The Grey Blog

International Women’s Day

I just had the good fortune to spend a week in France – ALONE! Three days in Lyon and four in Paris. Actually, it wasn’t so much good fortune as it was a birthday gift from Carol, my wife. Some of you may think it terrible to ask your spouse to give you the gift of solitude for your birthday but since I began working on The Grey I can count on one hand the number of days that I have spent on my own in the last four years. That week solo was, quite possibly, the most luxurious thing I have ever done in my life.

I woke each morning for seven days in a row, with an agenda set only by me. I took a cup of espresso each morning and then exercised without rushing through my workout. I caught up on the news – both foreign and domestic. I read an entire book and it was almost four hundred pages long called ‘The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.’ (On a side note it was an amazing piece of writing. A true and tragic story, as the title would indicate, that was thought provoking and elicited a full range of emotions for this young man who couldn’t find perspective or, ironically, peace). Each day I ate lunch and dinner at proper restaurants, with silverware, multiple courses and delicious breads and wine. Being in the restaurant business, you may not believe that this was rare for me but one of my greatest surprises upon entering the food and hospitality industry is that the food is for your guests and most people who work in restaurants spend the majority of their waking hours famished. I lazed away an hour here and an hour there in a café sipping coffee or wine reading silly things on the Internet. I bought myself a new tie and I went to a friend of a friend’s and had had three frozen Polish vodkas with him while he smoked cigarettes in his Parisian apartment. When was the last time you saw someone smoke a cigarette indoors? It was awesome. I walked miles upon miles each day and genuinely and truly reflected on my life and all that is wonderful in it. I took a bath. A bath for God’s sake. Who does that?

And I was able to do all of this because of this wonderful woman in my life who knew that what I would want more than anything else in celebration of another year lived was to live a week catching up on some of things I have missed the last few years. What a woman!

And what I wish for Carol and all of the women of the world on this International Women’s Day who have either never had such a luxury bestowed upon them or have not seen a free day of their own in a decade or two or three because of their never-ending commitments to jobs, kids, parents, siblings, communities and humanity is that you experience a moment of solitude and peace and contentment the likes of which I saw in that week.

 I did not deserve it but all of you do.

Johno

History and The Grey

February is Black History Month. This is something that I have been aware of during my adult life but, frankly, it never meant much to me. I am very white and as much as I would love to make the claim that “I have a lot of black friends,” I don’t. I grew up in a close-knit, white neighborhood of Italian and Irish descent in Staten Island, New York. My professional career also was not one big on integration – the white collars in the world in which I have spent most of my adulthood primarily adorned the necks of other white people.

That said, race and culture have always fascinated me. I am sure it has something to do with the fact that the sum total of my personal exposure to black people during my formative years always took place on a New York City basketball court. I was adequate at the game in my teens and I attended a high school strong on City-wide athletics. I learned on those courts the language of commonality. I learned that while we all looked different and very much played the game differently, we were, all of us, just playing that same game for the love of it. We, regardless of color or station, beat the hell out of each other on the court and then hugged with respect when it was all over.

I struggled to reconcile my on-the-court-experiences with the rest of my existence. Cops and firemen made up the family and world from which I came and their institutional experience with communities of color in NYC was often far from collegial. As my friends and I matured, many of us began to adopt the views of our insulated communities – that different, whether applied to food, music, culture, race, etc., equals bad. This was certainly one of the many factors in my choosing to explore the world outside of my childhood home as soon as I possibly could.

By twenty-five I was working in Paris. Los Angeles came next followed by a home base in Manhattan and twenty years heavy on travel. Now I call Savannah home. I am a first-time restaurateur and I help to operate The Grey in a formerly segregated Greyhound bus terminal with my friend, business partner and Executive Chef Mashama Bailey, a black woman who is also from New York City. Black history is, quite literally, palpable in our space, our food and our ethos. The month of February has taken on new meaning for me. Our relationship and circumstance is somewhat unique, particularly in the current world order. But, that language of commonality I learned as a teen has come in handy.

Mashama and me in the kitchen at The Grey

Mashama and I primarily focus on providing our guests with a complete experience; no easy task, I assure you. But we also spend our time thinking about the larger community. We consider how what we have created here at The Grey and the history of this space in which we operate, now overseen by this talented and humble black Executive Chef, contributes to our community’s overall progress. Think about it – it was not long ago that Mashama would not have been allowed to use the front door of our space.

Back in the day

With this as context, we contemplate the idea that the whole may be much greater than the sum of the parts. And while we do not aspire to changing the world we do hope that together we might positively impact a life, or two, or, God willing, three through our work here at The Grey. We tap into the community as employers of people but more importantly we do strive to be an example of what results from strong work ethic combined with open mindedness. We strive to be part of an ever-evolving history.

I still do not have a lot of black friends but I do have a few more than I used to and I call that progress as well.

– Johno

A new year, same values – January 2017

With the beginning of a New Year, I wanted to take an opportunity to open up a new line of communication on The Grey’s website. Beginning with this I will occasionally be posting a short, periodic note. This will be a way of sharing ideas and information, saying hi or initiating some other interaction. So, without further ado…  Read the rest of this entry »