In November 2001, I took a job with B. R. Guest Restaurant Group as the opening Wine Director of Blue Fin, an upscale seafood restaurant located in the soon-to-be-opening W Hotel in Times Square.
It would be my first restaurant opening, and I became heavily involved from the moment I started in where the wines would be cellared, how we would get them to the two different bars and of course, the really fun stuff: creating a wine list and cocktail menu.
It was intense in every way, shape and form, and I remember feeling so much stress from the moment I began until the day I left.
The restaurant opened on New Year’s Eve, and besides the fact that we were located in the heart of Times Square, New Year’s Eve in any part of Manhattan is pretty much insane. Place your restaurant on the corner of 47th and Broadway and add an opening, well, insanity just got a whole new outfit.
Personally, my insanity heightened exponentially because my family came to visit me in New York during this particular week.
At the time, I thought it was the best idea ever.
But as I worked, I watched them break bread together, sip wine together and laugh together while I ran around a two-story restaurant like a wine bandit.
Do I miss that time in my life?
Was it a good learning experience?
You know it.
I grew so much during that short five month period that I still look back on those days as learning more about the operations side of restaurants than any other experience short of having my own.
At the time, the majority of us working at Blue Fin were in our 20s. The chef was young, our staff was young, and I was young, 25 to be exact.
I loved getting to know everyone around me, and I absolutely adored talking about wine to all of these people who seemed to enjoy it from the moment we had our first staff training.
It was a crazy time for me, and more than ever, I so needed the friendships of those I worked with on a daily basis. It was an amazing gift that I got to know so many talented and gifted restaurateurs in such a short period of time.
Unfortunately, I was not equipped to stay for a very long time because I was broken in spirit and emotion: two things that shouldn’t be broken when working in the front of the house.
I will never forget accepting the fact that working wasn’t going to heal me and letting my superiors know I needed to leave.
I don’t think anyone was surprised by me saying I needed to go, but I will say the response was overwhelming.
On my very last night, the entire wait staff came together to give me an extremely special bottle of Ridge Monte Bello from my birth year, 1976.
To say I was touched is the understatement of the year.
My mind was blown, and I couldn’t say thank you without crying a month’s worth of tears.
These friends who I had all just met within the past five months had a created a community around me, a caring, forgiving and loving community who basically propped me up the entire time I felt like I was falling down.
They sustained me, they encouraged me, and mostly, they loved me, even though I wasn’t able to give them my all.
At the end of the shift, the crew had a going away party at a bar close to the restaurant. I brought my bottle of Monte Bello 1976, holding it like a newborn baby.
This is the part where everyone will cry. Please prepare yourself.
When I was telling everyone good night, I put the bottle down on the floor next to my right foot to give someone a giant hug.
Being completely clumsy, the moment I put my arms around my friend, my foot slipped and hit the bottle of wine.
It literally fell 13 inches and shattered right at my feet.
Horrifying. Devastating. Embarrassing. Revolting. Depressing. Humiliating. How could this happen moment.
I didn’t know what to say. The first thing I wanted to do was start licking the floor.
The second thing I wanted to do was to get it up before anyone else could see what I had done.
These new friends of mine had gone to great extremes, financially and timely, to buy me one of the most special gifts I could ever receive.
The gift was broken. I had broken it. No more. That wine was not for me to have.
The irony being I was broken too.
But I mended.
A bottle of wine that shatters cannot be rebuilt. Once it breaks, it cannot be drunk. It cannot be fixed.
But we can.
We can mend. We can heal. We can overcome.
And I thank God that I did.
I will never forget the people who loved me during a time where I didn’t feel very much love.
They didn’t know me, but they got to know me, and they helped me mend.
I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but I know it now.