I was sitting at the bar table in the dining room a couple of mornings ago when Hall brushed by me looking mildly annoyed. "Your girlfriend hired Will," he grumbled. The ribbing was good-natured, but I could tell there was real feeling behind it.
I've known William Maxwell, aka "Billy Dank" for four years now. He is a simply extraordinary human being who has brought more joy, love and light into TFB over the past few years than I had imagined was possible. And while he's not quite out the door - he plans to continue to work a few days a week with us - he is taking steps that will ultimately result in him forging a new career path. His freshly minted degree in environmental studies from UT makes him uniquely suitable for a position at the environmental data company Carissa runs.
I can't quite remember the first day I met Will. I probably said something like "William Maxwell? You mean like the writer?" But it didn't take long before Will, through the indefatigable force of his personality and unique charm, made himself a fixture in our daily lives. I guess you could say he became the archetype for a new a way thinking about the company.
Will came on board in 2013 - a fateful year if ever there was one. Those of you who are new to TFB and/or Austin probably don't know the whole story of TFB's early success in the 1980s, expansion into 11 shops spread all over town in the 1990s, and near failure a few years later when rents and other costs skyrocketed.
But after a decade of barely managing to keep our doors open, I finally started to see a glimmer of hope and change when we started our dinner service around 2010. Then, a couple years later we secured financing that gave us the chance I'd been waiting for: a real shot at reinventing the company. Our wish list was long: expand the bakery, build a new kitchen, start selling wine and beer, update the look of the building, and so forth. And so it was that 2013 became the Year of the Remodel. It also turned out to be the year that we really started to turn things around.
As we waded knee deep into the remodel, and began to rethink our approach to the restaurant, the chaos nearly engulfed our workspace. I don't think I can overstate how deeply unsettling these changes were for many of the old guard - both staff and guests. We changed menus, we changed hours, we moved to table service on weekends, we created new rules and systems, and so on. I'm still convinced that Hall and Josh, who lead the charge as the face of our new leadership team, might well have taken a pass if they'd had any inkling of what they were getting into.
I remember feeling clearly that despite the money we'd raised, there were no guarantees that any of what we proposed to do would work. But into this picture strolled William Maxwell - on a cloud made of good vibes, hard work, and general hilarity - and it felt like a tipping point. We soon began to attract more young people like Will, and TFB miraculously sprouted into bloom. The positive energy these kids brought to bear was the fuel that fed our fire as TFB suddenly and improbably roared back to life. Will was their ringleader.
I don't remember the exact month, but there came a day when we brought in a new piece of equipment freighted with almost talismanic significance - the Marzocco espresso machine: a lightly used hand-me-down from Houndstooth that meant the world to us. An object of uncommon beauty, it seemed to symbolize all of the larger changes afoot. No longer would we struggle to pull mediocre shots from the beat up 20+ year old espresso unit that regularly broke down. No longer would we have to go down the street for want of a decent cappuccino. Will knew just how to welcome that thing to the shop.
To be fair, most days were not spent making silly shorts of Will Maxwell. Typically, I'd wander over in the morning, and like as not, there would be Will at the counter. He would lean toward me with a twinkle in his eye and a hint of a smirk. He would ask if I wanted breakfast, and then casually point to what might as well have been a streak of dirt across his upper lip and ask, "what do you think - pretty good mustache, no?" I'd roll my eyes and sigh, and Will would belly laugh, turn up Fleetwood Mac, and go back about his business.
I would also be remiss if I failed to note that Will is something of a musical savant as well - playing a very passable guitar in several local bands, like The Oysters, which features other members of the TFB staff. And, renaissance man that he is, he can also be fairly deft with pen and ink.
Will's move in this new direction was expected and we support him 100%, but that doesn't mean it's not bittersweet. I suppose what I remember most about his early days and that remodel year was the sense of having little to lose, so - what the heck, let's try it. On one level, it was terrifying for me, but the fresh sense of fun and energy that people like Will brought into the building allowed me to forget my cares.
At this point, we have achieved many of our goals that we earmarked back then. We're bigger now, and more grown up. We employ more people. More folks depend on us getting this right. We're even getting health insurance for full time employees. Health insurance - are you kidding me - HEALTH INSURANCE?!?!
It's been an amazing journey with you the past few years Mr. Maxwell. Your stamp is all over the new TFB. Your laughter, your kindheartedness, your attentiveness, the way you've been genuinely glad to engage everyone who walks through our doors - those were contagious and I think they are second nature to us now. It wasn't always that way. You brought a mountain of positivity with you, and I think of you every time I put on Fleetwood Mac.
I hope all of you reading this can stop in soon. Will is around a bit less now, but you will still see him behind our fancy Marzocco espresso machine from time to time.
And finally, please try to be patient with the rest of us here in the shop. We'll do our best to be as funny and charming as Mr. Maxwell - but they only made one of him.