THE SOUND OF MY phone vibrating jolted me out of a dead sleep.
“Hello,” I mumbled groggily.
“Hi Chris. I’m sorry to bother you so late.” It was Lindsey, one of our longtime staff members. Her voice was shaking.
“I wanted to let you know there’s been an incident.”
I woke up in a hurry. She told me an employee had been attacked outside the restaurant. Pete (not his real name) had been smoking a cigarette when a passerby struck him in the back of the head with a metal pipe. No one had witnessed the attack; they only became aware when they heard Pete—lying prone and bleeding from the head— tapping on the side door.
“Is he okay?” I said.
“I’m not sure,” she replied.
The staff had called 911 and was waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Lindsey—like me—was afraid of blood and was hiding in the brewhouse, making calls while the other employees attended to Pete’s injuries. They had dragged him inside and were holding bar towels to his head.
“What can I do?” I asked Lindsey, inertly.
“There’s really nothing you can do tonight,” she said. “We’ve got it handled as best as we can.”
I tossed and turned through a fitful night of “sleep.” Six hours later, my business partner Max and I somberly arrived at work. Max spotted a smear of blood on the door the staff had missed and wiped it off. We drove to the hospital together where we found Pete in his bed, sedated with 40 fresh staples in the back of his head. His pillow was covered in dried blood. We were sickened.
We spent the morning speaking to neighbors and anyone who might have seen something the night before. We didn’t know what else to do—there was no playbook for this kind of thing. Our team’s safety had never been called into question before. Our business was located in a neighborhood with a decades old (but mostly anecdotal) “rough” reputation, but there had never been an actual act of violence on our property.
That night, Max and I stayed with the staff until close. Armed with baseball bats, we walked each staff member to their car. The police were on call. I spoke to the local news and all I could think to express was confusion. But inside I was angry. Angry that this happened. Angry I hadn’t been there to stop it. But most of all, angry that after everything we had given to our neighborhood, it was (presumably) a neighbor that had done this to us.
The anger soon gave way to guilt. What could we have done better? More lights in the parking lot? Surveillance cameras? Security guards? All of which were good ideas, but none of which would have likely prevented the incident, which occurred without warning or pretext.
Seven days later, the police made an arrest. It turned out the alleged assailant—who lived only a few houses away—was a troubled man with a long rap sheet and well-documented mental problems. His sister tipped off the police when she overheard him confessing the crime to her dog. He was locked up in county jail and his attorney was given 15 months to determine whether or not he possessed the mental capacity to stand trial. His incarceration, though necessary, was little solace; justice delayed being justice denied. After awhile, my feelings about the attacker turned into something resembling pity.
It’s human nature; to try and make sense out of the senseless. So Max and I did the things that made sense to us. We installed security cameras. We worked with the insurance company to bring about the best possible financial outcome. But it all felt so hollow. We had been reminded in tragic fashion that the world—even our cushy craft corner—is a capricious place. It was a terrible and empty feeling.
What brought us through this painful chapter was our staff. They didn’t dwell on what had happened like I had; they put all their energy into ensuring Pete’s well being. They visited him daily, both in the hospital and his home. They brought him food, books and movies. They organized the GoFundMe (though the company’s insurance took care of all medical costs) which covered Pete’s rent and living expenses while he recovered. Donations poured in from customers and the entire hospitality community. Bar and restaurant employees, who saw their own vulnerability reflected in the incident, spread the information widely. The staff communicated with donors and provided updates along the way.
Their efforts—not mine—allowed the company to get through this experience, and even come out stronger for it. 89 days later, doctors cleared Pete and he returned to work. I couldn’t imagine what would make him want to come back to the place where he was nearly killed. But I understand now.
This didn’t happen to one of us. It happened to all of us. And the staff’s actions after the fact demonstrated that.
We had shared a life-changing experience; albeit a terrible one. But traumatic bonds are often deeper than pleasant ones. We had been visited by mortality. We had shared pain and love. And though we all wish it never happened, we went from a close knit group to a tribe. We were now #mittenstrong.