The Origins of The Accidental Restaurateur
My name is Phil, and for 37.5 hours a week, I’m a workers’ compensation claims adjuster. I have just under 20 years of experience in the insurance industry. If you want to get technical, I really have 18 years of experience working for various Third Party Administrators, which isn’t insurance, but close (you’re with me on how not-so-poetic “Third Party Administrator sounds?). In addition to my Kafka-esque existence in a gray, unexciting profession, I am a restaurateur. Did your ears perk up? I know they did. I can see that your raised brow is begging me for details. The cuisine? Southern/Creole/Soul. Now your eyes are downright wide open. I know you. You are a foodie, and you are everywhere. I see and talk to you everyday, even at my “insurance” job. I know how popular food culture is, and how it’s popularity keeps going skyward. Oakland’s “Eat Real” Festival is coming up soon where probably more than 75,000 foodies will descend on Jack London Square, all with an above average ability to discern flavors, buy local organic foods, and know the latest ventures of their favorite celebrity chefs.
Myself, I was never a foodie until 7 years ago. I was more interested in dining where there was no line. If there was a line, it better be fast moving, say at a popular taqueria. I’ll save the details of my personal culinary history for a later date, but for now I’ll just say that I ate a LOT of PB&J’s before I met my wife.
When I first met chef extraordinaire, Tanya Holland, I was not focused on her career. I wasn’t a foodie (or perhaps my “foodie” genes were lying dormant). I fell in love, and I fell awfully hard (are you reading this dear?). Her being a chef was cool and all, but I really fell in love with an extremely beautiful and intelligent woman who shares my silly sense of humor. Have I been sufficiently mushy? Do you get the point? Anyway, my friends and family were thrilled that I found myself dating a celebrity chef. Tanya was fresh from a 3 year stint on the Food Network when we met. She had just published her cookbook. Some of our early dates where quite unique. For example, there was the time NBC flew me out to New York, and sent a limo so I could attend a taping of Tanya on The (now defunct) Jane Pauley Show. I still wasn’t a full fledged foodie at that point, but I had to start really paying attention. After all, I had just flown across the country to witness a cooking segment on daytime TV. I’d better know what “chipotle” was and what “umami” meant. What if Jane Pauley were to ask me?
Fast forward to present, and now I co-own a restaurant (with 2 more is on the way) with my lovely wife Tanya. What we say is that the restaurants were her dream, but our baby. Trust me in that you cannot be married to a chef/owner and not have the service industry permeate every aspect of your life. Luckily, I’ve been game for this. It’s way more fun than insurance. Go figure. My restaurateur duties include supporting my wife in any way shape or form, marketing, IT, HR, facilities management, hosting, creating the music playlist, schmoozing, and manual labor. Keep in mind that I still work as a claims adjuster during the week. Every weekend I “remove my Clark Kent glasses” to help run one of the busiest restaurants in the east bay.
I’m always telling stories of my “2nd career” to my claims industry friend, Kevin. I’ve told Kevin about meeting celebrities, including Dave Chappelle. I’ve told Kevin about all the restaurant openings and parties I’ve attended. I’ve told Kevin about all the TV crews and magazines that have come to my restaurant to interview Tanya. I’ve told him lots of stories that are colorful and refreshing in contrast to our grueling black and white world of paperwork and deadlines. Kevin always smiles, shakes his head and says, “The life of Riley, I tell ya…”. Well…yea…sometimes. It really just occurred to me, maybe I could share my stories in a video blog, column, or the like. So, this one is done. Stay tuned…