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Thursday, July 14, 2011

You're Fired!

An unusual thing happened yesterday. I spent my usual half-day at Louisiana Flair shopping for supplies at Sam’s Club, picking up oysters at P.T. Hastings, and making a few deliveries in the blazing heat. Just another day at my favorite part time job, my only paying job. Since I left my so-called career position at Media General, I’d made a decision to exit the corporate world, a decision I’ve reconsidered numerous time. I never got serious about getting back in and I discovered something. If you’re not serious, someone else will be, especially in today’s economy. There are ten serious, more qualified people than myself standing in line for each of those mid level, technically orientated position, and the right thing ended up happening. Someone else got the job. Good for me, I stick with my original pledge and good for them, someone deserving got the job.

So some two years on, I’m still cruising in my part time world.
I’ve latched on to a job at my favorite neighborhood joint, and I’m part of a working class team that serves good food to regular folks. I’m going under financially, but somehow–and by that I mean I have no idea how–I’m getting by. My rent gets paid, and I get to spend the rest of my time delivering the news from Greater Jackson Ward. I know this can’t last forever, but I’m reluctant to cut it short. Then BOOM!
This headline.

Chef Nate is closing Louisiana Flair

And where am I reading this? On my own website, the Greater Jackson Ward News. One of my co-editors has popped this breaking news story online while I was out wandering blissfully in the analog world. There’s something surreal about picking up a newspaper (website) and finding out your job has vanished, especially when it's your newspaper. I’m sort of shocked, not by the news, but the manner of its delivery. I’m still absorbing that and appreciating the humor of it. The news itself comes as no shock. I know enough about the business to know that it is a here today gone tomorrow way of life. You give it the best run you can for the money and when the money runs out, that’s it.

And that’s what happened.

4th and Grace will never be the same to me. I discovered Louisiana Flair shortly after it opened. After all, I worked virtually across the street and live just a few blocks away. When I found that their beignet serving days were almost over, I made it my business to tell the world. What resulted was a long series of publicity stunts, including a powdered sugar fight on the steps of the restaurant. The result? Beignets were saved and a longtime friendship was started.

Nate started business on the threshold of an economic downturn. As the economy started to turn sour, his mainstay neighbors, Media General and the Times Dispatch walked off an economic cliff sucking the wind and cash out of a major source of business. Even still, optimism and hard work won out over economic reality, at least for awhile. Louisiana Flair survived on guts, good food, and the engaging personality of Nate. Hardly a person walked in there that doesn’t remember a personal greeting from the chef. Eating there was less a restaurant experience than a cultural experience. For those of us who were hooked, we just couldn’t get enough. I am proud to have been associated with the restaurant almost since the beginning and played a small part in keeping interest alive when things were looking slim.

So now I’ve been fired twice (sort of) in two years. The first one came as a haymaker that left me wondering what hit me. This one just glanced off my cheek, not leaving a mark. Together they bookend an interesting time in my life, and each one marks the end of one era and has somehow prepared me for what comes next. It will be interesting to see what that is.

Nate is planning to run the show through the first of August, so it’s not to late to stuff yourself with an Oyster Po’ Boy, an order of beignets, a catfish dinner, or whatever turns your fancy. Stay tuned for a possible farewell party. I don’t know what comes next for Nate. Louisiana Flair was kind of a reward and a redemption from a difficult past. I can only wish him well and look forward to what’s next, for both of us.

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Jim Habegger said...

I remember that powdered sugar fight!

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