At 5 pm on October 9th, 2001, Sybaris was born. Conceived 17 years earlier in an 8th grade English class during a vocabulary lesson when Mr. Cooley announced: “When Bennett grows up, he’ll be a sybarite”. Mr. Cooley was right, but he didn’t say I’d be an employee! Fast forward past high school, college, moving from Michigan to Salem, Oregon, meeting and marrying Janel to opening a restaurant in a small town only known to us cosmopolitan Salemites for its smell and that awesome Hungarian restaurant by the highway…
We were young enough to know that if we lost everything (because it took everything we had to open Sybaris), we could always work for someone else. We knew the hours that would be required. Janel had been a server fifteen years and I had been professionally cooking for the same amount of time. We knew what we wanted to serve, we didn’t know if people wanted to buy it. We also knew who we wanted to work with us, people we had worked with in Salem. Jesse is still here! We knew what it was like to have paychecks bounce and vowed never do that to our people. That is what we knew. The rest we learned as we went along.
At the end of that first October, we were faced with our second payroll. Our friends and family had all eaten here for the first two weeks of the month and that paid the first wave of monthly bills. We didn’t have enough money to advertise, there was no Facebook to alert. Business was slow, to put it politely. We were tapped out personally, had no access to more cash and were almost exactly $1,000 short on payroll. I was preparing to tell the staff that they couldn’t cash their checks the next day. We had only one reservation on that evening’s books and that was just a guy I had worked with in Salem and his mom. They liked their dinners and we chatted a bit about what we had been doing of late (there were no other tables that night). He had become a mortgage broker and said that he wanted to give gift certificates to his clients. Janel asked how many he would like and for what amount. Patrick said, “Ten gift certificates for $100 each should do.” We have never bounced a check.
Chef Matt Bennett