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Endings

Dad and I sit at the bar talking.  It’s our last Friday night as the owners of Potager.  We are remembering

the backpacking trip we took to Italy when I was 25.  We carried that big vase behind the bar back with us as a carry on.  The wine racks…he made those in his shop then brought them out here to install.  The tables in the bar area…he made the tops.  The long family table…he made one weekend after I told him we needed a long table for big parties. The wood doors in the building…he found at a salvage store in St. Louis and brought them out to Denver.  The big mirror in the dining room…he made the frame himself and Ellen painted it.  The little bell that hangs on the cooling rack in the kitchen…I found it near the front windows the first day I started doing the tear out.  It’s been hanging there 23 years.  The rock that holds the screen doors to the patio open…my best friend Valerie brought it back for me from a trip down south after having dinner out there and noticing we needed something to hold the door open.  She died of cancer in 2008.  As we look around, there is not one single thing in this restaurant that doesn’t have a story.

Dad is not sentimental really…but he is.  Me, on the other hand…I am the word sentimental.  I live and breathe the stories.

We laugh hysterically as he tells me my rhubarb pie needs more sugar because he has said this about my desserts for 23 years, so I knew he was going to say it as soon as I asked how he liked it.

I watch a woman in her 70s walk up the sidewalk and come inside for dinner.  She comes up to me on her way out and tells me she and her husband have been eating here together for 20 years.  “he died last year” she says.  She tells me when she read that I was giving up the restaurant, she had to get here.  She says, “I had to come in and I ate all by myself.”  When I try to tell this later to Adam, I cry.  I actually want to sob.

To Dad I tell another story.  In the beginning…the first year or so, there was a couple that came in for dinner every Friday night without fail.  They’d sit at tables 35, 36 or 37 and have a ½ bottle of King Estate Pinot Gris.  We learned all about each other week after week, year after year.  About a month went by and they didn’t come in.  Then, one morning he was standing at the front window looking in and waving at me.  I went outside.  Sherri had died.  Her final request was for him to have her memorial service at Potager.  He was there to ask if I would make lunch.  I did…making lunch for about 50 people.  Dad had never heard this story…I often forgot about it as more stories happened.

A woman who has eaten at the restaurant for years with her husband tells me it all began in 2007.  Tears spilling from her eyes, she tells me it was the month her sister was diagnosed with cancer.  It was the month they spent watching her sister die. We saved them.  We were their safe place and we took great loving care of them.

I listen to these stories and am overwhelmed by emotion and the magnitude of influence this experience has had on so many people.  Words cannot express or even find the place in my soul that these stories touch.  Grateful is not a big enough word.  The stories are too big for me to hold in, so I cry.  Emotion overflowing as tears stream down my cheeks.

I’ve had a staff for 23 years that has done it, seen it and taken care of it all.  They cared enough to love, to take listen, to chase down the dine/dashers and tackle them for Godsakes.  They showed up, tried hard, learned, laughed, cried, cared and worked their asses off.  They have always been a team.  The players changed but they were always working together.

Two years ago, we had our 20 year reunion and everybody came, hundreds of them, from all over the country and the world.  They came to see each other and to pay tribute to what meant so much to them in their lives.  It was incredible and the gift of their stories was overwhelming.  I had no idea these people I had grown to love and cherish over the years had done the same for me.

We really have no idea how our own lives might inspire or change or influence the lives of others.  We hope that…at least I do, but often, we never really know.  The gift I am given now isn’t one most people receive.

I’ve spent years and years in the thick of it, trying to do my best in what turned out to be a very public arena.  A long time ago, I began to focus on challenging people to be better people, more aware people.  I believed if I could this, we’d have not only better people or a better business but a better world.  I set the bar high for food and my beliefs about where it should come from, then spent my career raising it higher.  I believed it was about more than food on a plate and more than just a restaurant.

It was about people, community and connection.

We had no money…no advertising and back then, no social media.  We unlocked the doors and waited for someone to come inside.  The people that found us…claimed us as their own.  Early food writers took pride in helping us find our legs.  To this day, 60-70% of our customers are “regulars”.  They come often enough for us to learn their names and the names of their families.  We’ve depended on word of mouth and because of that we have the very best, most stable foundation.

We all worked hard and if you ate here, you saw that.  We did our best and people came, rooting for us, wanting us to succeed bad enough that they showed up often and still do.

Thank you.  Thank you for so much.  Thank you for filling my life with so much.

I worked my last shift at Potager on Saturday morning.  As the time for me to leave got closer, I got quieter.  Realization of the magnitude of the moment settling over me and squeezing my heart.  As I walked out the door, I handed Adam the keys so he could drive.  Climbing into the back seat behind him and Dad, I cried all the way home.  In the business of selling a business, leaving is what happens but knowing that doesn’t make it easier.

A fox killed all of our chickens that morning after we left for the market.  In the business of raising chickens, it happens, but knowing that doesn’t make it easier to come home to dead animals.

Saturday night was a celebration…a final send off.  Friends, customers, staff together reminiscing and marking the end. Telling their stories of what this has all meant to them.

At the end of the night, Dad and I slouch on the couch together…feet up on the coffee table… he built…waiting to say our final goodbye to the people.  We’ve sat here together more times than I can count over 23 years talking and waiting.  This time he patiently waits for me to work up the courage for this biggest goodbye.

Early Sunday morning, we went back to the restaurant to clear out and pack up all of our things.  The truck loaded, we are walking out and we both stop and just stand there looking.  For a few minutes we don’t say a word.  Then he says, “if you could take anything in here, something that means the most or that you put your blood, sweat and tears into, what would it be?  You’ll come at it from a different angle than I will.”  I say, “the mirror or the vase.  What about you?”  “the mirror” he says.  We look over at it for a minute, then we walk out the front door.

This morning is the closing.  After some back and forth, we are all sitting in front of the lawyer in the conference room.  Signatures, check writing, hands shaken.  No balloons fall from the ceiling, no fireworks…simply a closing of file folders, caps back on pens.  We walk out the door and back out into the city.  Standing in line at the bank…the very same bank, in the very same spot we stood 23 years ago to open our Potager account, he says, “this is appropriate.”

Back at his truck, loaded with old records and cases of wine, he holds up a pen that he took from the closing.  We laugh.  We say our goodbyes.  I, of course, cry and he waves as he drives down the alley.

I text Paul to tell him the new linen guy has just piled up all the new linen in parking lot.

End this well…that’s what I always tell employees that give their notice.

We did our best, from beginning to end.  We can both walk away knowing we have done our best.  I gave it all my heart and soul.

I have done my best.

Someone has made a documentary about this.  It was released to the public last week.

This weekend was mine and Adams’ first year wedding anniversary.  He bought me flowers from a flower truck.  We took my Dad to dinner at our favorite restaurant.  We fell asleep laying in bed looking at the Christmas lights twinkling in the crab apple tree loaded with flowers.

We’ll go out on the road together next week in his big black truck.

To have a good beginning, you have to experience all of an ending.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. We love you so much, Teri! I am so proud to call you a friend. I love your sentimental heart. I love your story and your connections to every person you meet. I love that you remember everything and everyone and every detail of life. I know it’s a burden sometimes to love so much, but it truly is Love that keeps the world turning. Potager was and is an amazing part of your story. I can’t wait to see your next chapter. I love you so much, sweet Ladybird. xoxoxo

  2. Loved this and cried with you, it all kinda hit me. I know I speak for so many when I say: Love you.
    Thank you.
    May all your new beginnings bring you joy. Don’t forget to write!
    xoxo, C

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