"Best laid plans" is an old proverbial expression that captures the futility of making detailed plans in a life riddled with uncertainty. If Chef Greg knows anything, he knows well that sometimes you have to work with life on life's sometimes odious terms. Life for this fast/casual restaurateur hasn't always been fast or casual.
We all love shortcuts. We like to think they're smart. And sometimes they are. But things don't always pan out according to our best laid plans. It took Nalley 20 years to become an "overnight success."
Unlike some of the vogueish restaurateur-venturers these days, Greg didn't grow up with a silver spoon. Or a silver ladle. He started his vocational life in the deep south working for his dad in the concrete business. The kind of blistered-hand work that teaches deadlines the hard way. Drying concrete doesn't wait, no matter how loud a contractor may scream at it. Concrete taught Greg the very concrete and unforgiving "lessons of fresh." What's true for driveways is also true for kitchens.
The demands of such deadlines could drive a guy to drink. And in fact it did with Greg early on. In 1996 Greg's bottle came to a tipping point. He had to seriously reconsider his relationship with alcohol. It's not the story he'd want to be displayed on the pages of say, Bon Appétit, but he doesn't mind admitting that it was there and he's very grateful for his life of sobriety today.
Then there was that little twist in 2002, when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Prostate Cancer. Perspective sometimes comes in very inconvenient ways and at unsuspecting times. Back then he had a great job as Executive Chef at Maryland Jockey Club — a swanky kitchen where he cooked for the upper-crust, some famous, even Bill Clinton. He loved it. It was comfortable. But cancer disrupted all that.
Yet, this same cancer would become an unsuspecting catalyst for his entrepreneurial pursuit. A confrontation with the brevity of life would inspire him to leave that corporate dream job to go after his own culinary vision.
There are a lot of ways we can respond to life's inevitable challenges. That's why it's always great to hear inspiring stories of people who faced tough times and found a way to beat the adversity that came their way. It reminds us that we can, too. It gives us hope.
I don't know if stories like this do anything for you. But they certainly inspire me. And these stories make Nalley Fresh taste all the fresher every time I go.