Archive for the ‘Guests at my Table’ Category

A Savory and Spicy Hospitalitarian*

Where and how do you practice hospitality? Today I'd like to introduce you to someone who has carried her passion for hospitality out of her home and into her workplace.

She is Cindy Jones, owner of Savory Spice Shop, which opened last month in Lafayette Village, a European Shopping Center in Raleigh, NC. Cindy and her husband, Bob made the bold move to be one of the first shops to open in this spanking new plaza and already the business has developed a devoted clientele. The selection of herbs and spices is mesmerizing and Cindy's warmth and personality make you want to savor every moment of your visit. We hit it off immediately and as we chatted yesterday, I tried to discover what it is about people who, like her, seem to have a knack for connecting.

Susan: What was your upbringing like, in terms of your family extending hospitality?

Cindy: My family is Italian; so we spent every weekend at my grandmother's house. There were at least 30 of us that she fed, plus some who were absolute strangers, people off the street. There were always people there who I didn't know and would never see again.

Susan: How did your grandmother become aware of these people needing a meal?

Cindy: I think she belonged to clubs and societies in the church, food pantries, etc., and she would come in contact with someone who had recently immigrated or fallen onto hard times and they were hungry. She just collected people.

Susan: Didn't your grandmother eventually come live with you?

Cindy: Yes, when my grandpa died, she and a great aunt came to live with us. There were seven in my immediate family plus the two of them and later on, two cousins.

Susan: How big was your house?

Cindy: A tiny, four bedroom Cape Cod.

Susan: And what was that like for you as a young teenager?

Cindy: I do remember being overwhelmed by the amount of people around, plus on any given night people would pop over. My grandmother started every day with her rosary and her missal. Now I can't start my day without quiet time first; if that gets interrupted it really throws me off. I rely on it to fill myself with whatever I might need to pour out during the day.

Susan: How was your mother able to feed all those people?

Cindy: She made tons of food, seemingly out of nothing, what she called peasant dishes – pasta with eggs and peas, polenta with red sauce and mushrooms, pasta fagiole on Friday nights. I think her budget made her creative. I remember her saying, "As long as you have pasta in the house, you can make something amazing." 

Food is the way we connected with one another – it was always about the food, sitting around the table, watching grandma roll out the pasta. Today if you walked into my mother's house at 9 pm, she'd say, "Would you like some pasta?" It's like a springboard into conversation. That's how she interacts.

Susan: Did you inherit that gift?

Cindy: When I was newly married I didn't know how to cook. Mother never wanted us standing at her side, it was such a small kitchen. So the cooking part didn't come naturally, but the entertaining part did.

I can't remember when I developed a passion for cooking; it must have been after I had children. What was modeled for me was inherent and I didn't know it was there until I had to retrieve it. I couldn't even cook an egg when I first got married: it was pitiful.

Susan: I've heard you talk about always setting an extra place at the table. Do you mean physically or symbolically?

Cindy: Now that it's just the two of us, I would say symbolically, but when the kids were younger, they knew they were always welcome to invite friends over. It was a way of life. There were never just five of us at the table.

Susan: How did you and Bob go about choosing this business? Did it have anything to do with your passion for hospitality?

Cindy: Hospitality was totally at the center of our decision. Bob is a people person; that is something we share. We sat down and thought about what brings us the most joy. We made a list, put it on paper, talked about family and friends and memories of food and wine and conversation.

We looked at other opportunities but realized we wouldn't be able to interact and get to know people in those environments. When we found Savory Spice Shop, we knew this would be like having people in our kitchen, an extension of our home. People gather around the counter and share their entire lives with us; it blows my mind.

Susan: You and Bob are such warm people; that's a big part of it.

Cindy: The shop is so aromatic; it triggers memories for people and they like to talk about it. .

Susan: How do you go about making customers feel welcomed? It just seems like people open up to you. You're a good listener.

Cindy: It's more that I just have a willingness to listen. I don't know how to explain it, but I feel like I've been given a gift to intuitively see people's hearts when I meet them. I care enough to ask the questions. People really need to be known.

Susan: So your "table" during this season is the shop.

Cindy: Yes. Here I am, passionate about food and having people over to our home and now I don't have time. I'm struggling with not being able to be as spontaneous as I was before, to sit down and have a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a friend, but really, in the shop I have the opportunity to minister to more people than I ever did in my home.

Susan: Any last thoughts?

Cindy: What I came away with through your probing is how deeply shaped we are by those things in our life; I didn't give a lot of thought to it until I first read your blog. It prompted me to remember. If more people just stopped and asked those questions – that's what's important, the willingness to ask the question.

I've been pointing people to your blog because it's about connections and what I think God wants us to do for one another. Caring enough to ask the right questions – the rest comes after that. We were designed for relationships with God and for one another.

Bob and I don't want to waste time anymore on the mundane. We want our work to be valuable and to matter in somebody's life. If it's through food and spices, we want to be able to use what God's put before us. I'm excited about that.


Whether you're writing a blog, running a business, or sitting around the kitchen table, hospitality is about reaching out, in a way that works for you.  Like the Curly character in the movie "City Slickers," we need to know that when all is said and done, there's "Just one thing," that really matters……connecting.

*If you missed the post Hospitalitarian….Whaaaat? then you might be scratching your head wondering if I just made up a word; it is made up, but not by me. It's a recognized word in the hospitality industry these days, originally coined by Danny Meyer, basically referring to someone who in any situation, puts the other person's interests first. Even strangers.


Interview with a Hospitalitarian

Have you ever met a "Hospitalitarian?" Double click to read explanation in yesterday's post.

Each month I'm going to invite a hospitalitarian to join us at The Shared Table – to share their heart, their vision for hospitality, their stories, their secrets and maybe even some recipes! While some of them may have careers in the hospitality industry, most of them are just like you – brave souls who have made the decision to live their lives with an open door policy.

Today I'd like to introduce you to my dear friend Bonnie Jackson. Wife, mother, homemaker, business owner and grandmother, Bonnie embodies the spirit of hospitality; both her house and her heart are an open door. I can't think of a better person to kick this thing off.

Susan: Bonnie, I guess we've been friends for over 30 years now;  one of the first things that struck me about you was the sense of ease you seemed to have about entertaining.I don’t remember ever seeing you flustered. What do you attribute that to?

Bonnie: A lot of it has to do with planning ahead. I've always tried to think of details beforehand so I didn’t have anything to do once my guests arrived.

Susan: So are you saying that you typically serve meals that can be prepared ahead of time?

Bonnie:On occasion I'll do last minute preps but only if they're not too involved because I always think my guests are more important than the food I'm serving. If I have to stand there to read a recipe, I don’t do it. I've always tried to make things that present well but are simple to do.

Susan: You've always seemed very organized; does that come naturally to you or is it something you learned over the years?

Bonnie: I'm by nature organized and have always paid attention to details. Growing up,I did a lot of waitressing and always viewed it as an organizational activity, trying to think ahead of who needed what. One summer during my college years I worked at a very high end resort in Northern Michigan; it was a phenomenal experience. I used to keep cards of hints of things people liked and tried to do little things to please and satisfy the guests, quietly. 

Susan: Do you remember the first time you had people over to your home for a meal?

Bonnie: [laughter] We had our pastor and his wife over for dinner and I made spaghetti. I didn't know how much water to use and basically made noodles you could plaster the walls with.

Susan: I know having people over has always been a regular practice for you and your husband, Greg. Have there been seasons in your life where you were more active that way than others? Is it slowing down now or the same?

Bonnie: It's an ongoing thing, it just looks different now. I've always enjoyed meeting new people, maybe because I've moved so many times in my life. We still host large church functions at our house and have people over for dinner, but now I focus less on perfect meals and more on finding things guests really like; it's more about the fellowship. I still have a penchant towards doing things that I think would bless somebody. I grow a lot of flowers, so I tend to make my own arrangements and put things at people’s places. It's just something I’ve always liked. We do things more casual and less formal than we used to.

Susan: I seem to remember a funny story about unexpected guests.

Bonnie: Greg invited some friends over and forgot to tell me.  I'll never forget going to the door and they were standing there with a bottle of wine. We joked around about it later, but I felt perfectly comfortable serving them what we were going to have; I had made smoked sausage with sauerkraut.. It was more about the fellowship; gathering together was more important to me.

Susan:  I like to describe hospitality as sharing with others the gifts we’ve been given; what do you think is the most obvious gift that you share with others?

Bonnie: I’ve been a new kid very frequently, and know first-hand how important that gesture is of making people feel at home, like they’re part of things. Its hard to grow into a community when you feel like everybody else already knows each other.

Susan:  Do you have any organizational tips for us?

Bonnie: People kid me about my organizational thing; I just try to make little mental notes. I’m observant. Sometimes people say things and I remember their likes and dislikes and I try to incorporate that. Not all people are geared that way. I think prayer has a lot to do with it too, praying that you can be there with your guests. I always try to get to know more about them than I knew before they came.

Susan: Any thoughts on the difference between entertaining and hospitality?

Bonnie: I do think they are really different. Entertaining is more of a form and a program; it's like a three point outline. Hospitality brings more of a subjective element into it where your guest is more important.

Susan: Any final words of wisdom or advice or encouragement?

Bonnie: Don't use busyness as an excuse for not getting together with people. Work will be there tomorrow but the opportunity to get together with somebody might not be.


I love Bonnie's emphasis on being observant. It's about paying attention – fascinating phrase, isn't it? It's going to cost you something – time, money, your heart, but you get so much in return: a new perspective, friendship, stories…..Hospitality is about who you're becoming.

Coming up next: Two recipes from Bonnie's kitchen, that fit right in with our theme of "Expedients" rather than long, involved formulas for failure. You can find them in the categories section under "Dainty Morsels."



Ever heard the term "HOSPITALITARIAN?"

Danny Meyer, the famed New York City restaurateur and author of the book "Setting the Table" coined the term to describe people who believe that nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any transaction.

He defines hospitality further by saying, "Hospitality exists when you believe that the other person is on your side…that they are for you." Meyer attributes his business success to his practice of only hiring hospitalitarians.

Now isn't that interesting? You'd think he would be boasting about all that amazing food. Instead he credits his team – chefs, servers, bus boys and hostesses for creating an atmosphere that entices customers to return time and time again. This year Meyer launched Hospitality Quotient, a learning business which empowers companies to transform their businesses through the power of hospitality.

I'm privileged to know quite a few folks who are worthy of the title "Hospitalitarian" and I'd like to introduce them to you. Each month I'm going to invite one of them to join us at The Shared Table – to share their heart, their vision for hospitality, their stories, their secrets and maybe even some recipes! While some of them may have careers in the hospitality industry, most of them are just like you – brave souls who have made the decision to live their lives with an open door policy.

In tomorrow's post I'd like you to meet my dear friend, Bonnie Jackson. Years ago, my husband nicknamed her "Bonsai" for no reason other than the fact that it made her laugh. But I just discovered something interesting about that nickname which makes it very apropos.

Many people mistakenly think that a bonsai tree is a naturally small tree or plant when in fact it's actually an average tree or plant that has been trained to retain its small size. Hmmm. That is Bonnie in a nutshell. When you're Bonnie's guest, it's never about her – it's about you. 

Bonnie with one of her favorite guests – her granddaughter Annabelle.