Our favorite restaurant closed its doors for the last time Sunday night.
We were there. Along with many other loyal and heart-broken patrons. Sometimes, no matter what we need or want, it’s just time for others to move on, to move in a new direction and begin a new adventure. It’s not always about us. Even if we wish it could be.
Believe me, if it could be, we would wave a magic wand and preserve The Bistro 22 for all time- to be there when we need comforting, be there when we want to celebrate, be there when we want quiet conversation, and always, always, when we want to trust that the food will be divine…every single time.
My husband proposed to me at this restaurant. At our table. Table Fourteen. In the cozy little seating area next to the fireplace. The entire staff knew ahead of time and went out of their way to make the night an evening of enchantment, romance and love.
We celebrated our wedding rehearsal dinner there too. Marc, the Chef, sat with John’s mother and us during the planning of the party and went through every fine detail. He treated John’s mother like a queen. We felt as if we were the most important people to ever celebrate an occasion there. He had wonderful menu selections for our guests and created special gourmet dishes for our vegetarian guests that were astounding. Wine recommendations were carefully thought through, tasted and selected and his special attention to creating unique little desserts that appealed to everyone was unparalleled. The evening was a tremendous affair, elegant and relaxed at the same time, a feat that the Bistro was well known for. The wait staff always made us feel as if we had come to their personal home for dinner. We were always made to feel welcomed, appreciated and taken care of.
John and I have often joked that our rehearsal dinner was the real wedding feast and that the next night was just for the dancing. You just can’t top the The Bistro.
As we sat there Sunday night, finished with our last supper as we were sadly calling it, John and I had time to leisurely sit at the bar and reminisce about what had made our relationship with The Bistro so different then any other place. What made it OUR place? As we discreetly could hear bits and pieces of conversations drifting by, the same words were floating to the surface with a reoccurring awareness. The ambiance. The atmosphere. The warmth. The genuine caring of the staff and owners. The ambiance, the warmth, the relaxing feel, the ambiance….
What was it, I started to wonder, that had created such ambiance-since that was what we all seemed to be coming back to?
Tea Lights and Time. Casual Elegance.
We were sitting at the bar. A beautiful oak bar with a wide granite countertop that connected in a relaxed corner shape. The chairs were comfortable and spread far enough apart as to give you elbow room and an illusion of intimacy in your conversations. Kent, the owner, took great pains to decorate the bar with a seasonal display of natural materials that would reflect the casual elegance that they were known for. In the autumn, for example, there may be golden miniature squashes with tiny brilliant orange pumpkins displayed with a few select pieces of colorful grasses or fall leaves. Surrounding and intertwining all of his displays and tucked into crystal clear wine glasses and other luminary containers were tiny white tea lights all lit up and glowing, creating dancing flickering shadows across bottles of wine, cocktail shakers and displays of artistically arranged mouth-watering food.
In the corner, on the weekends, a quiet acoustic guitar player would serenade the conversations with a backdrop of lazy ballads that would add a layer of romance, tranquility and peace to the evening. The Bistro was a haven from the chaos. A retreat from the hectic busyness that life can become.
What did it cost him to create such casual elegance? A stack of ten-cent tea lights set against a few bottles of wine and some baby pumpkins? A guitar player who played for the dollars tossed in his glass jar?
I realized that every time we had been there, he had been out there, lighting his tea lights, chatting with the customers, listening to the stories of how their day had gone, what was new in their lives, talking about the new wines he had found, pouring out a taste here, a taste there, lighting a few more little candles, making the rounds, speaking to everyone. He made us EACH feel as if WE were his favorite ones, the ones he had been waiting for all night long, but in truth, he had a genuine love for all of “his people”. He had built his restaurant on tea lights and time. He took the time to get to know each and every one of us, what we liked, what was important to us, what our stories and lives were all about.
Yes, a lot of the glow came from the lights. But the true ambiance came from a man who understood that above all…more important than the best food, the best menu, the best prices and the best wine, a great restaurant is built on relationships. It started at the top and trickled down to a staff that had the lowest turn over of any restaurant I have ever known. The exact same people were there to say goodbye to the week they left as were there when we first met them. As we said goodbye to the staff, we continuously heard how much they were going to miss working for such a wonderful boss. His relationship building skills create very loyal people in his life.
I have no doubt that in his next exciting adventure he will continue to be very successful. The ability to make people feel special, loved, relaxed and comfortable is an amazing gift and people will always flock to be near him and work with him.
What is the lesson for the rest of us? Sometimes I think we are caught up in our material world. We think our dingy surroundings dictate that we can’t create an ambiance worth remembering. It isn’t true. We can create it in our businesses, in our homes and in our relationships with just a few simple things if we will slow down, take a few minutes and get creative. A giant bag of white tea lights are only a few dollars. Nature gives us ambiance every day. And….it doesn’t cost a penny to care about someone. It doesn’t cost a single penny to take a moment, walk around, and say, “How are you? I’m so glad you are here.” Making people feel special, carrying about them, listening to them, treating them as if they are important to you takes only a moment of your time.
You might never know when a door is going to close for the last time. You might not get the chance to say farewell. I am so glad that this time we did. So glad that we had time to say thank you for the memories, for the way they touched our hearts, our families and our lives. Some of the special moments of our life happened at The Bistro and I will always carry it in my heart. It reminds me that often, we take for granted these people and these moments in our lives and also, WE have the chance TO BE one of these kinds of people for the rest of the world.
Thank You to Kent, Marc and everyone at Bistro 22 for making our memories special.
There never IS enough time to do all the things we want to do. Let’s make the most of the time we have.
Make it Special.
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