Growing up, Cheers was a regular staple on Nick at Nite and TV Land. I used to like watching old shows like Wonder Years, Happy Days, and I Love Lucy. My favorite was probably Three’s Company. Maybe because it was a bit more ‘adult’ to me, being centered around a bar and with all these adults drinking and talking about their problems, but I never really got into Cheers. But just like a lot of those old shows, damn if they didn’t have a really catchy song, and that always stuck with me.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
I may have not gotten into the story or the show, but I definitely understood the message of that theme song. And I was thinking about that tonight, as I was digging into my sushi at my favorite go-to sushi bar (fingers, no chopsticks, and always fish side down when dipping into the soy sauce), while enjoying a beer from my favorite go-to small craft brewery, knowing that the next day after an early morning archery practice I’d be stopping by my favorite go-to bubble tea place for a treat. And I was thinking to myself in-between bites, why do I go to these particular places?
It’s no big secret that I am a huge food enthusiast. In fact I’m so enthusiastic about food I seem to carry it around with me everywhere I go…right around the hips and stomach. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying some of the finest and most spectacular meals I’ve ever had in some of the finest and most recognized restaurants around. But I’ve probably only been to these places what…once, maybe twice? If a friend or family member were visiting from out of town and asked me to take them around to try something interesting or exciting or unique, I’d probably take them to other places in the area. But if I wanted to enjoy a peaceful, comforting, satisfying meal on my own, or if I were with lifelong friends on a regular night out, or even if I were celebrating some special personal occasion like my birthday or my first paycheck with my family, you would definitely find me at one of these go-tos.
So what is it that captivates me so? What is it about these particular places that keeps me loyal, coming back for more, craving it even, like a comfort blanket during a storm. Is it the price? Hardly. Even casual craft beer drinkers will tell you that you have to pay a heavy cost for the luxury of drinking a beer five feet from where it was made. Perhaps then it is the location. But I can tell you that around my house there are at least three other places for bubble tea that are either closer or the same distance to me compared to the one I always prefer to go to. Then again, being the venerated food authority that I am, perhaps your best bet would be to say it’s the quality of the food. But I would have to be honest with you, and say that there are probably better places for the best quality examples of what each of these places has to offer. These are honest, skilled craftspeople though, and their food is without a doubt satisfying, delicious, and well made. But to achieve ‘Cheers’ status, a place has to be more about the food it serves.
It’s about the feeling you get when you walk in. It’s about being known. It’s that feeling when you walk into your favorite sushi spot with your family and the owner talks about how big your little brother has become and asking how your new job is going. It’s when you know the name of your brewer and your bartender, and they know yours. I love going to these particular places because they make me feel like I am a part of something, I like having a connection to the people there. It’s hard to sense this sometimes, especially when nowadays so much of the value of a restaurant is in how pretty their dishes are. But the restaurants that forever leave an impression on me are the ones that make me feel like more than just a customer, more than another flipped table. I appreciate the importance and value these restaurants place on hospitality, on fostering relationships. It’s a small step, and it may be completely unrelated to food, but connecting with your customers is what separates the places a thousand people will eat at once from the places one person will eat at a thousand times.
As I was walking home after dinner, trying desperately to start burning off some of the numerous pieces of sushi, getting whacked in the face by leaves because there are some unreasonably dark stretches of road with unreasonably low tree branches, I started thinking about how what I look for in a familiar restaurant is very similar to what I think I’ve always wanted in a lifelong relationship. I left that sushi restaurant at midnight tonight. They closed at ten. My family had already taken my car home and I was just gonna walk back, but I stayed because the owner wanted to talk to me about his 60th birthday coming up and his daughter was trying to figure out places they could go for vacation, and he wanted to know more about my job and where I had been, and it was the owner, his wife, his eldest daughter, his eldest daughter’s fiance, and myself just talking and relaxing at the end of the night and laughing. You know I know there are those foodie types who want to chase after the latest and greatest crazes, to either be the first to discover a trend or the first to declare its death, wanting one thrill after another. I know there are those who, recognizing the limitless varieties of foods and cuisines, couldn’t possibly ever consider limiting themselves, having to try something different, completely open to the world of variety. But for me, I want those restaurants that feel familiar, comfortable. The places that make me feel seen, important, known. I’m a lifelong commitment kind of person, and I’m looking for that kind of a person and place. Where I can relax, where I can feel my troubles melt away, where what I have feeds the body and the heart. I have never asked for the world’s best. Or the world’s newest. I have only ever wanted that which would make my heart the most full at every moment.
Jerel says, ‘cheers’.