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Food and Beverage and Life and Death

July 1, 2019 | Frank Bonanno

Jacqueline here. Check out that photo. It’s Tommy Lee, from Motley Cru, who, for fun, cooked with Frank on the Mizuna line. Among our chefs in that photo, Alex Seidel owner of Mercantile and Philippe Failyau of Homegrown Tap & Dough. That year, we had our Bonanno Concepts yearly get together at Per Se, and there were 22 of us dining. Today, our family picnic will be nearly 400 people strong, which, holy cow.

Here is, essentially, the message I’d like to share today . . .

When I was in high school, I waited the graveyard shift at Denny’s. It’s how I paid my way through college, a dollar in quarters at a time. One 3 am, bars closing, the people filtering in the door turned into a mob and suddenly every table was full, just me and an old timer waitress named Bridgette. I was running around, as my dad says, like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to remember coffee orders, making shakes, slicing pies, when Bridgette grabbed my arm in the wait station. Jacqueline, she says, calm down. Take a breath. All of those people will still be there in five minutes. This isn’t life or death we’re dealing with, it’s just food and beverage.

That was nearly forty years ago, and I’ve leaned on that wisdom more times than I can count. Stop. Breathe. It isn’t life or death, it’s just food and beverage.

Here’s the thing, though. This is my life.

I spent a good part of the week looking up facts to back up that statement up, that this is my life and I can prove it. I’d like to share some numbers with you, these according to Open Table notes and manager logs:

At our Bonanno Concepts, we’ve had the honor of witnessing 72 marriage proposals.

181 now-married couples have shared first dates with us. One hundred eighty one.

We’ve hosted 18 weddings in our restaurants, 23 rehearsal dinners, and 57 bachelorette parties. We’ve brought our food off site to 53 birthdays, 2 bat mitzvahs, and 4 memorial services. That’s live and death.

Back when a staple menu item at Luca was the Lobster fra Diavola, 7 women came to enjoy it as a means of inducing labor.

We have 10 mezuzahs gifted to us by guests who want our businesses to be blessed, and to call blessings upon those who enter. (How great is that?)

Among our Bonanno Concept family, 26 chefs and general managers have catapulted their experience with us into opening restaurants of their own, among them: Old Major, Fruition, and Park Burger. We have literally shaped the culinary landscape in Denver.

28 Bonanno team members met and married their mates working with us. Erika, from the opening Osteria team, and David, who is currently at the Milk Market are, in fact, getting hitched this summer.

Bonanno Concept marriages have produced 18 babies to date.

My favorite photo of Osteria Marco are the online wedding photos; Denver Milk Market has become instagram famous for visitors showing off the glory of the downtown setting, Mizuna’s yelp photos are full of the beauty of her food and cocktails, and stories of anniversaries and graduations. Green Russell has a following of sexy cocktail photos. The experiences we give to people shape them to the extent that they are photographed, scrapbooked, shared in oral stories and across social media platforms.

Let me share some small anecdotes. The brain surgeon who was the first to separate conjoined twins came to celebrate his success at Luca. On his way in the door, he passed Drew Barrymore –something he shared with me years later when our paths crossed as he was poised to operate on my four year old son.

The night marijuana became legal in Denver, the attorneys who pushed that movement came to celebrate their success at Mizuna. After dinner, we had to ask them to stop smoking on the Vesper patio. Mizuna feet have been outfitted by Nike and Crocs, as thank you’s from their teams for outstanding experiences; Wrangler wanted their brand on Milk Market butts; Michelle Obama had Lou’s cater Airforce 2. I could go on, but back to that old adage

It isn’t life and death, it’s just food and beverage. That’s a bunk statement. We are shaping lives. We are the backdrop for beginnings and endings and the whole range of celebrations and passions in between. I met my husband across a line; there are people in this room I’ve known for twenty years–more–because of this life in food and service. You, all of you, are part of my marriage, we have venues named for our sons, our sons work among you, and in some ways you are my children. Or my friends. Because it’s all life and death and food and beverage, and I am honored to be in the thick of it with you.