WOODSTOCK – A few weeks ago at the Woodstock Cafe, Chef Jose Arevalos was the only cook during the brunch rush, and his partner and cafe co-owner Nikki Grant got to see the consequences of this change.
Burnout in the restaurant industry is a real thing, Arevalos and Grant said, and it’s something they and their employees have felt over the past 18 months. Many restaurants have had to lay off staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, many are struggling to hire employees to fill vacant positions.
In an effort to avoid total burnout, Arevalos and Grant decided to change the hours of the restaurant, which is located at 117 S. Main St. in Woodstock. The cafÃ© will be closed for dinner service the week of June 7 and August. The restaurant will remain open for breakfast, lunch, coffee, wine and beer.
âWe started to feel tired – really tired. When this happens you start to lose your inspiration, you start to lose your motivation. It was very scary for both of us because we love where we are. We love what we do. We love to feed people. We have so much joy in feeding people and drinking wine for dinner. It’s pure happiness for us, âGrant said recently. âSo the second that started to fade a bit, we wanted to step back and assess what we were doing and how long we were going to do it. It seemed that if we continued at this pace, we wouldn’t be able to sustain the business. So we needed some free time, and the only way to really take time is to skip the dinner service in August. “
Arevalos and Grant both had careers in the food industry, having met while working for a large private catering company in Chicago before eventually finding their way to Shenandoah County, where Grant grew up.
They both admitted to working long hours for low pay while learning the trade, which, for better or worse, left them vulnerable to burnout. It was not uncommon for them to work 10- to 12-hour shifts six days a week in Chicago, they said.
âYou just did. If you wanted to move forward, you worked longer, worked harder, and sacrificed more, more of your life, more of your free time, âGrant said. “That’s what created burnout in this industry: this mentality.”
âWe’re both here because we’re passionate about what we do,â Arevalos added. âWe wouldn’t do anything else. In this industry, however, there is a stigma that you always have to be there and you still have to work. You can’t take time off, you can’t get sick. It is very toxic, but it is this mentality that you are depressed and that you have to come back and overcome.
But working through it has potential benefits, Arevalos said.
âYou always learn to do things, because things never always go well on such a scale,â he said. âYou have to learn to adapt or you won’t be able to. Then you take us here, it helped.
Even so, it takes its toll, mentally and physically.
âWe want to love what we do for the rest of our lives, but how do we take care of ourselves?â Grant said. âIt’s not because we are weak or because we are afraid of hard work. We have proven it throughout our careers. We just need to take time for ourselves.
When a partner works 60 or 70 hours a week, a relationship can very easily become a distraction or something deemed unnecessary. When both partners work those long hours – even if it’s in the same building – it makes some aspects of a relationship almost impossible.
Arevalos and Grant, for example, love to travel. In fact, it is quite essential to their work.
Visiting different parts of the United States and abroad is essential for the couple in terms of trying new dishes and discovering unique restaurants and what they have to offer.
But working such long hours made it difficult to get around. Add a global pandemic, and it’s almost nonexistent. The couple had planned a trip to Italy last Christmas, but had to cancel it due to the pandemic.
The two managed to sneak around a month ago and stay out of town for two nights. They were able to visit six different restaurants in two days. Trips like these help break up the monotony and provide inspiration for what people can experience at Woodstock Cafe.
âWe like to go to new places. How do you cultivate your inspiration if you aren’t going to see and try new things? It’s a big part of what we do, âArevalos said. âBeing trapped here for a year and a half was quite suffocating. If we don’t go out and go to the best places, how can we improve? “
Grant agreed: âI feel like when we come back from these places, we are always a little more inspired. Plus, it’s nice to be expected and to be able to appreciate someone else. “
Other aspects of life, like having a child, are something the couple decided to put on the back burner because of work.
âSomething would be jeopardized; it would be either the business or the child’s life, âGrant said. âFor me, this place was my dream. So I didn’t want to sacrifice that. I can’t talk about what it feels like, but I can imagine that I wouldn’t want to miss anything in my kid’s life either. So since we were both here 60 or 70 hours a week, it seemed almost impossible. “
Arevalos and Grant said they would never deny enjoying the work they do, even though they are looking for a simple break here and there to cool off, recharge and rejuvenate, as well as their staff.
Hard work is something both have known from a young age. Grant comes from a long line of business owners in the northern Shenandoah Valley, while Arevalos comes from a hard-working family in California, where he learned valuable skills from his mother, stepfather. and his grandmother.
Eventually – hopefully soon, they said – Arevalos and Grant are planning to make this trip to Italy, or at least somewhere in Europe. Their hope is that their batteries are resting – maybe even with a hard reset.
âIt was never possible to close. We never even thought about it, âArevalos said. âJust keep going. Where we come from is always “Do it no matter what”.