It’s been about a month since restaurants in Atlanta began closing or shifting their business strategies in response to the new coronavirus.
Jay Norris was a server at Golden Eagle, a restaurant in Atlanta’s Reynoldstown neighborhood that closed in mid-March. Now, for the first time in his adult life, he says, he’s unemployed.
“The first week and a half, it felt very surreal,” he says. “It’s like, I personally am dealing with this crisis, and then I think of everyone in the world also dealing with this crisis.”
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He says Golden Eagle’s management, and the larger company that also owns the restaurants Ladybird and Muchacho, have been helpful, collecting donations for a stipend to all of the laid-off workers.
“I’ve gotten personal phone calls from each member of the management team, just letting me know what they’re doing on their end, as far as trying to file for unemployment on all the employees’ behalf,” he says. “And then just calls to make sure as far as mental health, that I’m doing well emotionally.”
The company has also formed a nonprofit, cooking and delivering meals to people in the foodservice industry who are out of work.
“When things are so uncertain about how the next weeks and months are going to look, I can take comfort that someone is looking out for me and has my back,” he says.
Norris says he’d like to go back to work at Golden Eagle, where he’s worked since it opened a few years ago.
“I think having any sort of normal life again would be something that’s really comforting, so I would hope that’s one of the routines I could fall back into,” he says.
But he’s also thinking about new paths and ways to continue serving, without being a server forever.
“Once you do it for so long, it is part of your identity. I feel like I’m missing that part of my identity, the part of me that wants to take care of you, the hospitality part of me,” he says. “So I’m looking at other careers where I could still use that, but in a way that helps more people.”
For now, Norris is joining friends on Zoom to meditate and to exercise. He’s reading, cooking, studying German. And on days when he can’t muster the energy, he tries to go easy on himself.
“I don’t think the world is ever going to be the same, and so many different factors are playing into it that are out of my control,” he says. “But what I can control is what I do with me day each day.”