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Backstage with The Arcada’s Ron Onesti: “Simple Pleasures” During Complex Times

Ron Onesti:  “Simple Pleasures” during complex times

Nine months…thirty-six weeks…252 days…6,048 hours…and counting!  That’s how long we have been on this crazy lockdown thing!  But I am still maintaining a positive outlook, knowing in my heart that this should all come to some resolve soon.

An obvious takeaway from all of this is the level of appreciation we will have for the things we’ve been missing once we get them back.  The live shows, big dinners, family get togethers-how good they will be!  We can only imagine how wonderful those voices from the 60s and 70s are going to sound!  (Not just the musical eras, but the age groups as well!)

I was recently able to get a shoe shine.  I forgot just how relaxing and wonderful they are!  My guy was about seventy years old and we reminisced about the “old days” of music.  He was all about jazz, blues and R&B.  We literally sang Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” in unison.  I’m thinking of taking it on the road!  Typically I travel quite a bit, and I always would try and “treat myself” by adding a bit of “shoe shine-time” to my airport experience.  A simple pleasure I have enjoyed for years, and miss greatly today.

Of course, the concerts themselves are greatly missed by us all.  But for me, it is the few moments before the acts go on that are most special to me.  It is the time when entertainers are most vulnerable.  They are at the peak of their nervousness-slash-excitement level.  They are drawing energy from within, “psyching” themselves up.  The anticipation from the crowd covers the stage like the dry ice fog that sometimes creeps across the stage floor.

We usually hug, high-five or smile at each other as they walk onto the stage.  Sometimes it has been a group hug, prayer or ceremonial chant.  I have been invited into this very private inner-circle on a few occasions.  The Temptations welcomed me into their prayer circle before their show.  Eddie Money put his arm on my shoulder as the band shared their pre-show pep rally.  There have been many of these.  I miss them incredibly!

There is this little Italian coffee shop that I have been frequenting for over thirty years.  It is about thirty minutes from my house, but almost every Sunday, I typically would get up about 7 am, put on my “Sunday” comfy sweat suit, and read the paper over a Tuscan cappuccino.  Another simple pleasure I am not allowed to enjoy right now.

I guess that’s ok anyway since I have been watching my “boyish figure” lately and trying to pull back on visits to Portillo’s.  But when you take into consideration their luscious chocolate cake or a small bowl of Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche ice cream while watching classic Cubs’ games on the Marquee network…I would say that almost “defines” simple pleasures.

Most of you who know me know that I love to cook. The recipes at all our restaurants are the result of my family experiences, or hours upon hours taste-testing in our kitchens.  Besides all the obvious stuff I miss about having our restaurants closed is the ability to create incredible experiences for our guests.

Sometimes I would just walk up to a newly-seated table with six or so guests.  I would say, “put the menus away”, I am cooking dinner for you.  It would bring the excitement of the dining experience up a few notches!  Then, I would disappear into the depths of the kitchen, only to emerge with spectacular non-menu specials that I have wanted to try.  People love the experience, and I love the people!  (This is killing me!)

Remember when the guy slicing your deli meats would offer up a sample to make sure the salami was thin enough, or you could walk past the lady at the supermarket offering pieces of sausage on a toothpick?  The “sampling” concept NEEDS to come back!

But I guess the simplest of pleasures that I miss most is the one these ever-so-effective facemasks have robbed from us.  The pleasure of the smiles I would get from our beloved customers, the music fans.  I cannot tell you how much those smiles mean to me, whether it is specifically targeted towards me, or that of a sing-a-long music fan in the front row.  God, how I miss those!

I think all we can do right now is to define what “simple pleasures” make us happy and try to squeeze a few of those in as much as we can.  For me, as long as I still have a closet full of dull shoes, I can get through this pandemic!