If I’ve been asked once, I’ve been asked a dozen times “What type of restaurant food are you missing the most?” Quickly visions of Lake Park’s french fries with garlic aioli, Vanguard’s Thai Breaker, Three Brother’s Serbian salad and THE Burek, The Colour Palate’s SXSW salad, The Tandem’s greens, Bavette’s bbq spiced chicarones, and nostalgically just about anything on the menu at Ristorante Bartolotta, all swirled around in my brain…and yet I always respond “Actually, what I miss the most is being taken care of by people who have dedicated their lives to the industry. What I miss the most is the people that create the magical experience of dining out.”
It’s always been about the people, for almost 20 years Joe and I wove our mutual passions and compulsions together in a beautiful way supporting our own and to the best of our ability those in the greater metropolitan area known as Milwaukee. We worked together in small quiet ways and we donated time, talent and treasure in more public ways. We envisioned and launched Care-a-lotta, hosted annual fund-raising spaghetti dinners at his childhood parish, donated annual galas to both St. Marcus School and Discovery World and created a partnership with the hospitality industry in Milwaukee to offer a 2-year culinary arts program in 4 Milwaukee Public High Schools.
There was one thing that concerned us that we couldn’t come up with an answer for. Long before COVID-19, we had pondered how to address the dramatic annual increases in digital distractions and social isolation. We noted it in our employees, our beloved customers and in the general public when we were just out and about. Today I would argue that social isolation is a pandemic itself, manifesting in alarming increases in: calls to mental health hot-lines, in the cases of diagnosed depression and generalized anxiety and in suicide rates. COVID-19 created a need for “Shelter in Place and Safer at Home” which literally shut off our social spigots. The lack of human contact, interaction and meaningful connection has forced us to assess the great meaning and benefit that connection holds.
As restrictions are lifted and we are afforded the luxury of closer (while observing social distancing) contact, we will seek to quench our social isolation thirst. We’ll show up having weathered a universal pandemic and likely with the vestiges of varying degrees of trauma. To that end, I’m excited to share that I will be doing what I can to contribute to our community’s collective healing in 2 ways. At the end of the month, I will begin SaintA’s Train-the-Trainer Trauma Informed Care Certification. In addition to offering Train-the-Trainer sessions in conjuction with SaintA, I will be weaving that training into all Bartolotta & Associates offerings.
I acknowledge that the world and its inhabitants will never be the same. I expect that the impacts of social isolation will have only been exaserbated post-COVID. To those ends, I’m excited to announce in honor of Joe and our love of people a partnership with NEWaukee through an investment in The Beacon. Joe and I long admired how the veteran social architects created spaces where everyone saw themselves in and among others, where they felt like they belonged…where they felt like they mattered. The Beacon will be a hub for social innovation and entrepreneurship through connectivity. It will house The MKE Food School, a center for learning, innovation, community-building, and resource-sharing. MKE Food School will work with people that grow, harvest, sell, deliver, prepare, eat, write, and talk about food creating the space for an inspired and inclusive conversation around Milwaukee’s community table. In addition to my investment, I will participate in NEWaukee’s programming and have a seat on the MKE Food School board. Opportunities exist to join us, and I very much look forward to reconnecting with you there.
One year later…
…I’m still standing. While I wouldn’t have chosen my journey nor wish it on anyone, I am a better human.
…while the chapter in the book of my life that chronicled active participation in The Bartolotta Restaurants closed in late February, I will forever be an ambassador.
…I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the outpouring of care, encouragement and love…so much so that I’ve said on many occasions that despite losing Joe, I’ve never felt more loved. I apologize for my inabilty to extend my gratitude directly to you for your cards, texts, emails, calls with words of encouragement and hugs – know that collectively you fueled my healing. Thank you.