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After years of working his way from cooking in kitchens in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to owning his own small business, Ian Gormley feels forced to hang up his apron.
”We rolled with the punches, changed gears when we needed to, and I stayed cooking for the people when it was physically hard,” Gormley, 33, told me on a recent call. “I’ve been trying to think of ‘what’s next’ for the last two or three months. Am I still able to work on a line 40 to 50 hours a week? Or do I have to leave this industry altogether?”
Gormley and his wife Morgan announced on social media this week that they are shutting down their pop-up business Our Table Barbecue (which is not affiliated with the restaurant in Jamestown). The pandemic was tough, but diners came out in droves to support any and all food-related businesses well into 2022, he said.
They opened the pop-up in 2019. The pandemic hit four months later.
But last summer, something shifted. The crowds started to dwindle, with diners trading temporary kitchens for traditional sit-down restaurants. After speaking with other “micro-businesses” like pop up chefs and food trucks, Gormley said he started to notice a pattern.
“I don’t want to say people forgot us micro-businesses, but it seems like the trend is gone. It’s hard to get the same kind of audience,” Gormley said. He had been planning an expansion, setting up a permanent shop at Buttonwoods Brewery in Cranston. But things weren’t working out.
Sales were decreasing. A major piece of equipment needed to be replaced. He had to take on a few small loans just to buy ingredients to cook and serve. And his mental and physical health were starting to decline.
Gormley was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in July 2020, but he said his doctors think he may have had it for years before then. He used to be a long-distance runner, but there were mornings where he would wake up and could barely move his legs.
”It got to the point where I would be in the middle of service and get these migraines that would feel like I would need to get away from everything. But you can’t do that in this industry. I’d power through,” he said.
He started changing his habits, hoping it would help him get through a shift at his own business: hydrate more, eat better, get more sleep, and lower his stress. But realized that this was just how things were going to be from now on.
Gormley realized he loved cooking when he started working at Erbaluce in Boston, under the direction of executive chef and owner Charles Draghi. “And I said then that I wouldn’t accept a job unless I’m cooking,” Gormley said.
Now, he may have to.
”This is something I poured absolutely everything into and it breaks my heart to have to do it,” he shared on Instagram. “With bills still stacking up and just working on trying to feel better, I had to start weighing the fact that I may not be able to keep cooking as a career anymore.
“Honestly, it really sucked... Having worked so damn hard to get here, all to think about having to start over from scratch and not even knowing where to begin,” he continued.
Our Table Barbecue’s last pop-up is June 24 at the Industrious Spirit Company’s distillery in Providence.