Food is the mortar. It holds families together. It unites communities. It builds bonds between unknown people, clashing cultures, unrelated races and diverse personalities that under normal circumstances would just pass in the night. Or end up in war.
Since the beginning of time, since that apple fell I guess, food has been a common denominator for all things social. We in the hospitality business have helped with that, over the years. We bring a certain joviality and frivolity to the habit of eating that people just can’t achieve at home. It is the entertainment factor that attracts, pleases, and prompts people to frequent one food emporium instead of another.
Staff and employees play an enormous role in this theatrical event we call food. Often taken for granted, a professional employee with a personality can magnetically attract a clientele and a following. It has been a staple at the local tavern where the bartender knows your name. When Howard Schultz implemented the “may I have your name, please” concept at Starbucks, the social barrier between customer and Barista was broken at neighborhood coffee shops. And a new frontier was opened as customers in cities as large as New York and as diversified as San Francisco were invited to get to know their neighborhood barista on a first name basis.
Food is mortar. It brings people together.
In the one-time tiny hamlet of Sonoma, California, the working heartbeat of what so many know as Wine Country, a local grocery store has over time, become the purveyor of community mortar. Sonoma Market has proven to be, an important vertebrae, in the community’s backbone.
This became obviously apparent last December when Chris Reed, a 20 year employee of the market and a mainstay cashier on the El Verano check out line suddenly became ill. His absence on Wednesday and Sunday- his regular days off – was always noticed. But once his illness became serious, his daily absence was more than noticeable. His air of humor and sarcasm, spice and vinegar, commentary and opinion, caring and concern was missed.
Reed was not your regular grocery store cashier. But Sonoma Market is not your regular grocery store. It is filled with a dash of gourmet, an abundance of community, a plethora of freshness, a truckload of personality, a bit of tang, a hint of saltiness, and a dash of sweetness. Smiles abound in this culinary showcase. From the faces of the staff, to the aisle of desserts, the Frank signing behind the butcher’s counter in Sunday mornings, the market is special. And Reed was a major contributor to the notoriety that sets the market apart from other food stores.
Bonding, making friends, missing an employee – a cashier at a grocery store in this rapid fire day and age of hurry up, let’s go, gotta call, see you later – is an uncommon occurrence. He wasn’t a friend on Facebook. He didn’t have a Twitter account. You wouldn’t have found him on LinkedIn. He was a Raider’s guy. He was the emcee of the Glen Ellen parade. He was a youngster in the world as we know it and he was a community scratch post, who dished it out at the check out line and was joyously accepting when getting it back.
I never took offense when Reed told the beautiful lady in front of me in line that I was a purse snatcher. I merely said we always split the loot.
When he would whack my rib-eye steak with the check out dividing bar I assumed it was part of the market’s tenderizing program. And when he would inquire in front of a long line of customers, all in ear reach- if I was really serving the Friskies Cat Food as pate to my Christmas party guests, I would positively reply that he had provided the recipe.
Food is mortar.
On Monday night, December 14th, the lights at Sonoma Market and Glen Ellen Market were dimmed in honor of Chris Reed who had passed away the previous day. Tomorrow, the community of Sonoma will celebrate Reed’s life at the Sonoma Community Center.
Food is mortar. And the employees we have contribute to the way it bonds a community.