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Globe Magazine

To Obi. And Yonny. And all the people at the heart of restaurants

They face stakes as high as any job, and gratitude doesn’t come close to defining what we all feel.

Staff at work at Porto, a restaurant in Boston.
Staff at work at Porto, a restaurant in Boston.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Christopher Myers and Joanne Chang.
Christopher Myers and Joanne Chang.Kristin Teig

Obi.

Obi Nwokedi.

Obi Nwokedi from Nigeria.

Obi Nwokedi from Nigeria comes to work in a restaurant every day during a pandemic.

Every day. With Yonny from Colombia. Ashley from the Philippines. Dina from El Salvador. Nate from Michigan by way of Vietnam.

Obi comes to work, he is life support, his attendance keeps blood trickling into a delicate economic heart. Offering hope that it can recover. From oven lights gone dark. An industry is out of work, its safety nets as scarce as lifeboats on the Titanic. If the lights come back on, even one bulb at a time, more people can come back to work. The numbers play out—in the tens of millions of rescued jobs.

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“When things are safer.”

That’s the entire unknowable calculus.

The awkward inelegance of curbside dining in America. A barely opened door, a bag handed off to a cautious masked “guest?” Everyone still scared. As if Obi, a Black man in America, an American, didn’t already have enough to be scared about, just leaving the house, or even inside his own house. Every day Obi comes to work. With Jose, Rose, Danny, Laura, Chris, Yeirson, each one a light, a no-longer-freaked-out but still exhausted, breathing flicker. Stakes as high as any job anywhere. Lose your focus, lose a finger. Bring a virus home, lose your grandmother. They are bulbs still lit. If you’re walking down the street, any street, see a restaurant, peek in.

See the flickering.

Gratitude doesn’t come close to defining what we all feel. For Obi. For all the Obis. In Boston, across America, restaurants are sputtering back to life on the support he brings. Taking risks every day. Dodging droplets on a subway. To keep a business alive. To keep themselves alive.

Wake up. Find your feels. On the other side of gratitude, some lights are still on.

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Joanne Chang and Christopher Myers are co-owners of Myers + Chang restaurant and Flour Bakery + Cafe.