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Episode 7: Seventh Episode Stretch

Alvin and Brady reflect on the first seven weeks of The Check, discussing previous guests and some of the changes that have happened in the restaurant industry and around the country during that time.




Left: Alvin and Brady in Richmond. Right: Alvin's 9-month-old daughter, Penelope.


PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

June 18, 2020


Brady Viccellio

Welcome back to another episode of The Check. I'm Brady.

Alvin Williams

And I'm Alvin. Hey, everybody. Welcome back to The Check.

Brady Viccellio

For today's podcast, I thought we would take a little different approach. And take some time together, Alvin and I, to discuss some things. We started this podcast seven or eight weeks ago. And that was hopefully the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, and not long before then, there have been quite a lot of changes in our industry, the country and actually the world. I thought it'd be a good idea to revisit our thoughts on why we started this podcast and have a conversation about our businesses, our guests, and opinions and predictions.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, Brady I think it's good to check back in with ourselves. When we started this podcast, I was hoping that it was actually close to the end of the pandemic. Not in the middle. But here we are, we're still in it.

Brady Viccellio

Well, sure.

Alvin Williams

I really thought that it wasn't going to last as long as it has, he just seemed so wild and crazy. And I just thought, well, this is going to be one of those things and hopefully in a couple weeks it'll blow over and we'll do what we're supposed to do with the hand washing and social distancing. And then we'll be back to normal in a month, but it seems to be settling in for the long haul here.

Brady Viccellio

I know that in Virginia, the governor's doubtful that they'll be able to start school in the fall.

Alvin Williams

I've heard about that. But I've also heard from parents about how grateful they now are for teachers and educators. Since they've been home with their kids so much and I guess they see a different side of their kids during the day.

Brady Viccellio

Yeah, well, I know it would have gotten me into some trouble. So your expectations didn't quite line up with the way things actually have shaken out?

Alvin Williams

No, not at all. It's very scary. Actually, I was in total fear of losing my restaurant. And, you know, having that dream end by a disease and not by my own hand. But hopefully we'll get through that and we'll still have restaurants after this. But no, it hasn't. It's just a matter of time. It's just longer than we anticipated.

Brady Viccellio

I wonder a lot about how restaurants will be on the other side of this? Are we ever going to get to 100% capacity, are we ever going to have a crowded bar, where we can go and rub shoulders with our neighbors and friends and have that kind of social situation where you're all kind of lined up waiting for your turn to order a drink and all that kind of thing, or sporting events, concerts. What's going to happen?

Alvin Williams

Yeah, that's a big thing with a sporting events and concerts. I don't know how they're going to get through this. I mean, just for us, we're not allowed to use our bar right now. So, in the past, we would have people come up to each other in the bar, meet each other in the bar, high fiving and sending each other drinks across the room kind of thing. That doesn't happen now. There's definite distance between the tables. So there's not that conversation going back from one table to another table, just meeting each other [asking what] are you drinking and let me send you a cocktail. So that's, that's a little different. I don't want to say it's depressing, but it's just not the same.

Brady Viccellio

I always enjoy a crowd—well, not a crowd but it's fun to have an energetic space. I know over at Cobalt you have your Music Thursdays and they can get kind of crowded and rowdy -- so a lot of fun.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, it's a lot of fun. There has been known to be some dancing and cocktails flying left to right. And it's a fun time, but we can't have that now. You can't have that close proximity and crowds. I mean, that's a lot of people packed into kind of a small place when we used to do the band nights. So that is off the table right now, which is a shame because it was fun. We used to do it, I think every other Thursday or sometimes once a month and people would look forward to it and it was a lot of the same faces so they were happy to see each other and it was just a gathering place.

Brady Viccellio

What lessons have we learned from this whole thing?

Alvin Williams

Life can change overnight. That's what I've learned. You know, you can't be complacent in life thinking, I've got my little job, and this is fine, and everything's going to be good next week, and I know how much money I'm getting paid and I can pay these bills and I'm going on vacation. And that is that can just be taken away from you in an instant.

Brady Viccellio

Yeah, certainly can be globally. I've learned how important loyal employees are. So the loyalty of my employees, I've really learned to appreciate even more, I always appreciated it. But when this thing happened, I had people who knew that I might not be able to pay them, and they still insisted on coming into work. And I mean, literally in harm's way, serving people, getting to-go’s together and keeping the business running. I always paid everybody and I was thankfully always able to make that happen. But they knew it was on the line. Yeah. And that's a beautiful thing.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, it really is. We've had a similar loyalty. But you know, a lot of our people stayed on through the whole thing. They were testing and making sure that they were safe and following the guidelines, and then we had some that didn't feel safe because they had kids at home. And, and I kind of felt that way myself a little bit for a while. So it's very scary in your conflicted thoughts on what to do. Are you being part of the problem by going out and working? It’s just a mind-boggling thing.

Brady Viccellio

Have you been able to wrap your head around how much of this actually should be scary and how much of it is just hyperbole?

Alvin Williams

We just don't know.

Brady Viccellio

Don’t we? I mean, we've got an idea now. We're on the other side of the peak certainly. Do you wonder if the whole shutdown was a big mistake?

Alvin Williams

I do wonder that. And we will never know.

Brady Viccellio

We might. I don't know.

Alvin Williams

Well, I here's one thing I do know, is that as much as we think the government runs our country, I really think the media does.

Brady Viccellio

That's a great point.

Alvin Williams

Because no matter what they say, if they come on Fox or CNN or whatever news network and they report something, and everyone's watching, we all just kind of listen to that news and do what you are told?

Brady Viccellio

I was impressed by how much people actually fell in line as far as doing what we were told. I mean, if the country just decided “Look, I'm not going to be pushed around, I'm not going to be told to stay home.” It could have been a disaster. It would have been an untenable situation for the authorities. And they would have just had to say, “Okay, well, that didn't work.”

Alvin Williams

Yeah, the media plays a huge part.

Brady Viccellio

I think they might be able to be home watching the news.

Alvin Williams

Yeah. And you know, it's like the weatherman, you know, the weatherman comes on, and they're never right. But they still have their jobs. They don't get fired. No, you know, 20% chance of rain. Well, did it rain? No, but I just thought it was a 20% chance.

Brady Viccellio

Right. There's a 20% chance your stake will be medium rare.

Alvin Williams

And then it gets sent back.

Brady Viccellio

Hundred percent chance of that if it's wrong.

Alvin Williams

So we don't get that a buffer zone.

Brady Viccellio

No, no. So back to this whole thing. I know hindsight is 20/20. And we're still don't have those glasses on yet. But from where we sit now, I believe – and I could be completely wrong -- but my opinion is that if they said, “Look, if you feel safe, go on with your life. If you don't feel stay safe. Stay home.” When we had Omar Boukhriss in here from the Carriage House, we asked him about his dream when he was in Morocco and he had this vision that he was going to come to the United States and open a restaurant. Do you have that dream? I didn't really have a dream. It was my day.

Alvin Williams

I did have that dream. And you know, I was thinking about that conversation that we had with Omar and he said, you have the dream to leave Morocco, and his father wanted him to be an accountant and he always wanted to own a restaurant and I thought about it. One of the reasons that I came to the States was because I wanted to do that. And I felt that I had the opportunity to do it here more than in England. One of the reasons I thought that I left England, I thought that I was being held back because of my age. But now thinking about it, I'm thinking, “wow, was I held back because of my race and didn't realize it at the time.” I was progressing through the ranks in the kitchen. And they would say, “Well, you know, you’re too young, you can't be a sous chef yet or you can't be, junior sous chef yet. And I thought, “wow, okay, well, I'm going to go somewhere where they don't care about my age.” And I seriously thought about after the George Floyd incident and the race things that we’re going through, and I thought, “wow, I wonder if it was a racial thing that I was going through, and I just didn't even realize it because that's how normal it was.”

Brady Viccellio

Yeah. I wasn't there. But I would say that it's a high probability. And that was a long time ago.

How old were you? Let's look at this.

Alvin Williams

I was probably 20 or 21.

Brady Viccellio

There are successful chefs at that age.

Alvin Williams

Yeah. I mean, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay -- they had success and started their own restaurants at that age, and in that same, in those same areas where I was working.

Brady Viccellio

And there are other successful chefs that we don't see on TV. Where there are other people that weren't of color that were working next to you at the same age who were able to advance?

Alvin Williams

There were people there that were above me. So let's say I was a common chef or was a chef de partie, which is kind of like a line cook. A good line cook. And there were people that were above me, but they were a lot older. And that's why in my mind, I was thinking, “Oh, shoot, I'm 20 something. And they're 40 something. I'm thinking, Okay, well, I’ve got to wait that long to acheive.”

Brady Viccellio

And when you're 20 you think you're 35. When you’re 40 you think you should be 22.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, honestly, it just came to me this week when I was thinking about it, and I was a little astounded by it, but it could have been a little racism going on there.

Brady Viccellio

Well, I think certainly racism then. And racism now is alive and well.

Alvin Williams

We got to squash it.

Brady Viccellio

Yeah, absolutely.

Alvin Williams

You’ve got to have people think differently.

Brady Viccellio

We're making it through this pandemic and in our heads we're still very upset and tender. This George Floyd thing is still an open wound. There's a lot of serious things that we should be really concerned about. Can we break it up a little bit? Tell me something fun that that's happened?

Alvin Williams

Well, here's what I know, I think we’re getting through this pandemic. And here's how I know this. So when this first started, we have a mutual friend, and we would always be over at his house and hanging out. And we hadn't seen him for a while because of the pandemic, you know, we couldn't go over. He's in quarantine and he didn't want to be contaminated. After a while, we were allowed to go over to his house and we would walk in you and I both and he would literally spray us down at the door.

Brady Viccellio

With the alcohol.

Alvin Williams

I'd be scared to go in front of the stove because I would spontaneously combust. So that's how we used to do it. As soon as you walk in, he's welcoming us into the house and we do an elbow bump and so we don't get the spray down anymore, but obviously, we do wash our hands and do the sanitizer. But it's definitely dissipating.

Brady Viccellio

Of course I know who you're talking about. And he came into a La Bella Italia shortly after the phase two opening with his spray bottle. He sprayed the table down and then sprayed me down when I walked over.

Alvin Williams

We have people who are like that and that's great. With the curbside pickup some people jump out of the car and they want to come in and say hi. Some people will sit in the car, and they will pop the trunk and they don't want to talk to you. They don't want you touching the check. They just want their food in the trunk. They push the button and boom, they're gone. So there's different degrees of people and speeds that they're going to get back to normal or not.

Brady Viccellio

Towards the beginning of this thing I was still trying to figure out the delivery and how that would all work. You think you can do it all at first and of course we're short staffed and these busy nights were unpredictable. And we had one of these busy nights and this order came through that was a delivery right up the road. So no big deal, I put it in the in the car and ran it up the street and knocked on the door like I knew delivery was done because I've ordered pizza before right? And the guy came to the door and started yelling at me and I'm looking at the house number. Then he starts pointing down and I finally realized he wanted me to just set it down on the floor in front of the door and leave and walk away. So it worked out and you know a lot of people they still want to live their lives. It's interesting because I've had a lot of people come and it was kind of like hell or high water, they're going to come to Steinhilber’s and celebrate their anniversary because that's what they've been doing since they've been married. And, you know, that kind of thing really makes it worthwhile.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, I understand we've had similar situations where people have come and this was before phase two was still in phase one.

Brady Viccellio

Before phase one I had it I had people sitting in the car.

Alvin Williams

That's what I was going to say, you know, it's a birthday, and they were sitting in their car. They would get a meal and we get it to them and then we send out dessert with a little candle in it and they have their birthday celebration out there. They were still with us and they brought us into their celebration and that made it worthwhile for us, you know, to think that “Well, we're still here for them and they're here for us and makes us want to get up in the morning and keep going to work.”

Brady Viccellio

You know, another thing that was really nice to see was, they put out there that buying gift cards really helps out a restaurant in this kind of situation. It's a free loan. And I had a number of guests who really feel a strong tie to both restaurants – La Bella Italia and Steinhilber’s -- who made it a point to buy gift cards. One person bought $2,000 worth, another person $1500. I think we have a mutual customer who even dropped off a check.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, and that's awesome. We spoke with Stacey Shiflet a while ago from the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association, and she was saying that gift cards would help us out and she was right. And people really stepped up and came in and bought gift cards and other people dropped off checks. Just unbelievable.

Brady Viccellio

It’s going to be hard to tell those people that did that on a busy night that we don’t have a seat for them.

Alvin Williams

Oh, they got a table. It'll be like Goodfellas. We'll bring out a table from the back and put it right there at the front. They get a table every time.

Brady Viccellio

And then we'll have something to tell the other people because you know, we've always had people who kind of look out for us. And you try to explain, well, you know, that person took me skiing or whatever. Why are you showing this favoritism? That's not right.

Alvin Williams

Well, we'll show them favoritism because we're still here. Because of them. And that's why you're getting a meal tonight.

Brady Viccellio

Because he didn't buy $2,000 worth of gift cards.

Alvin Williams

But we will give you that opportunity to do so.

Brady Viccellio

Would you like to join the club?

Alvin Williams

Visa or Mastercard?

Alvin Williams

Brady, I ran into John Stein, who was a guest on The Check a few weeks ago, and we got talking about where he is now as to where he was then. He's reopened Baker's crust and he has extra seating outside on his patio and he has seating inside and he seems to be doing real well.

Brady Viccellio

Yeah and I still see a lot of Waterman's posts, and the Shack and Chicks on the Beach.

Alvin Williams

Mike Standing. We talked to him [in our first podcast podcast]. Mike, from what I understand, has pretty much just taken over all the land on the oceanfront, all the streets. He's got tables and chairs out in the middle of Atlantic Avenue, and he's just taken over.

Brady Viccellio

Well, good for him.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, good for him.

Brady Viccellio

And let's see, my mother always says that July 4 is the day that you start being able to make tomato sandwiches. Pull these nice ripe tomatoes out of the garden about July 4. It's been a cool spring. I'm hopeful that we're not we're not behind on that. What do you think?

Alvin Williams

I think her garden is flourishing. I was out there with her a few days ago and she showed me around and it's just beautiful. All the lettuce she has and the walking onions. She gave me a slice of her cake that she made with blackberries and blueberries. With the frosting on top, which was moist and delicious. But yeah, her garden looks awesome.

Brady Viccellio

Well, how is yours?

Alvin Williams

It's doing very well. I have been up very early. And not because my nine-month old for some reason I kept telling you my kid was six months old. She's not she's nine months

Brady Viccellio

We won't tell her. Don't let her hear that.

Alvin Williams

I know. Sorry, Penelope. So I've been up early and out in the garden, you know, 5:30 or 6:00 am, which is a great time to sucker your tomatoes because the branches are real crisp and it's cool out there so you're not in that heat. I've been out there weeding, getting all the little grass weeds out. The garden looks nice now that tomatoes are getting tall and only starting to bloom. The squash is coming out arugula. The herbs are doing great—I weeded out the herb garden this morning. My wife Carrie, she made me an herb garden and she's planted thyme and basil and lemongrass and parsley, and all kinds of stuff in there.

Brady Viccellio

As a Jamaican, what kind of herbs do you have growing?

Alvin Williams

Well, I'm English my parents are Jamaican.

Brady Viccellio

Oh, okay. So the herbs that you might be referring to are your parents’.

Alvin Williams

They were certainly at my grandparents’ house, that's for sure. I've seen them out there. One day one day I made me partake in the cooking of herbs.

Brady Viccellio

Don't forget to listen week, to The Check podcast, where we will be interviewing our friend, Chef Sam McGann the Blue Point restaurant in Duck, North Carolina.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, Sam’s a great friend, awesome chef, bit of a mentor to me, and he will be speaking to us about his experiences in North Carolina. I think some of the rules were a little different there and they were allowed to open up before we did so. Maybe he can give us a heads up and how we can get ahead on this.

Brady Viccellio

Give us a little glimpse into the future maybe I'm looking forward to talking to Sam. If you can't wait for that, and you want to listen to more of The Check podcast or see more of our posts, photos of our gardens, etc. come visit thecheckpodcast.com.

Alvin Williams

Yep. So, Brady, thanks again for everything, appreciate being here with you.

Brady Viccellio

Thank you, Alvin. I'm Brady.

Alvin Williams

I'm Alvin. And this is The Check.




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