It was around 3:00pm when I arrived at a restaurant in San Francisco called Rich Table. I slid past the chair that was propping the front door open and looked around the small yet welcoming space that was being prepped for service. Nervously, as a gust of summer air whipped through the door, I asked one of the staff members where Chef Evan was.
At the time, I was preparing to go into my senior year of college. For the five years prior to that moment, I had been dreaming of the day when I could finally enter the food industry full-time – specifically, in SF. I had (and still have) a love affair with bread, so the West Coast was the perfect place to begin my career as a bread baker.
Aside from eating my way through the city on this trip, I reached out to a few chefs who would hopefully guide me in the right direction. One of those chefs was Evan Rich. My best friend and I sat down with him and chatted for about thirty minutes. Coincidentally, Evan had attended the same high school as we did.
Despite the connection, I left the conversation confused, anxious, and completely second guessing my aspirations. Evan–with a straight face that knocked me off-balance–told me that to make it in this industry, you have to give up everything.
Family, friends, holidays, weekends, typical pay and hours. Normality goes out the window the minute you decide to become a chef or baker. All of this, plus being on the West Coast away from everything I had ever known growing up in Jersey?
Queue what I still call to this day: “that feeling of impending doom.”
Fast forward to a few months ago when Melanie was on her honeymoon in Vietnam and I was holding down the Mini Melanie fort until her return.
There was one morning before work when I was sitting on the floor of my living room (which was strewn about with various Mini Melanie totes and packaging materials), typing away aggressively on my laptop – in the dark. My roommate came around the corner and saw me sitting there and asked, “Alex, what are you doing?! It’s six in the morning…”
“Catching up on some work!” I said without looking up.
My roommate shook her head and told me I was crazy. “How are you surviving like this?”
I looked up at her, and, with a stupid grin I remember so clearly, I replied, “I love it.”
And that’s when it hit me. I was doing everything Evan told me I needed to do to make it in the food world; everything that scared me into wanting to take the easy way out. But the thing is, I wasn’t dreading any of it. Working long hours and weekends, choosing to stay in most nights to save money, taking a risk – it was all worthwhile because I enjoyed every second of it.
This strange and simultaneously wonderful feeling of waking up to a day you can look forward to? That’s how Evan was able to create a James Beard Award nominated restaurant, and that’s how I was able to take the leap from everything society told me I was supposed to be after I graduated college to doing what actually made me happy.
This decision wasn’t easy. When I started my job hunt towards the end of last summer, I was looking at listings like being a secretary at a food law firm or being an office assistant at various eateries. None of what I was considering had me in the kitchen (Evan’s advice was still fresh on my mind).
Then one day, Melanie called me and gave me an offer to be her first full-time employee. I was floored – me? After we hung up, I sat down on the stairs that were just outside of the office where I was interning, and I started crying.
It was overwhelming. Not because I wasn’t expecting it, but more so because I immediately knew I was going to accept the offer. This job was everything I had pictured myself doing in ten years, but it was happening now. It was on the table now. I had to make this decision now, at the age of twenty two. And oh my god was that terrifying.
As the week went on, I became more and more excited at the prospect of this position. At one point, I was talking to my internship manager about it – she had also taken a risk and joined a tech startup at a young age.
Her best advice? “Image you’re at a bar and you meet someone and they ask you what you do for a living. Are you proud–are you excited–to tell them?”
I thought about the scenario. “Pastry sous chef and brand manager,” I would say.
Pretty damn cool if you ask me.
When you do what you love – and I mean what you’re truly passionate about – it doesn’t feel like a job anymore. Each sacrifice is worth its price. For me, I’ve given up a lot of what is typically associated with a young twenty-something living in a big city.
But what I’ve received in return is a network of amazing, supportive friends and coworkers that I would have never met otherwise. I’ve learned priceless life lessons through experiences that have been way outside of my comfort zone. And I’ve been able to witness an incredibly talented chef take a small boutique bakery and make it into a brand that’s becoming increasingly recognized as an up-and-coming New York City bakery.
None of this would have been possible without the wonderful group of friends and family that have been there since day one, the new friends I’ve made along the way – and of course, Melanie. Thank you all for continuously supporting (and encouraging) my crazy baking habits and dreams of a life full of sweets and pastries.
I owe this happiness to you.