Welcome to another episode of Makers of Minnesota! In today’s episode, we have a special guest, Mathew Batt, the author of “The Last Supper Club, A Waiters Requiem.” We dive into his book, which showcases his experience working at a renowned restaurant that unfortunately closed its doors. Stephanie, our host, chats with Mathew about his background, his time in the restaurant industry, and the memorable characters he encountered along the way.
They discuss the ups and downs of working in hospitality, the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, and even the importance of mental health in this line of work. Join us for this insightful conversation that captures the essence of the restaurant industry and the incredible people who make it come alive. Get ready to be inspired and entertained as we delve into Mathew Batt’s fascinating journey in the world of hospitality. This is an episode you won’t want to miss!
WHAT FOLLOWS IS A SHOW TRANSCRIPT:
Hello, everybody, and welcome to Dishing with Stephanie’s Dish. I’m Stephanie Hanson. Good morning. I am here with Matthew Batt, and he has written a book called The Last Supper Club, A Waiters Requiem. And he was published by the Minnesota Historical Press, which is my publisher too. So I was excited to get your book because I feel like we haven’t had a good waiter story in a while and it’s high time. So welcome to the program.
Mathew Batt [00:00:42]:
Thanks, Stephanie. Great to be here.
Yeah. Can you give people a little bit of your backstory about What it is that you’re writing about? You’re writing about the restaurant that you worked at that a lot of us will know that closed and kinda your experience there.
Mathew Batt [00:00:59]:
Sure. So, basically, it started, when I was on sabbatical from my university teaching job and discovered after A few months that, it turns out a 50% pay cut is actually quite a lot of money. And so I was absolutely broke. Needed to pay my son’s Daycare expenses and, you know, just about everything. So I fell back on the only job that I knew I could get, that I knew I was qualified for and could, you know, get money quick, and that was waiting tables. And that just happened to align at the same time the, Surly Brewing Company was opening its, not only its destination brewery, but also, on the 2nd floor, this fancy high end restaurant that would end up be calling being called the brewers table. And I got hired there to, basically be kind of like a, I don’t know. Like, a free safety or something just to work when somebody, needed a night off or to otherwise, just be there in case there was Too many numbers on the books, but pretty soon, I ended up just falling in love with the job.
Mathew Batt [00:02:06]:
I not only worked there, as the stopgap measure to, You know, fill out the rest of, the summer in my sabbatical, but I stayed on and worked through the entire lifespan of the restaurant for another Two and a half years eve even after I was back to to full pay and and teaching again.
It was like reading, A book about my friends. You know, I know Jorge. I know Omar. I know people who’ve worked in the business, and I just felt like it was a warm hug after COVID and all of the Really crappy things that have happened in a lot of the, lives of our restaurant hospitalitarians, we’ll call them.
Mathew Batt [00:02:52]:
And I felt like your book really captured what was my experience in being in hospitality. The part of it that I loved, some of it that I hated, some of the people you hate. Right? You know, there’s always at every restaurant you work at, it’s like the cast of characters are the same. They just have different names.
Mathew Batt [00:03:12]:
And I just I really, I enjoyed the book and I felt Really sad when the restaurant closed, and I felt sad all over again because The Brewers Table was such a groundbreaking restaurant, and Jorge Had such an amazing vision for it and all the folks that worked there, and I was just sad all over again when I got to the end.
Mathew Batt [00:03:35]:
I know. Spoiler alert. But, yeah, it’s not it’s not open anymore. Yeah. I was too. I couldn’t I couldn’t really fathom, How crushed I was by by the closing of the restaurant. I mean, I guess, first of all, I have to say, like, You know, I hadn’t worked in restaurants in, like, 10 years, and I never worked, in any in Minnesota before this. So to me, the cast of characters was entirely new.
Mathew Batt [00:04:02]:
Like, I didn’t understand what a big deal Jorge was. I didn’t understand how Just amazingly talented and and knowledgeable and, just, like, beautiful. Like, everybody I worked with Was. It was just the the most amazing, group of people I’d ever met. I mean all of whom were, you know, at least 10 years younger than I was at the time. But at the same time, they were, like, smarter, better at at, like, the the kind of agility and and, Just sort of like on your feetness you need to have working in hospitality. And so I I immediately felt like outskilled and outpaced by everybody. But but before long, it was like, we were all family.
Mathew Batt [00:04:48]:
It was just amazing. So so it was really, It it was crushing when it closed. And it was the kind of thing that I tried to hang on to for a little while by, seeking another restaurant that, You know, we we all momentarily worked at, oh gosh. What was it called? It was where the La Belle V was, which has since closed again, and become something new. But it just wasn’t the same, you know. It just wasn’t the same, to go from doing the amazing kind of stuff that that Jorge was, putting out night after night after night at the brewers table to to serve to serving, like, Steak Diane again and shrimp scampi and stuff, which is, you know, nice and expensive for sure, but it wasn’t, you know, like, mind blowing.
Yeah. It’s interesting too because Jorge is gonna be opening a new restaurant called MexTex that will be at Urban Eatery, the late Calhoun apartments, I guess, is probably the best way people know what that is. Mhmm. So I was Curious whether that appealed to you as someone who’s worked for him, and will that cast of characters reassemble?
Mathew Batt [00:05:59]:
Boy, I don’t know. You know, I I I wanna believe, that working in the hospitality industry in, like, in a in a given city would be like, you know, Hemingway’s Paris or something like that. It’s this, like, movable feast where you can just slide from from 1, salon to the next. But but I can safely say that it was not the same, you know, when we tried to replicate it, without Jorge, and and I wouldn’t be surprised if if he wasn’t the difference. But but I just don’t know. It’s it’s it’s not tempting for me, I have to say, because I’m, like, 7 years older, and as a 50 year old person, with, like, feet that hurt from just walking the dogs, I don’t think I could cut it anymore.
You know, that’s kind of a a funny thing that you bring up because for my whole life, I always was like, well, I can always fall back on the restaurant business. Right? I was a good waitress. I know how to do it. I enjoyed it. I was a terrible hostess. I was really terrible at the coat check. Yeah. There’s just certain jobs that I was terrible at, but I do remember turning 50 And feeling like, oh god.
Like, I don’t think I could probably go back to the restaurant business. It’s hard.
Mathew Batt [00:07:17]:
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the last 2 winners, like, I even when I was waiting tables I mean, I this was pre COVID when when the Brews table was open, and like I said, I was 7 years younger. Even then, like, I was still running and going to the gym, even if I had to put in, like, a 8 hour, 9 hour, You know, 12 hour shift, and it wasn’t the end of the world. And now it’s like, oh, you know, my foot hurts. I don’t I don’t think I can, like, walk to the grocery store anymore.
Mathew Batt [00:07:48]:
Never mind, you know, like, Hustle for 8 hours, and pretend like it’s nothing wearing, like, clogs and stuff.
Yes. Exactly. The Last Supper Club is the name of the book. I can totally see it being optioned for, like, a series or a movie. You know, has that crossed your mind?
Mathew Batt [00:08:10]:
No. I mean, you know, that that’d be lovely.
It’d be amazing. Yeah.
Mathew Batt [00:08:16]:
Yeah. But, I I’m just so grateful for the here and now. The the press has been amazing. Everybody I work with has just been fantastic. And, you know, publishing is so, unpredictable that
Mathew Batt [00:08:31]:
Yeah. There’s just no telling, what can happen, so I’m I’m just super grateful to to have another book in the world.
You Came at the end of the this restaurant experience happened before the end of COVID, and We have had so many folks in the restaurant business, and I think it’s fair to say Jorge’s been pretty vocal about His personal experience too with mental health, with kind of reevaluating what your place is in the world, How we treat hospitality, how we feel about restaurant service, tipping is still just kind of a mess.
Mathew Batt [00:09:08]:
Do you have any insights on that in like, were you surprised that that was where we found ourselves during COVID?
Mathew Batt [00:09:20]:
Yeah. It was just like 1 blow after the not after another to to everybody in the restaurant business. But but I will say that, The the way we did things at the brewers table was just sublime. And it was just as simple as we we had a tipping pool. Right? So, like, everybody’s tips just went in went into a kitty, and, you got paid how much you worked. And it was just like, I don’t know. It was a small enough staff where, like, there was there were no, like, freeloaders. Like, everybody just worked their butts off for themselves, of course, but for everybody else.
Mathew Batt [00:09:58]:
Like, that’s that’s what it felt like. You you weren’t worried about your own tables because you knew you were gonna take care of them. You were worried about other people’s tables. You know? You saw, Some drinks or beers, lined up at the pass. I was like, oh, I gotta run those for Jesse. Like, I can’t just let him sit there and go flat. And it was like because because there was a tip pool, we just all did it for each other. And it it slowly expanded to include, the the typically nontipped staff like hostesses, and food runners, and we were on the cusp Of, you know, expanding that to everybody in the restaurant and then, you know, everything collapsed.
Mathew Batt [00:10:39]:
And I feel like if if we go to, like I don’t know. Like, I remember going to, Iceland once, which is a non gratuity oriented, you know, little little island. And the service there was so indifferent. They were just, like they could not be just more savagely bored with whatever your needs were as as a diner. And I just thought, wow. We’re not I mean, it’s a hard job. You need motivation to do it well. And I I realize people think that’s true of of everything, but to take your order and just give you food, does not require, like, Empathy and enthusiasm.
Mathew Batt [00:11:21]:
And I think that’s where tips come in. It’s like if if you know you’re working for more than just a base wage, you’re gonna do it, To the best of your ability, and you’re gonna end up making people feel like they’re a part of the family.
I do feel like too that the restaurant business And being a server is a microcosm for life. Like, how do you show up just in your daily living? How do you manage your daily tasks? How able are you to multitask? What do you do when something goes Wrong, how fast can you figure something out on the fly? Like, as someone who was hiring people at one point, I looked for a restaurant experience. I wanted those people.
Mathew Batt [00:12:03]:
Yeah. For sure.
It’s really it requires a lot of different skill sets. And you talk about leadership, I think about Jorge in particular because of the book, but, You know, there’s a lot of ways in the world that bad managers can exist. Right? If you’re a target corporation and you have all these middle layers Of some great managers, some probably not so great. Right? You can hide in a big corporation. When you’re in a restaurant environment, There’s no hiding. Like, if you’re terrible at your job, it’s pretty apparent.
Mathew Batt [00:12:35]:
Yeah. No. Absolutely. And I give a ton of credit not only to Jorge, but also to Dustin Thompson, the sous chef. Like, I mean, you know, Jorge and Dustin collaborated on everything, but it was Dustin who, like, Basically led the brigade
Mathew Batt [00:12:49]:
In the kitchen. But on the floor in the front of Houseway, Dan De Novis, our our manager, for the first, I think year and a half or something, and then he was promoted to, like, head of hospitality for all of Surly. That guy was amazing. Like, he just he he was such a goofball, but he was also so serious. And unlike a lot of restaurants where I worked, As I’m sure is the case with you where restaurant managers would just be, like, in their little hidey hole, recovering from some savage, you know Yeah. Hangover, And we just like never emerge unless the things were on fire, or maybe especially if things were on fire. Dan was just always he was willing to do anything, and it was never like you did something wrong if Dan was helping you out. That’s just who he was.
Mathew Batt [00:13:42]:
And it’s funny because he went he went from working, at some, like, like one of those bars in Manhattan or someplace that’s open till 6 in the morning where typically he would have to, like, break up fights by, like, putting people into sleeper holds and stuff, to to doing this, like, Ludicrously like high end management job where he would he would quiz us, you know, every day almost with, like, okay. What’s this micro herb? Or, like, I’m gonna put 7 dots on a plate. You have to tell me, you know, which dot is which and which plate it goes with. And so it was just like we were just always on our toes, and never knew what was coming, but but in the best possible way.
Yeah. I love it. Will you so what does your book tour look like, and how did your friends feel about being named in the book?
Mathew Batt [00:14:31]:
You know, that’s a funny thing. The lawyers, right, are they do what they do, and they were worried that, if I if I named people At the submanagement level, they they were worried that sometimes I mean, you know, like, restaurant folks Come and go. And sometimes, kinda like me. Like, you’re you’re not necessarily taking a restaurant job because all the stars aligned and you’re doing what you wanna do. And so they wanted me to change the names of, everybody below the, the management level. I spent way too much time worrying about that. So, I hope they I hope they recognize themselves, and I hope they don’t Hate the names I had to change their their real identities to, but I can safely say I spent, Dozens of hours, like, thinking about that. But, anyway, we’re doing a little a little book tour thing, mostly regional stuff.
Mathew Batt [00:15:34]:
The the kickoff event is at Majors in Quinn. That will be at next chapter and then head down to Northfield to content. And then, do some other regional stuff, at Boswell Books in Milwaukee and a couple events in, Madison, And then, where else? Headed to Salt Lake City for a couple of events, as well as Denver, and then from there, we’ll see.
Yeah. I love it. Well, it’s been fun to talk to you, Matthew. The book is The Last Supper Club or Waiters Requiem. If you listen to me and Stephanie March on the radio at Weekly Dish. You know we spend a lot of time talking about hospitality. And if that fills Your cup, then you need to get this book because it’s sort of like a a walk in those shoes. And it’s very well done, and it’s very interesting, and I just really enjoyed
Mathew Batt [00:16:27]:
Sweet. Thanks, Stephanie. It was good
to talk. Thanks, Matthew. Good luck.
Mathew Batt [00:16:30]: