Chef Jose Salazar: 'We Have Long Been Hubs of Refuge. We Are Here to Do More Than Just Feed You'

Restaurants and bars play a larger role in the community beyond providing food and drink

Jul 13, 2020 at 1:27 pm
click to enlarge Chef Jose Salazar - Photo: Gina Weathersby
Photo: Gina Weathersby
Chef Jose Salazar

The world is experiencing a pivotal social shift. At 46 years old, I’d only seen news clips and heard stories from my elders — my mother included — of movements such as the one we are now experiencing. Compile the struggle for equality with a global pandemic and the effect is a great deal of pain and discomfort. As unfortunate as that is, I think it is a must to achieve the necessary resistance and advancement.

For those of us in the bar and restaurant industry, we are trained to serve. But as humans who chose this career, it is in our DNA to be hospitable, to share a smile, to make you feel genuinely wanted and appreciated. We have long been hubs of refuge. We are here to do more than just feed you. We know that we are here to fulfill you beyond just sustenance. 

Restaurants are places for celebrations and laughter, but also as a place to find solace and comfort and a sense of community. Fellow patrons or the wise bartender are there as friends, confidants and allies. You might meet a stranger who you have a lot in common with or someone whose opinions and experiences are completely foreign to you.

The potential for knowledge and growth from meeting new people and seeing other perspectives is a large part of why I think we — as restaurants — are so instrumental to the vitality and spirit of a neighborhood.

Dooky Chase, a famous eatery in New Orleans operated by the late Ms. Leah Chase, was a safe haven for Blacks and whites to meet during the Civil Rights movement. This is just one very clear example of the importance of having institutions for folks to gather and break bread while also discussing and engaging in life's pressing issues.

As I write this, the Supreme Court has just ruled that federal law protects LGBTQ+ workers from job discrimination. We are starting to see agencies long void of accountability having their feet held to the fire. Are we there yet? The answer is a thunderous no! While we can all say that there is so much more that needs to be discussed and done to better the lives of all those who are marginalized or treated as less then, we know that our stance and our leadership in the hospitality industry will be key in seeing those changes realized.

We see polarization on just about every subject these days, and the facts, science and information on COVID-19 is definitely not being spared.

I, of course have my personal thoughts, but certainly would rather be accused of overreach than not doing enough. Prior to COVID, the health and safety of our guests and staff was absolutely paramount and that belief has only grown in importance. From the onset of reopening, we have been hyper aggressive in doing all we can to help to prevent the spread of the virus and we will continue to put your and our wellbeing above all else.

Perhaps it's our anxieties that cause people to debate perceived rights and wrongs so vehemently, but I can only hope that we can all agree about the need to look out for one another — that when dining out, you respect the desires and opinions of others, that you can relax and enjoy yourself.

We purposely planted our flag in the downtown Cincinnati community with the intent of being there for our neighbors through the good and the bad. We will not fold and while we are sure that we will not succeed 100% of the time in meeting all your needs and expectations, we certainly will not be criticized for a lack of giving all we can.

I love Cincinnati, for many reasons, but mostly for its grit, its humility and its integrity. As someone who operates several of these aforementioned hubs of refuge, our doors, our hearts and our minds are open and ready to receive.