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Navigating My Post-Restaurant Pivot Has Been an Emotional Rollercoaster

Marlboro, New York

Taffy Elrod is a chef, restaurant owner, cooking instructor, recipe developer and food writer with 20 years experience in the food industry. 

The last year has been a wild ride of hope and disappointment as I have attempted to navigate an awkward pivot from running my brick-and-mortar restaurant to remote, virtual, freelance work as a recipe developer, food writer, and cooking teacher. There has been so much heartache, fear, and uncertainty. But despite the pain, there have been moments of inspiration, enthusiasm, and joy.

Pivoting from my restaurant wasn’t an option; I had to close. I sat at home feeling sorry for myself for quite a while after that. Eventually, companies I had worked with previously reached out to me for recipe development work and to live-stream cooking demos. I realized I could do freelance work from home. Although I was incredibly thankful to have work I could do from home, transitioning to working in front of a computer was a big adjustment for someone used to the very real, physical labor of running a restaurant. Learning how to collaborate in virtual spaces, stream cooking demos on Instagram, and teach to a camera instead of a classroom has been liberating in many ways but also frightening.

There have been a lot of ups and downs. Some days feel triumphant; having a recipe or an essay published, getting recognition from people I admire on social media, teaching a successful virtual class, mastering a new technology or gaining a new client make me feel so much hope. I feel like I can do anything. But there are also times when I feel like a complete failure. There have been so many technological challenges, rejections, failed recipes, and virtual cooking classes when I talked to a blank screen. And I’ve been ghosted a surprising number of times by professionals. On those days, I can’t help feeling demoralized, hopeless, and defeated.

I question myself daily: Am I doing this the right way? Who do I turn to for answers? I can’t see the results of my work or measure my success directly. In the restaurant, I could check the numbers at the end of the night or see them reflected in stacks of dirty dishes, long lists of prep to be done, and diminished cases of cheese and bags of flour. But now, I don’t have those tangible markers to tell me my work was a success. I have to rely on intuition, feedback, and my own satisfaction with work I’ve completed.

I’ve also had to learn not to gauge how I am doing by comparing myself to other people in the industry. When I read stories about chefs who successfully pivoted and seem to be doing well, I see them as proof that I failed. Maybe it was possible to keep my restaurant alive, and I didn’t try hard enough. And when I see stories of business owners who had it much worse than me, I feel guilty and self-indulgent to be so worried about my own experience.  It is difficult to find equilibrium in this situation; comparing yourself to other people doesn’t help.

Sometimes the learning curve of this new way seems insurmountable. I have wanted to give up many times. But at heart, I am still a cook and a restaurant owner, so I haven’t allowed myself to give up. The same blind tenacity it took to open a restaurant continues to push me even when I feel ridiculous trying new things. After a lifetime in the food industry and several years running my own restaurant, I know that the days when you can’t see the results of your work and you want to give up are when you have to dig in, because those are the days that often count the most. But I also remember how this year was different, and that digging in to work harder wasn’t always the right answer. I am finally learning to temper the urge to work relentlessly with self-care, self-awareness, and dare I say it … rest. I am learning the answer isn’t always to go harder.

The time I spent thinking about my journey in the past year left me wondering about all the other small business owners and workers in our industry who didn’t have the opportunity to pivot either. Many of you just kept right on doing your essential work in places like nursing homes, prisons, private homes, processing plants, farm fields, and grocery stores. Many of you didn’t have the resources or support to make changes so quickly and had to close businesses you poured your blood, sweat and tears into for years. You went home to take care of others, to take care of yourselves, and grieve the losses of loved ones as well as your business.

I’m still in the midst of my pivot, still trying to figure it out. Whatever it is, it’s not glamorous, it’s not newsworthy, and it hasn’t gotten me showered with accolades. It has been slow, awkward, difficult, and relentlessly humbling. Sharing these words is humbling. But I hope being honest and writing about how all of this feels opens a conversation with other people who haven’t seen their experience represented. I am here to reassure those of you who have floundered and faltered while hoping for help, that you aren’t alone. I see you and I recognize your struggle. Because it is mine, too.

           

Taffy Elrod is a chef, restaurant owner, cooking instructor, recipe developer and food writer with 20 years experience in the food industry.