I’ve been in Greece the last couple of weeks at our house in the tiny mountain village of Vorio. This is the time of year to get the house ready for winter and recharge my batteries.
Forget ocean views. In the mountains you have the daily drama of sun, color, light, and clouds kissing the peaks of the Taygetos mountain range. Goat bells and roosters are heard in the morning, nightingales and owls in the evening, and village cats meowing, fighting, and purring in between. There is broadband – sort of – and such poor cell phone coverage I let my phone go dead while I’m here. After 14-years of coming here, I still haven’t become bored enough to need TV, but I do admit to spending quite a bit of time in my head where the ‘channels’ are always on.
One thing I’ve been thinking about here is the change of seasons. Those in the cities see food on the shelves and have little to no idea the part nature played in putting it there – let alone the farmer and processor. In the countryside – no matter where in the world – you see evidence on a daily basis of the movements of the Earth. Outside my front door, shepherds are starting to bring their flocks of goats and sheep down from the high mountains to warmer pastures by the sea. Olives are starting to turn purple and locals are wondering if there will be enough migrant labor passing through next month to pick them. And what ever you do, don’t mention this year’s drought.
It’s not hard seeing how we’re part of the seasons as well.
Nobody in their teens, 20s, or 30s believes this, but ask any of us in our 60s or older and we’ll tell you the same story. One day it’s early spring you’re looking ahead of what you plan on accomplishing with your life; the next it’s late autumn you’re looking back at what you did. Start working for a young company with a young boss and try explaining why 30-year-plans don’t apply to you. They don’t get it – but you only get it too well.
I asked my mom recently is there were any big regrets she had. She said no, except for one: at 90 she won’t life long enough to see how it all turns out in regards to grandchildren.
In a way, I feel the same way. I look at my generation the Boomers, I look at the world, and all I see is what a mess we made of it. There has never been a more selfish, lazy, self-centered generation than ours – EVER. I look at the Millennials and see something completely different. They’ve seen the banking crisis, the never-ending war, the pollution being ignored – all caused by the Boomers – and they’ve been left holding the bag. This has made them more courageous, tougher, and more willing to take risks – calculated risks – than other generations. I hope I live long enough to see what all they’ll accomplish in the next 30-40 years.
At this year’s IPPE talk to the young people at the stands. Forget people like me; talk to people like Patrick Grabovac of Bettcher’s for a positive, refreshing view of the industry.
A bit further away is Nikos Maniazeas. The then 28-year-old Kalamata butcher was the cover of MPJ July-August 2015. At the time, his father Kostas worked up in the mountains near Vorio taking care of organically raised beef cattle, his mother Jenny worked the meat counter at the butcher shop, and Nikos worked the counter, along with running the seasonal country-style restaurant that was attached to the butcher shop – a vertically run family enterprise done in a small scale.
In the spring of 2016 Kostas had a massive coronary and died on the mountain; a once-in-a-hundred-years storm hit Kalamata at the end of summer and severely damaged parts of the restaurant and shop; and surprising no one, the Greek economy got even worse.
What to do? Nobody would have faulted Nikos in the least if he had moved on; either taking a job with a rival butcher or left Kalamata.
But, during all this calamity what he noticed was once the restaurant reopened, they were busier than ever before. So, keep things the same?
No. Totally rip the restaurant and shop apart, and create the most modern butcher shop and restaurant in the entire area. But I know, let’s make it even more risky. Ninety-five percent of all Greeks would not know a good cut of beef if it hit them in the face. Beef is lean, tough, with zero aging, and cooked until it’s at least well-done or beyond. Because of this, Greeks go for the cheapest beef.
In perhaps the greatest dice roll ever in Kalamata, Nikos is installing a large, special aging chamber, which looks like where you’d hang art work. The beef that’s going in there is not from the mountains, but instead is imported Black Angus. Not only will this beef be the most expensive in the entire region, but forget the whole idea of the customer being right. Nikos is telling customers how to enjoy beef – rare.
Does Nikos know the risks he’s taking? Hell yes. When I saw him last it looked like sleep was only a word in a dictionary to him. The customers he needs to attract are people like him, Millennials who want to experience life. But at the same time, the last thing he wants to do is to drive away the rock-steady customers who buy meat and poultry from the butcher shop. How to keep both happy?
Will he succeed? I don’t know. Will any Millennial? Again, I don’t know. But I do know this, the time has come for my generation to get out of the way.