By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST
I’ve been in this business for a very long time, and one of the most enduring labels our industry has is that we are just a big dysfunctional family.
Well, that stereotype couldn’t be farther from, and closer to, the truth.
One such example here at Buck’s T-4 was a couple by the name of Ken and Kaysha Carpenter.
The two of them came to us almost four years ago, a husband and wife looking for a new start. They were running a diner in the Williston Basin, feeding, or more like tolerating, a surly crowd working on the extraction of the Bakken Formation. Day after day, they would dream of leaving that life. They yearned for a change of scenery from the contradictorily nascent doldrums of the next best oil boom.
They visited Big Sky when they were able to catch a break one summer. They were only here a few days. But they always said that the day they saw this place, they knew they wanted to make it home.
Sure, they had their challenges. And we would laugh about what a tough business this is. And that after all he had been through, why in the heck wouldn’t he just create a life mowing lawns somewhere in the sun.
Of all the jobs they held, some long some short, some challenging some pedestrian, and of all the cities and towns they lived in, and people they crossed paths with, including Ken’s days in the navy, they often said that we felt like his family. That Buck’s was his home.
He was always so thankful for everything in his life. It’s easy to be thankful for the things that, on the surface, enrich our lives. Things like a great job, a beautiful family, or a genuine and comforting community.
But Ken knew that it was his hardships and his failures that taught him his most poignant and useful lessons.
He understood that sometimes you need to suffer in order to recognize what you do have. To take from one of his favorite movies, “The Shawshank Redemption,” sometimes you need to crawl through, well, the junk, to get to the other side. A side ripe for the picking. Once you’ve gained the wisdom to appreciate, while also not taking for granted, all those little moments and opportunities that are always right in front of our noses.
While it’s true, most any workplace, work environment or work culture could make a reasonable argument that they are family—that they have a bond that allows them to interact like a family. To be able to have the comfort and confidence in this relationship that they can have the tough conversations, knowing that when it is over and they leave the room, that their relationships not only can withstand such a conversation, but may even grow stronger.
And having been in this business for over three decades, worked with all ages, all personality types, and to date, people from well over 50 countries, I can tell you that the family culture that this rough and tumble, high stress, physically fatiguing job creates, rivals those in law enforcement and firefighting.
I’ve been witness to a co-worker taking another who just had surgery to the grocery store, giving up a day off to do it. Or an entire restaurant who pitched in hard earned money so a dishwasher’s son who otherwise had very little opportunity for such growth and kid time could attend a week-long summer camp.
We had this conversation often, as we interacted on a daily, almost hourly basis.
But it was one day, not more than a couple weeks ago, that will stay with me forever. He joked how lucky he was to be alive after all he had put his body and mind through, during his darkest times.
We lost Ken, a member of our family, to what we believe was a massive stroke on the morning of July 23. The day after his birthday. He was 56.
We have a saying at Buck’s, a mantra really, that relationships matter. Ken’s relationship with the entire Buck’s family was one every one of us would be grateful to have.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.