Larson has had similar experiences with her seven-year-old son, Noland. “My biggest joy is that he loves what I do. He loves to be a part of the restaurant culture…. He loves to cook with me…. I can already share that joy with him. Nothing makes you feel like your work is more valuable than seeing how it can come right back into your home life and how it really is shaping a big part of who he is already. He thinks I'm the coolest.”
Camaraderie Among Parents
At Max’s Eatery, the parents on staff get to bond over their shared experiences. “My chef, he's got two daughters and we just stand there and cook lunch and talk about our kids. And one of our front of house managers, he's got a son who's a little bit younger than our than our kids, and it's awesome to rehash the stories of what he's going through,” said Titter.
At Mamaleh’s there are seven owners, six of which are in couples, and four of them have kids of their own. For Larson, this has made it an incredibly supportive place to work. “I never feel like I'm the only person with a child. And in fact, most of my line cooks also have children that we speak about and develop community around. So that's really a blessing,” she said. “I've worked in kitchens before where I almost felt like I was aged out because it was me and one other person who had a kid and everybody else was still living this kind of rockstar lifestyle, which has its place, but can be very distracting and can be very hard to find common ground.”
Connecting with Guests with Kids
As Operations Manager, Rosengren spends a lot of her time in the restaurant working with customers. “Oh, what I think my favorite part is talking to other parents when they come into the restaurant. I'm basically known in the restaurant for like going up to every person who comes in with a kid and being like, ‘I also have a kid, let's talk about having kids!’”
She says it puts guests with children at ease. “When you're a parent and you're bringing your kid to a restaurant, there’s this fear: ‘Oh God, what if my kid acts out or is not welcome at this restaurant, then we have to pack them up and leave...’ So when I go over and I'm like, ‘Oh yeah, I also have a kid!’ they're like, oh, great, this person gets it. You can just relate on different things. It's a nice thing to have another that I can connect with the guests.
Life Skills and Parenting Skills
Titter loves that his son will be able to take the skills he’s learned in the kitchen and work anywhere when he graduates high school. “So that way, if you do want to travel the world, at least you can find a job, be a productive member of society, as you go on your life's path, wherever it takes you.”
Nijjar feels that learning to manage people of all types has helped him be a parent. “It's definitely taught me a lot of things, just dealing with different personalities at work. Even how to deal with different situations with my own kids.”
The Emotional Bank Account
Titter’s motto for him and Max is work hard, play harder. “So it might not be an everyday thing, to throw the football around, day-in, day-out stuff. But when we do have time together, we try to crush it as hard as we can.”
“For his birthday, we went to an Eagles game and had the most unbelievable time. I called in every favor I could and we were able to meet some players after the game and get some special treatment. That was the epitome of that roller coaster of ‘look, I've got to work for three weeks really, really hard, but man, we're gonna have a Sunday off and it's going to be the best Sunday you've ever had.’”
He knows that it can be hard that he’s not around at home all the time, but he and Max make it work. “It's that emotional bank account. You got to wait for it to get filled up at times, and then appreciate it when you got it. And then wait for it to get filled up again.”
Paving the Way
Atonsen feels that even though the struggles are significant, she is paving the way for other people to feel like they can work in the industry and have a family. “I [didn’t] really know what having a kid or being pregnant looks like in this industry because I haven't personally seen any pastry chefs or chefs have any kids. The only ones I know own their own restaurants or bakeries.”
“I feel like because I'm one of the first people who is a pastry chef in Chicago, in the industry, who has a baby, maybe what I'm doing or what I say in public about having a kid in this industry will help pave the way for other women who want to have a kid and have a family,” she continued. “Maybe the way that I'm doing it, or maybe the way that our restaurant will change to accommodate for me having a baby, will show other people ‘okay, this is how she did it, so maybe this is how we can do it so that this person can have a baby and still be a pastry chef or chef in the restaurant.'”
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