It was October of 2009 and I had just been blessed with the birth of my youngest son, Lukas. It was a wonderful time in our lives and we were truly ecstatic. Welcoming him home were my two older kids, Jacob and Jessica.
Shortly thereafter my wife, Molly, made the difficult but exciting decision to stay home to raise Luke. Molly had a successful career in hospitality, was moving up the corporate ladder and was well compensated for her work. The loss of her income put a big dent in our personal budget but we knew it was the right thing to do. While we were not wealthy we were able to manage this financially, as I have had a successful career as a chef and have always been very conservative with my money.
It was during this time that we started having our weekly Starbucks date with Luke in tow. I was never a big coffee drinker but I developed a taste for lattes with all the syrup and soy milk to make it taste good. Luke always looked forward to those mornings when he would get a donut while mom and dad spent a little time together before dad went off to a long day of work. Luke loved to sit on the stools at the end of the counter and just wait for someone to order a Clover so he could watch the fancy reverse French press. It was a fun time in our lives that gave us a lot of happy memories.
It was during one of these weekly visits to our local Starbucks that I first spotted him. He was a good looking well-dressed man with golden blonde hair. He was always well groomed and always sat in the corner alone with his laptop. Something seemed out of place. Being the overly observant person that I was, I soon realized that it was his drink. He always had a glass of water, never coffee. Why in the world did this business professional not drink coffee? Didn’t everyone drink coffee? Even I had started drinking it. Maybe he didn’t like it, but then why come to Starbucks. Time would reveal the answer to this and so many other questions that surfaced.
As time passed and our dates continued I noticed the subtle changes that occurred with Randy. His grooming was slipping with hair not as neatly combed as it had been. I realized that he was wearing the same clothes a lot and his suit was not as crisp and shiny as before. He was suddenly in need of a haircut and shave. His posture, once perfect and upright was faltering as he hunched over his laptop. I soon realized that I was witnessing the decline from “proud and successful” to “beaten and hopeless.
Sometime later I found Randy at the local Ralphs asleep on the bench with his shopping cart next to him. I watched as the store manager came out, woke him and chatted with him. I was able to talk to the store manager who shared Randy’s store with me. It turned out that months earlier when I first noticed Randy, he had just lost his job. With their free wifi, Starbucks was the perfect place for him to conduct his job search. Coffee was a luxury he could not afford so water it was. The obvious deterioration that I witnessed over time was when Randy lost his home and started sleeping in his car. The really big change came when he lost his car and moved all of his possessions into a shopping cart. I was shocked to actually know what I had been seeing over the days, weeks and months that we went to Starbucks. The one thing that stuck with me after that conversation at Ralphs was how proud and caring Randy was. He was too proud for handouts and would never accept them. He did not want to be a bother or burden to anyone.
As we fast-forward to a year later it was late 2011 and I was 48 years old. In December I found myself thrust into the lines of unemployment. It came so quickly that I was not prepared for it but ready or not I was unemployed. I have had a blessed career and have never been let go from a job in my life. I suddenly was very aware of what that felt like. The best and worst part about it was that we were OK. Being financially conservative, unlike Randy, and with the benefit of a really good severance package, I had lots of options. That also led to a certain amount of guilt over the many people that I worked with who lost their job and did not benefit from the severance package that I was offered.
What happened to Randy, I don’t know. I have never seen him since that late afternoon at Ralph’s. But it is Randy and many others just like him who has inspired me to “Do Something”. I could tell you countless other stories of people whom I have encountered, such as the attractive young woman and her daughter at Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa but will not. Let’s just say that Randy planted the seed that has grown into Bracken’s Kitchen.
I have thought about Randy often over the last 2 years and wonder what happened to him. To watch a man literally deteriorate a little bit every day is a very sad thing.
If Bracken’s Kitchen can provide a healthy and wholesome meal in a dignified and fun environment to those in need just a couple of days a week maybe we can help people like Randy get through some difficult times.
Founder & Culinary Director