dallas’ prominent voices in the food realm, we figured answers would be justifiably…fraught. We wanted to know how they weathered 2020, but also what they’re leaving behind and what they’re looking forward to in the new year. Without further ado, a look back at the bizarre, tragic, sometimes uplifting, but never not unique, 2020.

In Their Own Words

“For what it’s worth: I feel chefs, cooks—in fact all [hospitality staff]—are pretty well versed at changing direction, adjusting, and pivoting on a regular basis. That’s just the general nature of our industry daily. I can sit and get mad at the situation and bitch about who has and hasn’t done what, but really, what does that solve, other than just [creating] my own inner turmoil?

My staff depends on me, and all the decisions we have made during this [time] were [us trying] our best to navigate this mess and take care of our staff along the way. I don’t think we are out of this yet, and I still don’t plan to depend on another bailout. My hope is that we all come out of this with a better perspective and have the opportunity to make changes in ourselves and with our teams for the better. 2021 is going to kick ass.” —Matt McCallister, Homewood

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what this restaurant [Meridian] is going to be, and looking to the future, and looking at things I wanted to accomplish. But never forgetting what I had to go through. When COVID-19 happened, no one was prepared for it. You see how hard it’s been for the small businesses, restaurants, to try to reinvent themselves. I moved to the US several weeks after 9/11, to New York. [I was] part of a city that was trying to rebuild itself. And there was this kind of grit. This different sort of approach to how you handle something and how you move forward your life. But I think that’s what I’ve been taking from this year—a lot has been the importance of family, of who you have around you at work, the environment you surround yourself in. You start really valuing things that are important that I wish our industry was better at, like the ability to pay people, to give them benefits.

Let’s create food that people want to eat—and let’s make “our” food. I think we have a lot of talent in this city. I look forward to next year. I hope that we get noticed more. I look forward to see these things kind of shifting.” —Junior Borges, Meridian

“I think I’ve learned to appreciate my customers more. Before, it was a packed house, and they’re in, they’re out, they’re a blur. I’ve learned to appreciate my relationships with other fellow chefs more. We’ve always been really strong. But this year has really tested our relationships. [For 2021] I’m gonna just keep the same energy, trying to find positivity in every day, learning from the mistakes and the bad days and growing from the good ones. There’s been so much in 2020 that the little milestones have been huge celebrations.” —Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, executive chef, José

“2020 has taught me that if you have an undeniable faith and will to see your visions come to light, it will happen regardless of outside circumstances. Deciding to open a brick and mortar during a pandemic of this measure can scare even the toughest of restaurateurs. 2021 will be even a more progressive year. We have and will always keep pushing, regardless. We’ll focus highly on community and our purpose to solidify why we are becoming prominent [here] in the Dallas area.” —Brandon Waller, Bam’s Vegan

Way back in summer 2020, when we snapped this pic of Donny Sirisavath for our grilling feature story.

“In 2020, I feel like I’m Wile E. Coyote. He thinks he trapped Roadrunner. You think you have this great idea, but … I guess my analogy [is] it’s pretty much a comic-strip cartoon. Because it’s so totally different than we ever expected. Let’s take it each day—we can never expect anything we think is gonna happen will happen. For me, 2021 will be a year where I reevaluate my situation. I’ve been in a dark place this year, a place where I never thought I was gonna be.

This year would have been a better year than last year. The anticipation was great. We had everything lined up, we had everything planned out. And the plan dramatically changed. For us it was scrambling to readjust and reevaluate things. Trying to adapt in a manner that we can stop the bleeding. 2021 is gonna be more about self-care, and just kind of really [taking] more time for myself and for my health.” —Donny Sirisavath, chef-owner, Khao Noodle Shop

“We’ve lost friends, we’ve lost family members—everyone has. The true test was for us to endure so we can better our lives.”

Donny Sirisavath

“Ever hear of the rope-a-dope from Muhammad Ali’s famous Rumble in the Jungle? We’ve absorbed punch after punch for months. Taking short term hits without taking our eye off the prize—winning in the end. We expect more blows to come our way, but are prepared for the fight, built for the long run, and poised to dominate once we see an opening. [For 2021, we have] aces up our sleeves. While others have no further cards to play, we’ve yet to play our strongest hand. The minute we sell cans of beer to retailers, we’ll take off like a rocket. Hard to believe the only way to get your hands on a can of Peticolas beer is by driving to our brewery. A unique model with potential bursting at the seams.” —Michael Peticolas, founder, Peticolas Brewing Company

“2020 YOU OWE ME EVERYTHING! However, as I move forward, I forgive you. I am truly grateful that I’m able to continue my passion for baking in 2021.” —Clyde Greenhouse, baker-owner, Kessler Baking Studio

“Dallas is a dining city. During the pandemic, the residents of Dallas stepped up and supported small businesses, paving a narrow corridor of hope for our service industry during its darkest hours. Had I opened a restaurant in another city, I wouldn’t be able to see the other side. I thank my neighborhood, Bishop Arts, and Oak Cliff.  Zen, in all of its non-conformities, exists because my customers collectively made small dinner decisions every night.” —Michelle Carpenter, chef-owner, Zen Sushi in the Bishop Arts

“As we worked through the loss of wholesale revenues (as our restaurant clients began closing) and as we downsized our staff (which broke my heart), I was amazed at the loyalty of our retail customers. It seems that our neighbors just wanted somewhere safe to go to shop and feel a little “normal.” I was amazed at how our neighbors wore masks so that our employees were safe. Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to repeat 2020, but there have been many brilliant sparks of light in this very dark year.” —Meaders Ozerow, Empire Baking Co.

“2020 was quite an eye-opening experience. I’ve always respected the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that go into running a restaurant, so to see the negative effect the pandemic had on these businesses we’ve come to love, write about, and even represent, was fairly difficult. However, when push came to shove, it was refreshing to witness the amount of support these businesses began to receive not only from customers, but also from one another. As we leave 2020 behind, I hope to see more collaborations and a continued effort to support diversity in the industry.” —Dalila Thomas, food writer, cofounder of Soul of DFW

American Butchers
Cal and Desiree Wineland at American Butchers in the Dallas Farmers Market.

“At American Butchers/Beyond the Butchers we have been so grateful and focused our vision on 20/20, and we have had a year of totally serving others: from setting up a corner store to neighborhood comfort food deliveries to take care of the ill and those in quarantine. We stayed open the entire time and retained all our amazing team members—and even gave raises for their commitment to serve others. For 2021 we need everyone’s support as we aim to process and retail 25 percent more animals for our farming and ranching families so their operations can grow. Join us in thanking these dedicated farming families!” —Desiree and Cal Wineland, American Butchers

“For Meat Fight, a nonprofit that focuses on large, in-person events with lots of drinking and beef-rib-cheersing, 2020 has been rude. It’s like they say, ‘When life hands you lemonshit, JUST SIT DOWN AND STOP MAKING LEMONADE FOR A MINUTE AND REGROUP.’ We immediately saw that our focus needed to shift to help our long-time sponsors and supporters in the restaurant industry. For 10 years, they have helped us with donations of food and time and heart, and it is our turn to give back. We have shifted focus to support the restaurant industry with a few different online fundraisers and the support has been incredible. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised through $10 and $20 donations at a time. Proving, once again, that when we work together, we can do big, good things.

The bright spot for 2020 for Meat Fight has been the sight of everyone in the food community coming together to support one another in the way we always do. It was much-needed confirmation that while so much has changed, that never will.” —Alice Laussade, founder, Meat Fight

“This year has been both personally and professionally one of the hardest that I have endured, however, I am grateful. When I think of the difficulties, I remember the countless friends, chefs, bartenders, writers, and activators in our industry who are out of work and/or have had to shutter. I am also in awe of the adaptive powers and resiliency that our industry has shown. For some, this year has allowed people to figure out what’s really important and start to work towards those goals. This year was/is a catalyst for change.” —Julie Buckner-Lane, managing partner, Bar & Garden

“One word to describe this year: adaptability. You better be able to roll with whatever is thrown at you, because if you can’t, you won’t survive. The year has been a learning experience. We have grown closer as a work family. I have seen graciousness and loyalty from this team and our guests that is overwhelming.” —Janice Provost, Parigi

“This year has certainly been challenging on every front. We have had to make our own luck this year (new shops, side hustles, pop-ups, etc.), but that work has been rewarding and given us plenty of action. That spirit will continue on.

What has been so incredible this year is the resiliency, heart and commitment of our group. I can’t count the times I have been picked up and carried higher by the people I work with. So many customers have dropped a note or an encouraging word during the last [nine] months, I can’t even believe it. It’s hard to come away with anything other than optimism and a strong commitment to the future when you have that kind of support.

Ideas are not in short supply around here. We know it will be tough, but the restaurant game is always that way. If you are looking for easy, keep on walking: It’s not the business for you. I knew that when I got in it. 2020 has just deeply reaffirmed that. What we have created is something I’m very proud of. 2020 didn’t change that all. It only made it more true.” —Nick Badovinus, restaurateur, Flavorhook

Nonna owner and chef, Julian Barsotti

“I recently read an interview with one of my heroes, the great Francis Ford Coppola. He discussed his re-edit of Godfather 3, his career, and his family.  My most revelatory takeaway was that when he achieved his most artistic and commercial success, it was when he went all in. [When] he not only was committed to his vision, [but] also risked it all financially. And it worked. This has been a helluva year—traumatic at certain times. But I have never lost optimism about the future. The challenging conditions have brought out a wealth of inspiration, ingenuity, and lessons. I have also forged lifelong bonds and empathies with fellow restaurateurs and my own team. To paraphrase a quote I recently read in the New Yorker, ‘We are all born with equipment to lead a thousand different lives. In the end we just live one.’  In 2021, I am going all in.” —Julian Barsotti, chef, Nonna, Sprezza, et cetera

“2020 has been a year of extremes. We’ve experienced challenges and emotional growth, adversity and improvisation, frustration and overwhelming love and support. We sorely miss having our roastery and café filled with customers for brewing classes and cuppings and sharing conversation and coffee. On the flip side, we’ve learned how to operate a curbside café and drive-up business, conduct events online, and [we] have a deeper understanding of the value of patience and compassion. In 2021, we look forward to taking our newfound knowledge and skill sets and applying them in fresh ways to continue to improve and grow.” —Marta Sprague, Noble Coyote

“One of the coolest things, at least for 80/20 and for myself: we were able to found a 501c3 out of COVID-19. We had talked about it before, and when this all transpired, it put our feet to the fire and made us actually do it.

In the restaurant industry, we all know we’re family. This year has really cemented that camaraderie. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient restaurant people are. It’s nice to feel like we work in an industry that, while [it] might not be the most glamorous, that the community will have your back: We’ll always find a way to help each other, even when we’re down. What I’m really hoping for [in 2021] is a hard reset. Everybody take a breath and think about how to move forward together.” —Danyele McPherson, culinary director, 80/20 Hospitality

“It’s a shocking, disheartening, gut-wrenching, panicked year. Since March, with the shut-down and the lack of government support for funding, it’s been wild. I am amazed at what this community has done during the time. Between the support for each other and the restaurants that fought through the really dark months.

[For 2021, I’m hoping,] obviously, that we return to a normal that will allow everybody to feel safe eating out. I’m looking forward to doing brunch. To hiring people. To having a bar where people can watch a game. I’m excited to host private events on the patio again at full capacity. A busy restaurant. Conversations again that don’t involve ‘I hate this goddamn mask.’ I’m interested in traveling again, and having people travel back to Dallas. And conversations about nothing. [I’m anxious to] get back at it in every single way.” —Matt Balke, Encina

“People became so weird after the first three to four months. It was something that nobody is really guilty of. People under pressure, business is completely different, there’s no plated food. Then I just realized: We haven’t plated a nice plate of food in like three months. And these chefs are, like, depressed. Real chefs losing maybe not their passion, but their will to work. There was a bit of adjusting, and everybody kind of found their place. This situation forced everybody to go and do the things and search what they are happy with.

Me, I’m pursuing my dreams of doing stuff my own way. Maybe there was a positive that came out of the negative, even though it was so harsh for everybody—all of that being pushed and hurt in ways that you’ve never been hurt before. It’s really been a brutal year. I’ve learned more. I think this year was a school year.” —Peja Krstic, Mot Hai Ba and Ichi Ni San

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