All Smoke, No Mirrors: An Honest Look Inside the Restaurant World

All Smoke, No Mirrors: An Honest Look Inside the Restaurant World
Josh Martino

By Josh Martino, Home Team Restaurant Group

All Smoke, No Mirrors: An Honest Look Inside the Restaurant WorldI am reminded of the scene in Castaway, where after many years stranded on a deserted island, Tom Hanks’ character, Chuck Noland, decides to survive, or die trying.   Before the fateful journey that led him to the island and with it, years of solitude, desperation, and soul searching, Chuck had led a successful, but perhaps unexamined life.  He had taken for granted the things that enriched his life such as love, friendship, and the conveniences of a modern world.   It was only after surviving and his return to a life he had left behind, that he truly appreciated what mattered to him, and embarked on a new journey filled with hope, uncertainty, and promise.   This sentiment embodies the current life of a restauranteur and I am sure the thousands of entrepreneurs across the country.  

Covid-19 has taken its toll on many industries and has shown no mercy for the restaurant business.  We have seen our dining rooms get restricted to 10%, shut down completely, brought back to 25%, 50%, and now full capacity.  Albeit temporarily, we had to furlough much of our office staff as well as much of our service staff due to a lack of in-house guests.   We helped our employees get set up on unemployment, which proved to be a difficult and frustrating task.  Many of our employees who were furloughed did not receive a check for 6-8 weeks.  We reached out to our partners, vendors, and manufacturers to see if they could offer food donations to support our employees who were out of work.  The outpouring of generosity was awe inspiring and confirmed the goodness of so many people we get to work with every day.   Our partners at the Jaguars, Jumbo Shrimp, Icemen, JU, UNF, and local radio stations all put out media on our behalf helping to promote our takeout and delivery business during our time of need. 

Serving on the Board of Feeding Northeast Florida, it became apparent there was a dire need to feed the seniors in our community who were at-risk and unable to leave their homes.  They were food insecure and had no way of being provided with healthy meals.  We were able to create Project Share and through the generosity of organizations like the Chartrand Foundation, VyStar, The Insetta Family, and many others, grants were procured to deliver food from the Food Bank to local restaurants.  That food was turned into tens of thousands of healthy meals for seniors, at-risk children, and many others.  Many restaurant employees were able to come back to work and receive a paycheck while literally producing life-saving meals for those in need.  The soul and purpose of this project lifted our employees spirits during an otherwise stressful and anxiety-laden time. 

The health and wellness of our customers and staff are paramount and we have taken as many precautions as we can to ensure a safe and clean workplace.  The restaurant experience is based exclusively on hospitality and making the guest feel welcome while providing them with the best culinary experience we are capable of.  Shared ownership develops when guests talk about a restaurant as if it’s theirs.  They cannot wait to share it with friends, and what they’re really sharing, beyond the culinary experience, is the experience of feeling important & loved.

All these protocols have made it difficult and awkward to achieve our normal expectation of hospitality, but we are certainly striving to do our best every day under the circumstances.  Our online ordering and 3rd party delivery have been the lifeline we have counted on for the last few months.  We are fortunate to have been set up for many years on these platforms and our staff has vast training in making that an outstanding experience for our customers.  Our food travels very well, making it an attractive option for those who have grown accustomed to take-out and delivery as their “restaurant experience.”  We continue to innovate with better packaging, new menu offerings, and a new design prototype we hope to unveil in 2021 with our re-build of the Gate Parkway location, which burned down in March.  We feel that due to the “new normal” in the restaurant industry, these trends will continue to dominate for years to come.   

Thanks to the loyal and continued support of our customers, Bono’s will survive this strange and unusual time.  We believe that we are never lost, if we can find each other.  Just like Chuck in Castaway, whenever we come out the other side of this time in our lives, we will do so with a renewed perspective.  We will appreciate all our many good fortunes and give no thought to the mindless minutia that unconsciously consumed us before.   We are determined to live an intentional life.  We are here to truly live, not surrender.  To embrace meaning. To love unconditionally.  To give without expectation.  To participate, not watch.  To create, not copy.  To be unapologetically who we are.  To rise up, and help others rise.  I believe that this moment seeds every moment. Vulnerability is a virtue.  Presence beats presents.  Compassion is a gateway to connection. Life is a co-creative process.  With rare exception, everything is better when it is shared.  The best way to cope with loss is to treasure what you have right in front of you.  These things I know. These things, on my best days, I aspire to live.  We are now and always will be a work in progress. In other words, we are human.  What happens next is up to all of us and I believe we are ready. 

Josh Martino is President and Legal Counsel for Home Team Restaurant Group, which combines his passion for small business, local philanthropic involvement, and the culinary industry.  Bono’s now has 20 locations and Willie Jewell’s has 15 locations in Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Colorado.  He graduated from Vanderbilt University and earned his J.D. from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.  Josh has served on the Board for the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens and the UNF Student Affairs Community Council as well as the Taylor Leadership Institute.  He currently sits on the Boards for The Tiger Academy Charter School, Operation New Hope, and Feeding Northeast Florida.   Josh also serves on the Advisory Board for the Davis College of Business at Jacksonville University.  He has been a member of the Florida Bar Association since 2003.  Josh graduated from the Leadership Jacksonville Class of 2015 and was named to the Jacksonville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 in 2016.  He currently resides in Ponte Vedra Beach with his wife, Kirsten, and daughters, Ella, Chase, and Mae and dog Rosie.

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