As I sit here in front of my computer, trying to gather my thoughts on what to compile in this letter, my mind is flooded with the rumors that I’ve heard about myself over the past month. Trying to keep my spirits high and conduct business as usual I’ve brushed the things off, thinking that the dust would settle. Weeks have passed, and the dust isn’t settling. Now, anybody that knows me, knows that I’m a pretty up front, honest person that will put on a smile regardless of any circumstances.
For those of you that are unaware, I have been in the restaurant and hospitality industry my entire life. Cooking is my backbone and stems back many generations. It’s truly the only passion that I have, besides old cars and dogs. The restaurant business is an industry which requires a copious amount of preparation, time, attention to detail and a substantial amount of customer service. In order for anybody to succeed in this business it takes an inconceivable amount of skill and willingness to do whatever it takes, at any cost, to ensure that your customers receive the very best.
My community, supporters, customers and fans are the absolute reason why I get out of bed each morning to simply make soup, construct a sandwich or make salad dressing. Urban Eats has been a true success and simply put, a blast. For those of you who don’t know, Urban Eats has been my first sole proprietorship. The concept was entirely mine from the design, flow, paint selection and décor. I simply wanted to create an eatery where everybody can come and have a great meal in a style of a place that I would frequent. We’re in our second year and I couldn’t be any happier with how it’s working. I know practically most of my customers on a first name basis and truly enjoy the conversation that this brings. The best part is, we’re now back open at night for dinner and featuring cooking classes on Wednesday nights.
In summer of ’18, I took a look around our town and realized that we were really lacking in one thing—where would one go to have a steak dinner or a good piece of salmon? It just didn’t exist. Since it didn’t, I decided to open it. This is when 21 Chop House was born. We needed the best views of DeWitt, perfect setting for steaks, chops, fish and craft cocktails. The setting had to be nice, and the service had to be top-notch. I decided to use Spring Brook Country Club for the ultimate experience. We wallpapered, painted and painted, hand selected the china, flatware and glassware. We completely transformed the space and created an environment that you would normally find in a larger city. I searched for the best ingredients and visited meat markets and fisheries. As winter progressed, we noticed a much slower growth in dining, but knew that spring was fast approaching. The Chop House has been great—this meant new faces, new relationships and new conversations.
Things slowly took a turn for the worse the second Saturday in January. As I was in the kitchen broiling steaks, I began to feel funny. My arms and legs went numb and my color changed. My heart started to flutter. For a second there I thought I was having a heart attack. I brushed it off and thought to myself, you’re just tired, it’s been a long day. Push through it you’ll be fine. The feeling didn’t change. My team was concerned, so off I went to the ER. Many tests were conducted, all of which had normal results except for my chest x-rays. I was informed that my chest x-rays were “unusually abnormal” and that I needed to see a specialist right away and “not to wait”. Growth was detected around the heart and the lungs had what seemed to be “deposits” in them. The deposits were unknown, but a biopsy was conducted and deemed that cancer wasn’t present. What a relief.
I was seen by a pulmonary specialist at the beginning of February. Things weren’t looking good. What I was told was that I have a blood condition caused from the lungs. To simplify, the deposits in my lungs are obstructing the appropriate amount of oxygen needed to carry through the blood to my organs for them to operate normally. The specialist simply stated that my body is only performing at 50-60% on a good day with the lack of oxygen in my blood. Everything is affected—liver, brain, heart, thyroid, lungs and kidneys. The most depressing news came next. He told me that a restaurant was the worst place to be with the poor air quality. I was told that I needed to get as much rest as possible and limit my time to very short visits to the restaurants. Many breathing tests were conducted, and the general consensus was that I’ve simply overdone it. Worked myself without proper rest, breathing in restaurant fumes and grease for far too long.
My heart sunk, and it sunk fast. It’s like I was running a hundred miles an hour and smacked directly into a brick wall. Instantly I thought of my customers, fans and supporters. I didn’t have the answer—I had no solution and the more I thought, I had no Idea what I was going to do. I was informed after other tests were completed that there is no cure for what I have. It will progress as I age, slowing me down with more difficulty breathing and slower operation due to the lack of oxygenated blood. I have started a series of steroid treatments to help relax my lungs, with no guarantee. I’m crossing my fingers. Anybody that knows me, knows that I’m a busy body. I have to be doing something all the time. If the day ever came that I had to take a desk job, I’d lose my mind.
After I absorbed all the medical news, I started hearing rumors around town that others speculated. I heard I have four months to live, my body is shutting down from organ failure, that I have HIV or that The Chop House is closing—the depression set in. This is from me, I can assure you without a question of a doubt, that these rumors are completely and utterly false. Shame on those for passing this fictitious knowledge along without talking with me first— I would be more than willing to share factual information. It’s incredibly problematic to hear these things about yourself when picking up groceries or running an errand. You sort of get a “look.”
DeWitt is, and has been great and incredibly supportive! It’s been a wonderful canvas for me to experiment on. It’s been one of the best decisions in my career to conduct business here. I have deep relationships with many of you and I can assure you one thing—even if I end up in a wheelchair, or a hospital bed, I’m not giving up! Passion is passion, people are hungry, and I need to feed them.
Owner of DeWitt-based Urban Eats
and 21 Chop House restaurants