Under Cover: “Sweetbitter” Author Stephanie Danler Comes to Newport Library

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sweetbitterMany people seem to view working in the restaurant industry as some sort of failure – a melting pot of people who either can’t or won’t get a “real job,” or who are still working their way towards the opportunity to find one.

The reality is, while there are those types of individuals, the melting pot is actually made up of people educated in a variety of fields, who, for an abundance of reasons, have found that the job suits them.

Personally, I returned to the service industry while mothering young children. After a move significantly increased our housing costs, my workforce hiatus came to an end, and rather than return to a 9-5 job, I picked up shifts to pay the bills, while still being able to go on field trips, supervise homework, and make after-school snacks.

I can attest to the fact that those who are under the impression that serving is a mindless job are sorely mistaken. There are a plethora of cross-disciplinary skills that are not only necessary, but finely-honed while on the job, such as reading and anticipating another’s needs, multi-tasking at expert level, and possessing grace under fire, tempered, among other things, with a heaping dose of humility.

I’ve had tables that I’ve discussed world affairs and literature with, as well as those who have point-blank asked me why I chose not to pursue something better for myself, and whether the restaurant would be my last stop in life (as if they knew the first thing about my life or accomplishments). Every new “Hello, how are you?” is an opening to an unknown set of circumstances that keeps a girl constantly on her toes.

So, when I read about the debut author who is next in the Newport Beach Library’s Library Live series, my interest was instantly piqued at the similarities.

Stephanie Danler, author of last year’s bestseller, “Sweetbitter,” came to writing after a years-long run waiting tables, and serving drinks.

Stephanie Danler
Stephanie Danler

The waitress-turned-writer, and California native, began her stint in the front of the house (non-kitchen positions) when she moved to New York City after graduation. Landing her first job at the Union Square Café, Danler would spend seven years in the service industry before enrolling at The New School to complete her Master of Fine Arts degree, and as it turns out, also write a bestselling novel.

Semi-autobiographical, “Sweetbitter” tells the story of Tess, who is also a young girl, finding herself in New York City, while balancing a serving gig. The restaurant in the book is modeled heavily on the Union Square Café, because, as Danler said in an interview with Vanity Fair, “that restaurant has an ethic and a level of professionalism that is unmatched in New York City…There are places where you clock in, you clock out, and then there are places where you invest emotionally, and I needed a setting where people were investing.”

Knowing that she wanted to write a female coming of age story, Danler feels that she stumbled upon the right formula for her story when she considered Tess’s evolving palate.

She says, “I realized that by developing her palate for food and wine, I could tell everything—friendship, intimacy, lust—through this story of learning how to taste.”

And, tell it she did, earning herself a six-figure, two-book publishing contract.

Now, Danler, who has recently relocated to Los Angeles, will be visiting Newport, to tell all of us as well. Appearing on Thursday, May 18, Danler will discuss her book, and the experiences that inspired it, while guests have the opportunity to enjoy light refreshments, provided by Baker & Olive.

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and the talk is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., followed by book sales and signing. Tickets are $25 each, or $20 for Foundation members, teachers, and students.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit nbplfoundation.org, or call (949) 548-2411.

Edie Crabtree is an avid reader and the mother of three active boys. She can be reached at [email protected].

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