It’s been a very long day for some reason today. I got up late, (8 AM) and never seemed to catch up. The restaurant business runs me, I don’t run it. Every day a new problem or an old problem is waiting on my arrival. We have an old historic restaurant building and it just seems to enjoy presenting me with a challenge every morning I walk in. Today the business got my full attention and wore me out.

So I have taken a break, it is now 5 PM and I have had a nap and after waking, some restless feelings. I know I am putting in my hours but I wonder if I am giving my business my best hours and effort. I find when I am around the same job place and job for long periods; I lose my flame, my spark, my drive …. And sometimes my mind.

I’ll say “Jay, have you lost your mind”? to myself and yes is the only answer I can give…. sometimes. Usually it is my own expectations that drive me crazy, because evidently they are too high for others to reach because even I can’t reach them.

I have always considered my #1 job, at my restaurant, to be providing consistent, fixed the same way every time, excellent American foods: the best you have ever eaten,… Ever, ever. This goal is my daily challenge. Every plate is an opportunity for me to dazzle my diners with more than they expected. My next plate is my next challenge. Then the ice maker goes down, the server is late, the smoke alarm low battery indicator starts beeping in the dining room, the phone rings, and 2 people are waiting to pay and 2 just sat down…. And I’m cooking while running here and there.

No, I am not the only person in the building, but I am the only person in the building that can handle all this and so I do, and do the best I can, which is far from perfect. If I get mad it doesn’t help me or my food or my help. But I still do, because I am so “sensitive” about my food, service and business. It hurts me when things don’t get done right, and right is the way I have taught others to do it.

So it’s been a long day and now I am sitting at home and Diana is handling dinner service, but my mind is still there hoping and wondering if excellence is being served.

Work is always affected by the things going on in my world and some days it becomes quite a challenge to appear happy and interested in my customers. This week it is an operation on my wife’s Mom, I had surgery to remove some skin cancer off my face and arm, my sister faces surgery March 1st and my Dad worries me as he battles Parkinson’s and the struggles of aging.

My children and my self feel the heavy weight of the recession and our bills are piled up to the sky; bills that were no problem paying just three years ago. Now some bills must wait and they are the ones that cause the stress. It feels good to pay bills, but it feels bad when you still have bills in your hand but your hand with the dollar bills is empty.

So when each day is done for me, I sit for a moment and reflect and try to refocus. Did I do the best I could today and was that excellent? No, I wasn’t excellent today, that’s why it was so long. Did I do my best? I think I did.

A friend stopped by my house while I was writing this and I put my pen away and we talked. She was seeking advice, or my thoughts, about a situation she must face – speaking to a friend who has made some bad choices and must soon make a good choice or the consequences will destroy her friend; a friend in denial, living a lie only she believes, anymore.

So we talked, and I listened, and I quietly concluded nearly everyone has the same set of problems. And the ones that seem to be helpless to their set of problems are spiritually empty. We are mind, body, spirit and soul, a complete person is made of these.

I see bodies weakened by alcohol and drug abuse, overeating and under eating, smoking, lack of exercise and disease. I see minds that think negative and defeated thoughts; I see idle minds and minds that cannot remember; I see open and closed minds and I see jealous and mean minds. I often wonder how people see my mind.

I hope people see my mind through my soul and heart. But I pay it no mind if I believe in me and my actions.

Today was long, but not bad, just not perfect. I spoke at a funeral not long ago where I said perfection in life is not the goal, happiness is. So I apply that to myself daily and I ask myself, were you happy today? Did I seek happiness today?

And yes is the answer I come up with. I love to work and I love to play, I love to cook, and I love to please others with my cooking. But I am a simple man and only a man and for me to have a good day, I must feed the spirit as well as the body. I truly feel best when I realize I am helping someone. So I looked around and saw all those who need me and my business.

My employees love their paycheck and most love their jobs and need their jobs. But showing up on time gets hard to do, and giving their all or best is not always possible for them, because of what’s going on in their world. But come 2 o’clock on Friday, they arrive, never late, to pick up their checks. And I smile on the inside as I hand out each person’s wages, knowing I have helped them and their family and I see they can arrive on time when they get paid.

I see, if I don’t put my best effort out there, why should they? I am in the business of feeding the body, soul food, with love and great care. I am happiest when someone says, “Jay, that’s the best (steak, shrimp or chicken pot pie) I have ever had.”

Ever? Ever, ever? I think, and I smile on the inside and thank them for enjoying my cooking and restaurant. And I love going into the kitchen and telling my cooks of their success and how proud I am of them.

And as I compliment or correct my staff, wife, or customer, I either feed their spirit or I take some of it away. Compliments feed a spirit, correction feeds the mind and weak spirits are weakened by the correction. It is my job to correct but it is also my job to compliment and encourage. Nearly everyone I have hired won their job by the look in their eyes and their special set of needs at the time they asked for a job. I listen to their story and I can tell when it’s real, usually, and when it’s not. I seem to be the answer to their needs, even if I don’t have a spot open or know what they can or will do… the mind tries to talk business sense into me flashing $ signs in my head; the ones I will be handing out at 2 on Friday to this person. And sometimes the mind wins but usually the mind knows I will be happiest by yielding to the soul’s desire to help.

Now comes the conflict between Jay the Person and Jay the Boss. Boss says to Person, can this person do excellent work, because Jay the Boss will be very unhappy if average is the best this person will be able to offer the Broken Spoke Restaurant. Jay the Person says, sure they can if they see me and my team doing excellent work. Jay the Boss knows how difficult it is to set an excellent example of work ethic, pride in performance, and endurance each day, over and over and over.

The conflict ends when it gets to this point and I usually hire the person to do something or pass on the information of a place that is hiring and call ahead for them. So many come by, asking for work, yet so few really want it or the responsibility that comes with it, and the long, very long days.

And as I listen to the folks that eat in our restaurant, or work in our restaurant, or ask to work in our restaurant, I see the ones that struggle with work and happiness are the ones who seem spiritually empty. I can just see it in them, just as I can see one with spirit; it’s as plain as day and night to me, but not to them. They seem to always blame their situation on someone else and how “you just don’t understand” and more often than not, they lie to themselves so well they live lies. They constantly lie and think no one knows they are lying.

So I try not to lie. And as I write this I am humbled by the spirit in me that allows me to be loved and valued without being perfect. I hope to someday be able to accept all things and be mad never more but until I get out of the restaurant business, I will not accept average work as good enough.

So I’m gonna go to bed early, get up early and do better tomorrow and ensure my happiness by throwing out there some excellent work, inspired creations of food for the body, and give my love to my wife and my soul to U, through soul food.

My Momma taught me how to cook with soul and Mama Vera (my Dad’s mom) taught her and those were to of the happiest people I ever met. They knew all along mind, spirit, soul and body are all fed around a dinner table, and it made them happiest when they dished out lunch or dinner to family and friends. So in essence, Momma taught me how to be happy and that makes me happy. Happy to feed your mind, body, spirit and soul with a piece of cornbread and fried chicken, a prayer of thanks, a dose of table manners and parental respect. That happened at my dinner table every night when I was under Mom and Dad’s roof; and I am thankful for it.

And it made us all happy, when Momma was happy. So I’ll cook on cause it makes me happy and happiness trumps perfection every time.

Even though it was a long, long day, I was very happy … it was over. Until I started writing this and my day was to be happily even longer. How much fun can one guy have … and I answer a very long day of it; a very long day.