Finally, the day I've been waiting for these last two years has ARRIVED!
What day is that you may ask?
Well, today is the day I give up on what society tells me to do. Today is the day I decide to be an adventurer, an entrepreneur, and a risk-taker. Today is the day I throw domestic & conservative values right out the window, and shake up the idea about what it is you're supposed to be doing in your thirties. Today is the day I get in my home/school bus and chase after my new life as a food & beverage blogger.
Nearly all my adult life I've worked with or around food. I've been in the restaurant industry for 13 years, working in six different restaurants. And when I say I've been in the restaurant industry, I mean I've been IN the restaurant industry. Greeting guests, mixing drinks, taking orders, taking attitude, serving food, dealing with complaints, managing waitlists, polishing glasses, breaking glasses, cleaning tables, cutting lemons, & buying ugly black rubber shoes. Believe me, I've been in the restaurant industry. Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of good to be found in this line of work, and I’m not just talking about the tip money. Some of the most hard-working, passionate, thick-skinned & genuine people I've ever met, have been coworkers of mine. I've even met some of my truest friends from serving in restaurants. The kind of friends that you’ll continue to hang out with, even after you stop working at the same place. And I’ve had some fantastic nights out with my restaurant friends, the kind of nights that make you feel like you're living out some bad 80s teen movie. But working in restaurants day in & day out, dealing with people every day, it can be a little rough on the soul.
I’m just gonna say it, people aren’t all that great. And we in the restaurant business tend to interact with people in their worst mood: hungry. The ‘hanger' is real. When people are hangry, their brains go to mush, and they're likely to do or say things they’ll end up regretting the next day, or as soon as they finish their caesar salad (no croutons, dressing on the side). But hey, we've all been there too. I know I've acted like a 5-year-old because the food didn’t find its way into my mouth in a timely manner. It's quite ridiculous actually, but as I've said, I get it. But there’s a fine line between being hangry or just straight up being a rude & inconsiderate person. I've worked as a bartender, server, host, busser, & cashier for over a decade now, & in different restaurants. I've also been sexually harassed, catcalled, sworn at, verbally abused, & physically harmed, all by customers, at EVERY single restaurant I've ever worked in. That is BEYOND ridiculous!
I have an associates & a bachelors degree in photography, I graduated with highest honors, and I even received the photography award for my class. So why was I putting up with all this crap? Well, when you come home from work at the end of the night with $300 in your pocket...It's a little hard to walk away from. Plus, once you leave the restaurant, that's it, you can‘t really take your work home with you (Unless you count remembering you forgot that table’s second beer just as you’re falling asleep..) It's almost like being in a play. You show up, give your performance, go home, and come back and do it all again the next day. And so that’s what I did, all the while trying to be a photographer, doing little jobs here and there, but nothing really panned out because I was getting really comfortable with my job in the restaurant.
I mean sure, I didn't really want to be bartending or serving tables... but I was, well, really good at it, and making some decent money doing it. Dealing with the public, being able to multi-task, keeping things clean & organized, being extremely personable & friendly even when things got rough; I thrived. Because at the end of the day, I really did care about the restaurant I worked in, and I cared about doing my job well, giving the customer a good experience. I began settling into the job, getting comfortable with my life as it was, and slowly began to lose my drive for photography. Before I knew it, I was a full-time bartender. More than full-time actually, I had overtime coming out of my ears because I worked so much. It seemed like this was the way my life was going to pan out...Then one day, I met someone that had similar values & a respect for the restaurant industry like I had...another struggling artist even.
His name is Chris Boudrow, my now partner.
We met in Gloucester, MA, working together in a restaurant by the ocean; I was a bartender, he was a server. He was also a very talented graphic designer, but like me, he was addicted to the foodservice lifestyle. Through our mutual love of art, we became fast friends. After working together on the seaside for two years, we moved to the other end of the state with another mutual friend to Berkshire County. We did the Three's Company thing and me & Chris both got jobs in the same restaurant again, only this time we were both servers. We also upgraded to a fine dining restaurant. White tablecloths, candlesticks, real silverware, the whole nine yards. This particular restaurant was big into the ‘farm to table‘ movement. Everything from the lamb to the lettuce was all sourced locally, and the menu changed based on what was in season at that time of year. The Berkshires as a whole was full of great restaurants serving up locally sourced food whenever possible. And those dishes were SO beautiful! There was such a care taken with each dish's preparation that you had no choice but to call it art. Every day I would come into work, delivering masterpieces to table after table, soon enough a spark lit up inside me. I started bringing my camera to work, trying to capture that feeling when the plate first gets to your table. The chefs at work soon took notice. Before I knew it, they were personally asking me to come to take pictures for them. Yeah, I could get used to this...
So then I really started to dive into food photography, I began to pick up jobs here and there. First, it was just dinner events, but then chefs began to contact me directly. Needless to say, I was quickly falling in love with it. I updated my resume, made a new food portfolio, and started actively looking for food photography jobs. I applied to anything and everything I could find and was getting interview after interview, I was crushing it....but that call back never came. More often then not, I lost the job to someone who was twice my age with more experience behind a camera than I had just been alive! Beyond frustrating.
Meanwhile, me and Chris were working like crazy at the restaurant, oftentimes working back to back double shifts (lunch & dinner, go in at 10AM, leave at midnight) for a week straight. We were overworked and quickly realizing fine dining really wasn't our 'thing.' Everything just feels so pretentious and disingenuous, and let's not even mention the clientele... So in order to escape and keep our sanity in check, we would go out to breweries & pubs, basically places that were a nice chill spot for a good beer & some food. Being in the foodservice industry ourselves, we couldn’t help but talk shop with the bartender or server. Plus once you’ve worked in a restaurant, you can never go to another without watching what’s going on behind the scene. We would catch ourselves critiquing what was happening around us. "do they use CUBED ice?", "They mirrored the bar!", "Ohh... Cricket Creek Farm is a good one!" "those plates are practically spill-proof".
Once my love of food photography blossomed, it just made sense to start bringing my camera with me whenever me & Chris went out. Chris himself was even catching the same artistic bug that bit me. He began doodling on napkins as he waited for me to stop taking pictures so he could eat. Doodling turned to sketching, which moved into drawing, and soon enough he was making posters, mock menus, and illustrations. He began to screen print again, something he hadn’t picked up in years. There was something starting to take root in us, something exciting and new, and I'm not just talking about falling in love.
With each restaurant I worked in, there was always one thing that never changed. I've heard the same stories of regret, of chances missed. Stories about how they wished they took 'that job' halfway across the country or how they wished they took that a leap of faith and started their own business. And just like the stories themselves, I’ve heard the same excuses about how obligations & commitments to friends & family prevented them from seeing those dreams through. My parents are one such tale. Don’t get me wrong, they are very successful at what they do and have worked tirelessly to get to where they are today. But despite all their accomplishments, they both wish they took that risk when they had the chance. Why didn't they? Well, unfortunately, they needed the security of a steady job, after all, they had two young daughters to raise. Again, I don’t blame them, I couldn't be more grateful for what my parents have done for me and the sacrifices they've made on my behalf. But a piece of my heart dies whenever I hear about the opportunities they had to pass up, in order to keep that steady paycheck. So in a way, I feel like I owe it to my parents to do something exciting and risky because they never could. So by golly, I'm going to do something about it!
Between my photography, Chris‘ illustrations & designs, our foodservice expertise, and coupled with every 20-something’s innate desire to go on a road trip, Good Bites & Glass Pints was born. We quit our jobs at the fancy restaurant and found work at other ones that were more our style. Suddenly the air seemed fresher, people were nicer, and our time off tripled! We had more time than ever to do what we loved, and so we just kept at it. I photographed every plate that passed my eye, Chris continued making illustrations of the places we visited, and together we began writing reviews on these places we would go to. The one rule we had was simple: if we don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all. We understood that a single bad review can outweigh 20 good ones for a business, and a restaurant, as unfair as it is, depends on those reviews in order to survive. So now we had a purpose; to help promote restaurants and breweries through our photos, designs, and glowing reviews.
So, we're a couple of millennials that decided to start their own food/drink blog business, Good Bites & Glass Pints. We wanted to seek out and travel to all these really awesome restaurants & just blog about them by Summer 2019...But how?
Well, Transportation is key.
If we were always going out to eat, it makes sense to really try and save money on hotels/motels. So we thought to ourselves, we should have a bed inside of our vehicle.
And so we began looking at RVs, VW Buses, Hightop Conversion Vans, Painter Vans, etc. What we found was that either, they were really nice but way too expensive, in our price range but needed a lot of work (so more money), some didn't have enough headroom (Chris is tall), not enough windows (I'm a bit claustrophobic), or it wasn't all that safe on the road, etc, etc..
We were calling dealerships, used car lots, it didn't seem as though we'd be able to get this blog on the road... then we heard about ’skoolies’. We weighed the pros & cons of converting a school bus & before we knew it, we were out shopping for a bus!! Even WE thought we were crazy... yet strangely enough, it just felt right.
We knew that converting a school bus was going to be difficult, but with our drive & a desire to change our lives for the better? We were fairly confident in ourselves. We had just found our perfect bus: Diesel engine, short, five-row seats, 2008, 140k miles and even better still, it was only an hour away from us. We got to see it in person and Chris actually got to test drive it! Our spirits were high, we had a dream in our hearts, and our confidence was unwavering.... That is until I lost my job.
It was...discouraging, to say the least. But we saw our dream before us and there was no way I was going to let that get us down. Luckily, I was able to get a job where Chris worked. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for me to get by for the time being. We had to move some money around and sacrificed a lot of dinners & everyday luxuries, but we finally bought our bus. As soon as it graced our driveways, that same confidence & energy we had before I lost my job came rushing back to us. We were ready. We knew there was a lot of hard work ahead of us, since we had to delay buying the bus, and lost two months of conversion time. We were in a time crunch, to say the least. I didn't even get to see my family for a solid six months because I refused to give up time working on converting this bus. So for three days every week, we were out there working on that bus, rain or shine (or FREEZING temps!).
We started the conversion process in January, and in the Berkshires– that means temperatures in the negatives! It was hard just to keep warm those first couple of months. Fortunately, lifting up the floorboards was so difficult & exhausting, that we would end up taking our jackets off just to cool down. Seriously, I have never used that much of my own strength & energy just trying to remove the original floor. At one point I let out this primal warrior cry while trying to remove this one stubborn floorboard; as if I was trying to tap into some hidden strength. It totally worked! Once everything was completely gutted, the building process commenced.
We installed foam insulation, a new subfloor, then laminate flooring over that. Layer by layer a Skoolie was coming together. Me & Chris were beyond ecstatic! I LOVED seeing the furniture being built before me. Looking around our apartment now, I find myself thinking "why did I spend $50 on a nightstand...I can build that!" As we were building, our creative minds really kicked into overdrive, because when you think about it, this whole bus conversion was one big art project. The teal, orange & light blue color scheme was very carefully & purposefully done. Any surface that’s underneath, inside or generally hidden from sight, was painted orange; walls & beams are painted light blue, and all accents & other surfaces are teal. That way when you stand inside the bus, it’s all teal & light blue, but as soon as you sit down, all the orange reveals itself. All according to plan.
With the beer bottle cap steps, I wanted to keep the same mentality of a restaurant for when guests enter. For me, the host is the most important part of any restaurant. When anyone first walks into a new place, they make an assessment within the first 10 seconds...and if it's not a greeting, people will immediately feel unwelcome. The host is also the last person a customer sees and will be the last thing they remember about the restaurant, it really summarizes the customer’s whole experience.
So with that in mind, I wanted people/customers/clients to get a GREAT first impression when they enter our bus/home/office. Our name is Good Bites & Glass Pints, how cool would it be to see beer bottle cap stairs when you first meet us?
I also made it a point to change all hardware and anything that was plain metal, to gold. The color of steel didn’t match the color scheme as well as gold did. And if any wood was going to be unpainted, like tabletops & cabinets, they were stained a dark mahogany, so everything felt very cozy. And for me, there’s nothing cozier than a stay at Trapp Family Lodge, in Stowe, Vermont. I love being up in the mountains surrounded by beautiful birch trees; there is seriously no better place to be. So I wanted to bring that sense of happiness with me everywhere, and so around our kitchen countertop, we installed a birch bark trim (taken from fallen trees) and even added a handmade birch tree branch as part of our ceiling treatment.
All these pieces come together to make our artfully creative ‘Blog Bus’. Me & Chris both strapped on our overalls, and toiled away on this bus for weeks on end. While he was taking an angle grinder to the walls, I was right there ripping out the floor with a crowbar. Let’s not forget all the marketing thus far, the stories, the photos, the time-lapse videos, the build, the painting, the organizing & the scheduling. I have never worked so hard in my life, and I have never been so proud of myself. Even though we did the entirety of the build by ourselves, we would be remiss not to acknowledge all the help we got from others.
From co-workers & family, old friends & new, friends of friends, acquaintances, customers, bosses & managers, old co-workers, neighbors, even regulars at my bar...we received so much love & support. You guys are seriously the reason we've made it this far. There were days when we worked well into the cold bitter nights of February when all I wanted to do was cry. Those little words of encouragement kept that fire in me going. The people that have done school bus conversions are the strongest people ever, and I still can't believe we were able to do it.
I also want to thank our bosses at 20 Railroad Public House. Bry, she managed schedules for me & Chris to make sure we always had days off so we could work on the bus. If we ever needed anything, she was there. Eric, my bar manager, really gave me so much knowledge of the cocktail world. Knowledge that I’ll always have and will be incredibly beneficial for the blog. Eric never doubted that I was a hard worker, and once he saw the bus, he was overblown. Sean, Chris' boss deserves thanks, as he was the one that got us the job at 20 Railroad in the first place. He too was glad to share his expertise with Chris and was a steadfast supporter. Most of all, we must thank Ben Downing, the owner of 20 Railroad. Not only did he make sure me & Chris had work through the dreary winter months, but he also lent us so many tools, that without, we would have never been able to build our Skoolie. He really was our savior throughout this whole journey & I will never forget how much he did for me & Chris.
That being said, I'm SO nervous, excited, scared, overjoyed & exhausted. We did this on SUCH a tight budget. We were making even less money than we ever have last winter. To not break the bank, we definitely got creative with our build, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. So PLEASE, if you love what we are doing, love our bus & want to help a couple of starving artists, please consider being one of our sponsors or just lend a couple of bucks towards our 'Go Fund Me' page. Every little bit will help us make our dreams come true.
And so....today is the day. After two long years, I'm off doing what I said I would be doing. Traveling down the east coast, working & living on my blog bus with my best friend by my side. Here you’ll find our stories, photos, illustrations, & screenprints of Good Bites & Glass Pints. We are so excited & we are ready to take off on our journey we've been working so hard towards. One thing I can say... I'm a woman of my word.
Some photographs of friends & family before we head out!
Photographs by: Charles Voner (my father).
Good Bites & Glass Pints © 2019
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