In my decade of covering dining, there have been too many nights that I’ve made dinner for my family, left it for them, given them a goodbye hug, and gone out to work on a story.
Even after nearly 23 years of marriage, nights away from family are oftentimes a tug of war between the duties and satisfactions of work and home. I want to be there to break down the day with family, hear how an exam went, or how my husband’s workday panned out. But, by the time I get home, they might be asleep.
Long hours and late nights are a reality for a lot of working parents, especially for those who make their living at restaurants and bars. The unconventional hours give rise to restaurant widows, tag-team parenting and other scenarios that require patience, tolerance and understanding.
“The most taxing thing is that you don’t get sleep,” said Nick Anderson, executive chef at City Winery, who has a 14-month-old daughter and another child due this summer.
You don’t have to be a parent in the restaurant industry to know that a newborn child means that you will sleep less. The first thing bar and restaurant workers mentioned about how life changed for them when they became parents was learning how to live on less sleep.
“The partying got put by the wayside,” said Greg Lipman, chef and co-owner of Piastra on Marietta Square, and the father of two children, ages 3 and 23 months. “Now, I’m not getting sleep because I’m changing diapers, as opposed to being up late drinking. I get home from work and I go to bed,” he said.
Chops Lobster Bar Executive Chef Ryan Delesandro and his wife Leslie recently welcomed a set of twins, born six weeks premature. “I’m awake 20 hours a day,” he said.
“I get up a lot earlier,” said Eric Sell, executive chef at Osteria Mattone in Roswell. He and wife Lynn have two daughters, ages 5 and 2. “I start the day at 5:45 in order to get a bit of peace in the morning and get a cup of coffee before insanity ensues,” he said.
Breakfast — as opposed to dinner — is when restaurant families can come together around the table. “I make it a priority to do the inverse of the 9-to-5 schedule,” said Saltyard chef-owner Nick Leahy, who wakes early to eat with his wife, Danielle, 2-year-old Phoebe and 6-month-old Autumn.
Who watches the kids?
Leahy, Lipman, Delesandro and Sell are fortunate that their wives can stay home to be the primary caregivers for their children. For many, that’s not the case.
Some couples both work in the industry, like Ben and Kimberly Horgan. They manage to care for their 6-month-old daughter Ruth because they work opposite schedules, with Kimberly leaving at 4 a.m. to work the morning shift as a bakery manager at Little Tart Bake Shop, while Ben spends nights as the director of operations at Twain’s and Comet Pub & Lanes in Decatur. “We have a hand-off arrangement,” Kimberly said.
The tag-team method isn’t an option for single parents like Lindsey Knott, director of operations for 10 Apart Hospitality, whose concepts include the Pinewood, the Mercury, Deep End, Bar Americano and Bar Crema. Knott has found child care to be one of the most difficult challenges as a single parent working in the restaurant industry.
“When she was very young, and I was a server, I had to pay a babysitter,” said Knott, the mother of 9-year-old Parker. “Sometimes, I would not even make enough money. I had to pay more for a babysitter than what I made.”
Now that Parker is older, she can stay in school aftercare. Other times, Knott’s boyfriend watches Parker. When Knott works weekend nights, Parker goes to her grandfather’s. When there is no other recourse, Parker hangs out at her mother’s workplaces. “There have been days that she’s had to come and sit for 6 to 8 hours at the Mercury or the Pinewood while I’m in meetings.”
Aron Faubel is the general manager at Red Martini in Buckhead, as well as a bar consultant, nightclub promoter and brand ambassador for Belle Isle Moonshine. He’s also a single father. His 3-year-old daughter, Stella, lives with Faubel’s ex-wife in Connecticut, an arrangement that the couple made when they divorced two years ago. They both have family there to help with child care, and his ex-wife works traditional 9-to-5 hours.
“It’s better for her to be up there with her mother,” said Faubel, who has joint custody of his daughter and maintains an amicable relationship with his ex-wife. “It’s tough being a parent in the bar industry. You’ve got to maintain a level of knowing this is better for them.”
Once a month, Faubel flies to Connecticut to spend five days with Stella. And, he said, “I Facetime her as much as I can.” That can be difficult since Stella often is waking up when Faubel is headed to bed.
“What hurts the most is when I Facetime her and I’m at work and busy,” he said, recounting that Stella often will ask, “Are you at work, Daddy?” “She knows that I work so much, and that sucks.”
The guilt factor
Because of the nontraditional hours they work, restaurant industry employees tend to miss out on family moments.
“There have been school things I couldn’t go to, field trips, the science fair,” Knott said. “Luckily, at this point in my life, I have a fairly flexible schedule. But, my job doesn’t end when it ends. I’m constantly on the phone or computer.”
“The kids are going through milestones, and I am at work,” said Leahy, whose wife texts him photos of those special moments. “There is a certain amount of guilt and sadness.”
To be present for important events in their children’s lives takes a concerted effort. Sell recently was able to watch his daughter Ava participate in gymnastics for the first time. “I have to move mountains to do that,” Sell said. It was worth it. “It was a huge deal for her to have me there.”
As Hotel Clermont in Midtown nears its opening this spring, Nick Hassiotis, director of restaurants for Indigo Road Hospitality Group’s four food and beverage outlets at the venue, is not only working to ensure everything goes well, but also trying to finagle a way to attend his 4-year-old daughter’s dance recital in May. “You have to be dedicated to being there for the business, which is tough,” he said.
Making it work
Husband and wife Howard and Jenna Aronowitz co-own 1920 Tavern in Roswell, and have worked in the industry for two decades. Jenna still recalls going into labor with her son Aidan 15 years ago, while on the job as manager of Atlanta Bread Co. at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. “I was so young, I didn’t even know I was in labor,” she said, describing how she was moved to the atrium, awaiting medical help, but out of the way while the restaurant dealt with “a line out the door.”
Aronowitz has wised up. These days, she and Howard don’t work at the restaurant Friday evenings, or even during the day on Saturdays, so that they can spend time with their two teenage sons, and Aronowitz can fulfill her Jewish religious obligations. In addition, the family takes a four-day vacation two times a year.
Setting aside at least one day a week for family time is something many restaurant workers do to stay connected with loved ones.
“We make sure to have days off together,” Kimberly Horgan said of the importance of spending quality time with husband Ben, even if it just means vegging out on the couch watching TV.
With little bundles of joy on the horizon, restaurant workers are grateful when their employers have policies in place to give them some slack. Anderson of City Winery is looking forward to taking two weeks of paternity leave this July when his wife gives birth to their second child. “It’s pretty awesome I will be able to take time off just for that.”
Sometimes, it is grandma and grandpa who come to the rescue. That’s the case for Miles Macquerrie, partner at Kimball House in Decatur and Watchman’s Seafood & Spirits, opening this May at Krog Street Market. Macquerrie is highly respected nationally for his work on the beverage front. At home, he is father and husband. And, now, he’s feeling less stress since his parents have moved here from Daytona Beach, Fla., to be nearer to their only grandchild, Macquerrie’s 20-month old daughter, Madeline.
“They will be very helpful to my wife, so she doesn’t feel like she’s doing it all on her own while I have to be at the restaurant all the time,” he said.