Raising kids, running restaurants

Moms working in the restaurant industry during COVID-19 have distinct challenges
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Nicole Barreira and her three children, ages 10, 8 and 4. Courtesy photo

Each of us has had to quickly figure out how to navigate through this pandemic. And while everyone’s situation is different — and not easy — being a mom makes the “new normal” that much more challenging.

But imagine being a mother in the restaurant business during this uncertain time — well, that’s a whole different ball game.

“As a parent, put simply, it’s been a lot — between homeschooling, working, managing a household with my husband, etc.,” said Nicole Barreira, director of marketing and menu development at Great New Hampshire Restaurants, Inc. in Bedford.

“I wish I could tell readers some ‘special secret’ for how I handled it all, but the reality is that each day you just do what you’ve got to do and make the best of it.”

Barreira’s situation is daunting as she oversees several restaurants (all under the Great New Hampshire Restaurants’ brand) and has three young children — ages 10, 8, and 4 — plus one on the way.

“Being a mom and working full time is always a juggling act, especially in a job that falls outside of the typical nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday routine,” Barreira said.

But right now, being in the restaurant business as a parent comes with its own special set of struggles.

“I think one of the biggest challenges was the lack of clarity for any of the assistance programs that were offered. It’s hard to formulate a plan when the rules are changing daily,” said Peaches Paige, co-owner of Cotton Restaurant in Manchester.

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Peaches Paige, with husband, Jeffrey. Photo by Brian Smestad

Paige’s three children are in their mid- to late-20s, but that hasn’t made parenting any easier during this crisis. Her youngest son just graduated from college and is entering an unstable job market. Additionally, her oldest daughter works in the health care industry, which comes with a slew of concerns for this hardworking mom.

“I’ve also been worried about my employees, many of whom I consider my extended family,” Paige said.

For Liz Jackson, chef and owner of Libby’s Bistro in Gorham and mother to three grown children, the timing of the pandemic only adds to her concerns.

“Finances are really the big worry. This is usually our high time,” Jackson said. “Plus keeping our staff safe and creating an environment where they feel comfortable.”

Reopening during a pandemic while dealing with new safety protocols has also added more hours to these working moms’ already busy days.

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Amy LaBelle, mom to two boys, often works before her kids wake and after they go to bed. Courtesy photo

“Moms are used to sacrificing our own time for the best interests of our kids. That’s what we do,” said Amy LaBelle, founder and winemaker at LaBelle Winery in Amherst and mother to two boys, ages 10 and 12.

“So, I get up for work at 5 a.m. and get a few hours in before my kids are awake, and I work after they go to sleep. We juggle the rest during the day for meetings and for work that needs to be done during the day (like winemaking).”

Despite the additional challenges these women have to face right now, they have all managed to make the most out of the hand they’ve been dealt.

For instance, Jackson invested in a new patio for her restaurant and got creative with how they serve cocktails — so they could reopen during the pandemic and keep their employees and customers safe and comfortable.

Her children helped every step of the way.

“Having adult children who grew up in the business…they learned the ups and downs and to not be rigid,” Jackson said.

Paige made good use of her time off before reopening by tackling some overdue chores at the restaurant.

“I took the opportunity to freshen things up in the restaurant that we would typically have to close to do. I spent many days at Cotton painting. I think it was also therapeutic and helped to take my mind off the chaos that was going on everywhere in the world,” Paige said.

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Liz Jackson, owner of Libby’s Bistro in Gorham. Courtesy photo

LaBelle has made sure to focus on herself and her health during this highly stressful time.

“I run or take an online ballet class, take my vitamins, drink my water, eat clean, and meditate before bed,” LaBelle said.

It’s clear that working in the hospitality industry during the pandemic — while also being a parent — is no easy feat. So what advice do these women have for other moms who are navigating a similar, rocky landscape?

“Get rest and try your best to schedule fun things, even if it’s just a movie at home or a walk to a local pond, so you’re forced to shut down and close your laptop or head home,” Barreira said. “I could work 24 hours a day if I let myself, but your family needs you, and you need you.”

No matter how hard it might seem, it’s also important to focus on the positive during this crazy time.

“Really good can come out of really bad, and we just have to search for that,” Jackson said.

Michelle Lahey is a food writer who has been writing about (and eating) food in New Hampshire for over 10 years. Outside of food, you can find her sipping on a good IPA, correcting other people’s grammar, or hiking in the White Mountains.

Categories: Food news, News