As a restaurant owner, but more importantly operator, I have personally witnessed the first dates, rekindlings, marriages, dancing, laughing, and buzzy discourse that take place. People simply come together at our (their, really) third places. These third places are where we enrich our lives, add color to our days, fall in love, and gain perspective, empathy, and wisdom. Each of us has a human propensity to develop a bond with our community, and I believe that third places are the conduit to doing so.
Now, every third place has ownership and leadership behind it. These are the people who put their passion to work in order to weave their businesses into the fabric of a community. Each business has employees who become propagators, in their own wonderfully personal ways, of that passion. Strength and diversity within our communities are built on the foundation of these businesses through the interaction of owners, workers, and patrons. Anyone who has ever built anything or owned anything knows that it’s not all glory and gain.
- PHOTO BY JONATHAN SWAN
- Ox and Stone.
My professional perspective on the COVID experience, especially as it pertains to restrictions, has helped me gain an understanding of the profound effects it has had on people and our communities.
An undertone of an Us-Versus-Them mentality prevails any time I make any sort of comment about the many difficulties COVID has caused my restaurants. “Difficulties? Yeah, but what about the Deaths?” The deaths are tragic, and I think that it is beyond comprehension what any family affected in that way has had to endure. I am not interested in evaluating decisions by weighing jobs in one hand and mortality or health in the other. For me, that is an easy choice — there is nothing more important than one’s life and health.
- PHOTO BY JONATHAN SWAN
- The Daily Refresher.
Small business owners are proud people, and I think our governor knows that. He knew that he could rely on us to make silent sacrifice, to be endlessly creative, to not give up, and to give everything we possibly have to give. Our leaders have been so concerned with saving lives that they forgot about saving where our lives are lived. I wonder how long it will be before they’ll realize they’ve sacrificed the health of our communities and societies. One thing I have realized is that the only thing I have done in presenting a façade of “hanging in there” is jeopardize the very fabric of our society because the reality is the glaring, horrifying number of third places that have already shuttered, and the countless more that will not survive the winter.
- PHOTO BY RENÉE HEININGER
- Swan Dive is closed down for business for the time being.
Because of this, I reject the term “new normal.” This experience is anything but normal and should be anything but normalized. The idea that an entire industry can be completely un-aided during this time should be totally and categorically rejected by all of us. Until we are helped, our communities, and so many of our community members, will hang in the balance.
We, the third places need help: real, unveiled, easily accessible help. We need our leaders to recognize what is being lost, we need our third places and their employees to be considered when future mandates are made. We need you, the reader, to recognize and fully appreciate what we’ll lose to COVID if our government doesn’t help our devastated and beloved third places.
Jonathan Swan is the owner of the Swan Family of Restaurants, which include the Daily Refresher, Dorado, Ox and Stone, Roux, Swan Dive, and Vern's.