As many of you know, this blog grew out of my work as chef for the Monday Night Gourmet Vegetarian Dinners in Palo Alto. Eons ago, when I was asked to be chef for a new community group, I was skeptical that it would be a long-lasting gig, but it seemed like too interesting an opportunity to pass up. Twenty-five years later, I’m still cooking on Monday nights. But unless a miracle happens, this amazing event could soon end.
What precipitated this possibility was the announcement a couple of months ago by Ilona Pollak, our longtime dinner manager, that she didn’t wish to continue. Ilona has been manager for a decade and a half, and is one of the main reasons our dinners have been such an enduring success. She has given valiantly of her energy, time and financial resources, and it’s completely understandable that she needs to move on.
Perhaps I should say something about how crucial the dinner manager is. She (and so far, all the managers have been women) is the nexus which makes it all work. She takes reservations, greets the diners, makes take-outs, creates publicity, finds and supervises volunteers, and attends to the finances by collecting money, paying expenses (which include pay to the chef and sous chef, rent to the church and take out supplies). If income is greater than expenses, the manager keeps that as her pay, and as you can imagine, on nights when attendance is low, the manager makes little or nothing, and may even lose money. It’s true that during cycles of good times, when our hall is consistently full, the manager does reasonably well, but, largely it is a labor of love, a service to our community (one of the ongoing conundrums is that although food costs have tripled in 25 years, we’ve only dared to raise the price 50 per cent).
In the past when a manager needed to move on, someone else stepped forward to train for the role and we were able to make an almost seamless transition. This time, that hasn’t happened. So far, no one has come forward to say they will take on this necessary role. If you think you might be able to do so and you’d like to learn more about the dinner manager’s job, click here. If you wish to apply, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And so, that leaves us uncertain as to what is next. It seems to me there are three possibilities: 1) having run out of steam, the dinners will end (after all, that which has a beginning, has an end), 2) the dinners will take a break during August, and during that time our community will find a manager or a team of managers to somehow keep things going, 3) we’ll hurriedly put together a plan for the dinners to continue in August and beyond. I could make a logical case for any of these possibilities, but let me simply state that I hope the dinners continue.