Editor’s Note: As Cleveland deals with the outbreak of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, everyday life is being disrupted. In our new series “How It Feels,” we’re talking to students, teachers, nurses and those on the frontline of the pandemic to see what it feels like to live life in isolation and transition to new ways of working, thinking and living. For more, read last week's installments where we talked to Distill Table owner Eddie Tancredi about transitioning his restaurant to a meal prep service.Joshua Druckenmiller pops with energy. If you’ve ever been to Market Garden Brewery, you might have seen the 5-foot-5-inch waiter, with a master’s degree in voice and musicology, zipping in and out of tables, greeting guests with an effervescent smile and carrying far more in his hands than you’d expect. But on March 15, he was one of 585,000 service industry workers who were laid off in response to Governor Mike DeWine’s order to close all bars and restaurants until further notice. Although he’s filed for unemployment, he’s still waiting for his application to be processed. As the future of our restaurant industry remains unknown, Druckenmiller talks to us about the struggles of working in the service industry, how he’s coping and what’s most important during this difficult time.
I’ve been working at Market Garden since May 2019. We have over 20 of our own beers on tap at any given point with the occasional guest draft, but we also have a really wonderful chef-created menu that changes seasonally every two or three months. So there are always these really inventive, delicious options.
As a worker, I’ve had really supportive management and a really great family of coworkers. In my past experience, sometimes the service industry can be a little dicey in terms of the group dynamic. But they’ve been so supportive of each other and looking out for each other, so I always felt very safe and welcomed and supported in that environment.
Leading up to the [state-issued] order, we were taking extra measures at the restaurant. Things were slowing down and we were seeing fewer and fewer heads in the restaurant. So, in our extra time, we were creating lists of things to sanitize hourly, to sanitize every time we use them. We were spending most of our shift prepping for that kind of thing. And leading up to it, we were trying to be very vocal and transparent about what we were doing and how we were keeping our customers safe and happy.
I actually found out on my day off [about the layoff]. We were going to a little family gathering and I saw the report. I didn’t know what was happening the next day, but I just knew I didn’t have a job. It seemed like [Market Garden] had great difficulty communicating that to us just because the rate at which everything was happening. Most of us found out the restaurant was closing before the restaurant told us they were closing. They gave us instructions for how to get unemployment and gave out food they couldn’t sell, and the notices kept coming to us later and later because they couldn’t keep up with the information.
As far as the restaurant itself, they were actually really gracious in donating the food that they couldn’t use for the restaurant employees. So, very shortly after it happened, I actually got a good 2-3 weeks worth of vegetables and produce. The management has always been very supportive and very helpful, and they’ve been doing everything in their power to make sure that we’re fed and we’re going through the application process for unemployment and that we’ve got everything together there.
I sort of braced myself for this decision knowing everything that was leading up to the virus and the measures that you’re going to have to take to stop the spread. But the few months after the holidays are really difficult for service workers. People are going out less, people are spending less money. So, it’s just always the slowest time of the industry. I was looking forward to start being able to catch up with bills and repayments and things from the beginning of the year. And just as I’m anticipating doing this, that’s when the mass layoff happened. While I’m trying to stay optimistic, the prospect of not being able to recover from already struggling is really challenging.
On the side, to bring in more money, my other line of work and my career path is in music. And they’re one of the biggest communities that are being affected by this. Shows are canceled, churches are closing so church musicians aren’t performing. So, there’s really little venue to do that either.
And I also just started cleaning houses on the side for a little extra money, but now everybody is home. They just don’t have a need for it. I have some support coming in from my family. I’m very fortunate to live with my partner who’s being very supportive and doing what he can, but neither of those parties make enough to support themselves and me.
The initial reaction, is that we all as coworkers, teamed together. We have our big group communications going for support and the unemployment process. Luckily, we have a sort of cycle of this uplifting spirits: even if it comes down to sharing stupid memes and things, we’re trying to stay positive. — as told to James Bigley II