postcard from honey pie cafe

I had been on the road for two months of intensive equal parts work and personal travel. A reboot was overdue from the long run on the trail and up in the air. I was looking forward to the intentional grounding at home. If you would have told me then, after landing from the last trip, that I would be back on the road to Milwaukee a few days later, I would have promptly said uncle. 

And then... the phone rang. 

My dear friend Julie called the day after I returned to Chicago with the awful news of her dad's very sudden passing. If the news hit me like a brick, it hit her like a tidal wave. Two days later, friends Carl and Nadia's beloved dog Becca died. She was old, so it wasn't a huge surprise, but it was deeply sorrowing nonetheless. She was one of my favorite people ever  -- and she was a dog. 

Immediately, I thought FOOD. I can provide food! Food helps during rough times, right?  I'm so so sorry for your loss. Do you guys need food? I'm sorry. Can I send food? I'm sorry. Food? 

As a chef and restaurant owner, my main goal is to bring people together by connecting them through food. It’s what gives my work focus and purpose. If the food comforts them in times of happiness, chaos, sadness, or simply the day to day ups and downs we all experience, all the better. 

But nobody needed or wanted food this time. So what then? What do you do when someone you love's heart shatters? The only thing I could think of: just be there. 

I texted Nadia happy Becca pictures and memories, and made plans to see her when she was ready. Then I booked a last minute hotel, arranged for a day off work, and headed north to MKE to be with Julie.

I hugged her a lot and played with her kids before and after the service. I listened to her and her family speak about her father and it almost broke my heart. But in the best way you can imagine something like that happening - by being overwhelmed with gratitude to witness so much love. It changed how I thought about things. 

I had a bunch of downtime alone in Milwaukee and didn't know what to do with myself. I got some work done, but it was hard to focus. I guess funerals can have that effect on people. I had no energy or desire to be social, nor did that feel appropriate. I realized I hadn't eaten anything all day. 

Maybe food… is what I needed. 

So I went out and found an old comfort of my own. 

Honey Pie Cafe has been a special place of mine for many years. Because it is a longstanding touchstone to my past, it provides a meaningful setting in the present. I find great comfort in 1) their chicken biscuit pot pie and 2) that no matter what the circumstances are when I come here, no matter what is going on in the world, or where I am in my life -- Honey Pie is always the same to me. 

Maybe the decor shifts a little, or a couple of new items grace the menu, or staff members have come and gone... but its bones are strong, and its soul runs deep. I’d like to believe it is a place that most people would like. It feels like home. 

The food and beverages are consistently good, created from much Wisconsin made or grown product. While they are known for their huge cupcakes, I’m in their dessert game for the brownies. (Side note: if you buy one for your friend’s kids, forget to give it to them, and then find it in your car the next morning -- try not to eat the whole thing for breakfast.) I hadn’t been there in a long time, and was glad to go that day. I sat at the bar, on that quiet sunny late afternoon, and was nourished by the food and spirit of Honey Pie Cafe. 

Sometimes people don't need food when they are hurting. Sometimes they only need you to listen, to hug them, to tell them this sucks, I'm here for you, and we are gonna get through this. Sometimes, you sit next to them and watch them cry out all the tears. Then, once things are empty, we can work on filling them back up. It starts by showing up for the important people in your life. 

It wasn’t under the best conditions, and it certainly wasn’t my intention by any means -- but in showing up for my friend, I ended up also showing up for myself. After all the travel, going to Milwaukee is what gifted me the reboot. Being there for Julie, and a visit to Honey Pie, was what I needed. Well, that… and a little chicken biscuit pot pie.