A Farewell to (Writing About) Arms!
Going Out with a Bang; The Story of Tastebuds' Armed Robbery.
Welcome to My 26th Newsletter Friends!
As we enter year two together on Substack, I was downright giddy to see that many of you have renewed your paid subscriptions and I want you to know that when my screenplay gets made into a movie, you will all be invited to a private screening and VIP dinner prepared by yours truly! Your support is vitally needed and oh so appreciated, I cannot thank you enough!
If you haven’t become a paid subscriber yet, please please please consider supporting my work! You do not want to miss the stories, and recipes I have lined up for this season, plus paid subscribers will have access to cooking demonstrations as well as an exclusive travel vlog as Ari and I tour London, Paris, Burgundy, Lucerne, Venice, Florence, Rome and more later this summer! We would just love it if you joined us!
Bridget McGinty's Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
My Dear Readers,
When I began publishing my work here in April 2022, I made you this promise:
“I will be writing my highly anticipated memoir here on Substack, raw, unfiltered, and in real-time, and YOU, dear friend, will be my MUSE! Not only will you be handsomely rewarded with my restaurant’s most sought-after recipes, but you will learn simple tricks and cooking techniques that will make your every meal more delicious, all while hearing the incredible story of how it all came to be!”
Honestly, I had no intention of bringing politics into the mix, but in May 2022, after publishing three newsletters delivering on only those promises, I was unable to hold my tongue and I was compelled to write about random gun violence in America and my true motivation for moving to Ireland. Feeling that it would’ve been irresponsible of me to write about anything else, I began my May 28th newsletter by asking this:
How could I possibly write about meatloaf, the recipe I promised to deliver in this week’s post? How could I test any recipes, when I have lost my appetite so completely, following back-to-back massacres at the hands of 18-year-old boys, dressed in tactical gear, brandishing semi-automatic weapons of mass destruction? Forgive me, but I can think of nothing else, therefore I can write about nothing else.
I was referring of course to the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, and the mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that took place a year ago this month. So far, there have been more than 200 mass shootings across the United States in 2023 and while I am plenty outraged, I feel like I am preaching to the choir here.
You guys already know all of this and if you are looking to me for answers as to why nothing will ever change or for hope that it will someday, I’m afraid all I can offer you is this funny and frightening podcast from An Irishman Abroad, featuring Marion McKeone who had just returned to Ireland after covering the NRA convention. She does an incredible job explaining the 20-year evolution of the NRA, from an organization of huntsmen and gun nerds, to almost a paramilitary group with a chilling obsession with assault weapons and a stranglehold on many American politicians. (For added enjoyment, count the times you hear the word bonkers!)
I have decided to make this 2 part series my last Substack Newsletter involving guns. I will continue to speak out elsewhere, submitting my political essays to major news media outlets, where I will campaign for a total ban on assault weapons for civilian use. In these essays, I will publicly appeal to the NRA, to do the right and responsible thing and allow government lawmakers, including the ones they own, to set a deadline for the sales of such weapons. This will allow Americans time to stock up, and it will provide the gun manufacturers and sellers with enough money to retire richly and nobly.
I would suggest we grandfather in the legal ownership of these weapons and allow them to be passed down to future generations but never sold. Because the issue is not with good, law-abiding citizens and it is certainly not with NRA members, Lord knows they’ve got their assault rifles stored properly, locked up tight, and likely have a pack of wild dogs protecting the house, trailer, or basement they live in! It is with the 18-year-old virgins and alike, those who have lost all hope and suddenly snap after experiencing enough trauma, rejection, and bullying to make them not only suicidal, but also full of hatred and rage, who make these bans vital.
“Men are not punished for their sins but by them.” —Kin Hubbard
Alas, it is only a matter of time it seems before these mass shootings and school shootings will start affecting lawmakers and gun lobbyists personally. To be staunchly Republican these days just means that one has been fortunate enough to not ever have had to come face to face with the consequences of their actions or inaction.
Until then, I will continue to speak and write about this topic, but I see clearly as I look back at the origin of my newsletter, that this is not what you signed up for! You subscribed to hear about my life and my restaurant, and the stories and recipes that made both so successful.
That said, I’d better tell you the story of when Tastebuds was robbed at gunpoint before my self-imposed ban goes into effect!
Welcome to Year Two My Friends
Closing out my first year on Substack with a series of newsletters dedicated to the final months of Tastebuds Restaurant has had a profound effect on me. Understandably, I have been wanting, YEARNING, to have it all back; the restaurant, the house in Tremont, the full, rich, easy and extremely lucrative life I had before Covid. Like any remembrance though, I’ve been focusing only on the good.
Scrolling through pictures of Tastebuds and the Loft brought back a flood of joyful memories and emotions, hi-jacked almost immediately by sorrow, sadness, and longing. ‘That was my life and it was extraordinary,’ I would mumble to myself. So many wonderful people entered my restaurant and then into my life, giving me encouragement, love and wisdom and really changing my life forever! One of those people was Alenka Banko, a spirited champion of art and artists both young and old, a visionary, single mom (recently married!), entrepreneur, and all round force to be reconned with.
She was so thrilled when she saw that I was pregnant and knowing intuitively my trepidations about carrying on my fun and exciting life, she offered me the best advice, “Don’t stop doing what you’re doing!” She instructed me, “Take that baby everywhere with you. Give him a space at the grown-up table, whether you’re dining out at a fancy restaurant or delivering a presentation at a boardroom table, bring him and let him see you working and enjoying your passions. And it is vitally important that you get him on a plane immediately if you hope to continue traveling, he’s got to get used to it right away, or he’ll be fussy or afraid to fly!”
Thanks to her, Ari spent the first 8 months of his life strapped to me in a Baby Bjorn at Tastebuds while I worked the counter or cash register after helping prep! Sometimes he’d sleep through a busy lunch in a portable crib behind the register or spend the day in the kitchen sitting in a bumbo chair fastened to a prep table or cart while my chef and dishwasher kept him entertained. To this day, he can sleep through anything!
Luckily a spot opened up at Merrick House in Tremont for day care, just as it was starting to become too much and slightly dangerous having Ari with me at Tastebuds. Through the years that he spent at Merrick House, Ari would yell hello to passerby’s when they’d play outside, or during walks around the neighborhood and teachers would marvel at how many grown ups he knew by name. He even knew some of the drivers delivering food or beverages to the school or the contractors coming to make repairs, because I took him everywhere I went and introduced him to everyone I knew!
So, Imagine going from knowing everyone to knowing no one, overnight. Moving to a foreign country can be daunting, but in the midst of a pandemic, when there is nobody around to ask for help, it can be extremely stressful and difficult, especially when you’re nearly 50-years-old and you’ve got a six-year-old in tow! I had to re-learn all of the basics under an entirely new or slightly different system when we moved to Ireland in July 2020. From simply knowing which direction to look when crossing the street to converting dollars into euros, distances into kilometers, and degrees into Celsius, to knowing how to operate a European washer machine, hook up a gas bottle for cooking, and program timers for heat and hot water.
Of course, all of that was minor compared to opening a bank account, buying a house and paying taxes as an ex-pat among other things. Now that we have gotten permanent residency permission, it is time to get an Irish driver’s license and face my fear of driving here! I am currently studying for my driver’s theory test and I have only a vague idea about the entire process, which I’ve heard is quite an ordeal, so I am just taking it one step at a time, so as to not get discouraged.
At times, I get frustrated. Often, I get lonely and miss my Cleveland friends and family terribly. There are moments when I think how easy life would be if Ari and I just moved back to the States and how willing people would be to help me get my restaurant going again. But then I see things like this:
Warning: Disturbing Video
This video is hard to watch because of the jovial demeanor of the commentator, despite the horrors he describes and the lives that could have been lost so senselessly, and because I have experienced threats of violence twice, with customers irate over extra cheese…yes, extra cheese! In my case, it was having the nerve to charge these individuals for it. One customer being so bold as to retrieve the 50 cents out of the employee tip jar!
I saw first hand how quickly and unexpectedly a disagreement can escalate into a fight, followed by an accusation of racism, a call for a boycott and the threat of a class action law suit. Discussing the absurdity of the situation with my attorney, he reminded me that anyone can sue anyone, pointing to Oprah who had been sued by Texas cattlemen for millions of dollars over a comment she made about never eating a burger again! His advice was to reach out to my accusers and make it right before it goes any further.
This marked a low point for me and I knew a shift in my behavior was necessary no matter how painful. I began biting my tongue and not standing up for myself or defending my business in these types of situations. In one case, I did not stand up for one of my employees, fearing retaliation from the customer, which I regret, but the tables had turned. Customers became armed with tools like social media and Yelp that could really hurt you and your business.
It is hard to believe how quickly things have worsened. Now, without so much as requiring a permit or license or any training at all, customers can potentially be armed with guns, obtained legally and carried openly and freely that can kill you and your employees as well as other patrons during such an escalation. As a result, we are seeing many food service workers being shot to death over minor altercations, like over a spilled drink at a pizza place, too much mayo at a Subway, and running out of corn at a KFC, just to name a few.
So…would I ever entertain my fantasies of coming back to Cleveland and opening Tastebuds again? I wish I could. Honestly, I do, but I put gun violence behind me and I don’t think I could ever move back to the United States after living in such a safe and friendly country. Apparently, I had had enough gun violence TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, when I wrote the following:
June 15th, 1998
I’ve lost track now of how many school shootings there have been in the last couple of months, which you would think impossible, considering how much it tears me up inside to see or hear about them. There was another one today. In Virginia, a fourteen-year-old opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, injuring a 40-year-old teacher and a 78-year-old volunteer. The first time this happened I asked, “What is happening? My God, what is happening?” Now I ask, “Why isn’t the government doing more to stop it? What am I going to do? Where am I going to hide?”
This weekend Paul and I ran into a guy who has a cleaning company with his father and has been in business for 51 years based downtown. He mentioned that he had just been carjacked a week back. He had a magnum in his ear and when he surrendered his car the punk-ass kid put the gun at John’s crotch, cocked the gun, and demanded his wallet. John said he was swearing and yelling and it was hard to understand what the guy was saying and he really thought he was a dead man.
So now this nice guy John has gone out and bought a gun and he plans to keep it in his pocket. Not only do I not blame him, but I’m starting to think about getting one myself and it makes me sick. I want to run away from America where guns are becoming accessories like pagers. Rap music, music videos, movies, TV, video games, TV, and more TV, combined with a lack of parental guidance are destroying this country. Killing is so glamorized by Hollywood and the media, it’s just all spiraling out of control. I’m scared, really, really scared.
Five Years Later…
We Were Robbed at Gunpoint at Tastebuds.
I remember it in slow motion, my sister Molly’s hand full of money, and then another hand, a customer’s hand, reaching over the open drawer of the register to grab it. His other hand holding something black and shiny. Fear did not paralyze me, confusion did, as if I had to process each slide of my mind’s eye, frame by frame. I couldn’t make sense of the first image to proceed to the next.
“Why is Molly giving that customer the band of 100 singles?” I hastened my approach and was about to ask, when the customer reached over again. I was upon them now, but still too confused to speak, and then I saw it. The vision of that gun in his right hand, sliding on the counter toward my sister’s stomach as he reached into the register to grab the twenties with his left, haunts me still, 20 years later.
When I think back, I don’t remember a sound other than the busy signal I kept getting when I frantically dialed 911 on our cordless phone, until a customer yelled quite loudly, “Can I get a baked potato or not?” I didn’t hear the first few hellos and the initial baked potato order. I was looking at her, but I was in a state of shock and panic. I shouted angrily “We’ve just been robbed at gunpoint”, and then, looking past her, I realized Paul was outside chasing the guy, not knowing he had a gun.
Everyone in the restaurant watched in horror out the huge storefront window as the robber stopped running suddenly and turned around slowly. He pointed the gun in the air, then lowered it to take aim at Paul, who froze instantly, and then put up his hands.
The guy then jumped into a car that was parked far enough away that we could not get any description other than it was tan, light gold, or maybe a brown hatchback, or possibly a mini station wagon. All we knew for sure was that it had a wiper blade seemingly stuck mid-stroke on the rear window! I told all of this to the dispatcher when my 911 call was finally answered and she then transferred me to the local police, where I was then put on hold!
The woman who wanted the baked potato turned all Cagney and Lacey and said, “Common, my car’s out front, I think we can still catch him!” This was before cell phones, so I couldn’t continue the call to the police if I’d taken her up on her offer. Molly was pretty badly shaken up, and by this time we were getting busy, and I didn’t have the heart to ask her to get back behind the register. She stayed seated in the dining room and somehow Paul and I got through the busy lunch rush. Paul waited on customers and I ran the cash register while one of the five responding police officers stood questioning me. It became very clear right away, that the officer taking my report was very, very hungry!
Sergeant Timothy Leahy was tall, handsome and seemed to be from another place and time! He was a true gentleman who seemed a throwback to the cops I grew up watching on TV, more Sheriff Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show) less Detective Andy Sipowicz (NYPD Blue), and a whole lot like Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (played by Michael Conrad), who opened every episode of Hill Street Blues with a memorable roll call scene ending with a heartfelt message to the officers, “And hey!…Let’s be careful out there!”
He showed a lot of compassion and was very understanding that I had to keep working while I gave my account of what happened. He seemed very distracted however, by the display cases of hot and cold food and also by the food that was being plated and put on trays for me to ring up for customers that were dining in. His line of questioning went something like this:
Sgt. Leahy “So you said he was a white guy, tall, good-looking, in his mid-twenties…Ooh! Is that chicken? So what’s that in the little cup, is that mayonnaise?”
Me “Yes, and he was nicely dressed too, wearing a tan jacket with a lamb’s wool liner. And yes, that is our Italian Chicken Sandwich and it comes with a side of Basil Garlic Mayo.”
Sgt. Leahy “Ok, and how much money do you think he…wow that’s a big salad, do you make those fresh every day?”
Me “We had just opened, so he only got $160. A one hundred pack of singles and 3 twenties. Yes, we make those salads fresh every day!”
Sgt. Leahy “So what time did this robbery happen and how late are you guys gonna be here today? I’m off at three, do you think you’ll still have any of those sandwiches then?”
I was livid, because I was naïve enough back then to believe that every minute he was standing there asking questions was a minute more for the bad guy to get away! He then sat down to question Molly, whose boyfriend had come to console her. She left after giving her account of the events and I wasn’t sure she’d ever come back, so I rearranged my schedule to allow myself time to do her job on top of all the shopping, prepping, cooking, dish washing and paperwork I needed to do. I had no time really, to come to grips with how I was feeling after the robbery.
The following week, while having dinner at my parent’s house, my dad noticed how forgetful and inattentive I’d become and that I slurred my words a couple of times. I laughed and said “I know, it’s so weird, I keep doing that,” and I laughed some more. He cautioned me that I could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and then my laughter turned into the nervous kind and I shook my head no and said, “No, no way, I’m pretty tough. I really don’t think I’m suffering.” I then turned toward Molly with an apologetic look and said, “The gun wasn’t in my stomach.”
When forced to further confront my feelings on the matter, I admitted that the image of that gun was the last thing I saw in my head at night and the first thing I saw in the morning. I felt guilt more than anything else and I told my dad that I’d been having a really weird desire to smell horse shit and hear a creek run! He smiled as if that confirmed his diagnosis, and then he prescribed a trip to Amish Country. I agreed, it is the best place to find peace.
February 28th, 2003
We were robbed at gunpoint today at Tastebuds. Molly had a gun pulled on her. I am still shaking and I only caught a glimpse of the gun, I can’t imagine how she is doing. A situation like that freeze-frames your life and you have to examine everything that led up to that one moment that could have ended your life. I smile knowing that if today was my last day on Earth I spent my time well leading up to it. I have no regrets, no unfinished business, and I would have died doing what I love.
I went to the Cedar Lee Theater three times in the last two weeks. I brought my family dinner Sunday night and visited and lingered till late. I dropped by Paul’s mom’s with food from Tastebuds on the way home from signing my loan papers from the bank finalizing the deal for our next adventure. Paul and I went to the Art Museum Wednesday with his mom and sister and had a nice dinner at Number 1 Pho. I visited my sister-in-law Jackie and talked on the phone to Megan (another sister) several times this week.
I visited all my old friends at the West Side Market on Saturday and made new friends at Market 25, where Bayard (a friend and customer) bought me a wonderful gift of mango chutney. Inta (one of my best friends) called out of the blue from LA! Emilio, the owner of the diner in the basement of the food terminal, finally found our restaurant and stopped in for a visit. Shortly after he left, James Major III, a chef from Johnny’s, stopped to say hello. My neighbor from Tremont, Jim Ptachek sent a nice card.
This morning Molly came with me to the food terminal and I bought her breakfast at the diner. As we were leaving I bought a blueberry muffin to bring back to Paul, and just before we were robbed, he threw it in the trash as a little temper tantrum/protest because I wanted him out front running the register instead of rolling silverware in the back, which ironically enough, was where he was when the gunman approached and robbed us, seeing Molly all alone at the register.
In my long list of all the things that made my life so great, there wasn’t really any major contribution from Paul. He is my rock and my foundation, but on a day-to-day basis, he is not what makes me smile. Every day he drinks more and more and does less and less. What am I doing signing a 15-year lease and taking out a $150k loan to build us a dream restaurant, living space, and music studio? Trying to make him happy, I guess.
Tonight I feel lucky to be alive and Paul wishes he was dead.
Seriously, what am I doing?
March 7th, 2003
Against everything I’ve been raised to do, I have to admit this week that I’ve been beaten. I cannot suck it up and be tough and pretend that being robbed at gunpoint is something you can easily get over. I am suffering. I am changed. I am a victim. My dad thinks I may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. People I don’t know frighten me and loud noises make me jump. My brain is not functioning properly, I’ve been so forgetful. I’ve made so many mistakes and I’ve been slurring my words and misspelling them when I write, simple words even.
I feel a tremendous amount of guilt when I look at Molly and resentment when I look at Paul. Paul should have, would have, and could have in my eyes. I blame him of course, because there is a side of me that is still a little girl, that still needs to be protected and looked after. He still can’t get it through his head that he needs to be at that cash register 100% of the time that we are open…which is ONLY three goddamn hours!
I’ve never really felt looked after by Paul. We’ve always lived in dangerous neighborhoods and I’ve never felt totally protected. I don’t know if any guy would watch out for me as much as I suddenly seem to want, and if they did, I’m sure I would feel suffocated or something!
I feel so tired and so stressed out. Tomorrow I hope to go to Amish Country with my dad. A long drive out to the country should do me some good and hopefully soothe my soul.
March 12th, 2003
All my baby has to do, is play that guitar and I’m falling in love all over again. When he sings I am so overwhelmed that I forget to breathe. He is so intense and his music is so beautiful.
Last night Paul had to go rehearse with his friend Andy Kubiszewski, a drummer, (his dream drummer!) who is going to record some of Paul’s songs on Friday while he is in town from California. I was so happy to see him on his way that I made him a cappuccino and helped carry his guitars down to the van and I just felt so proud.
When he got home he looked different. He looked happy. I haven’t seen him excited about himself in years and he sat at the kitchen table telling me all about his night.
After having a nervous breakdown about this new lease for an hour tonight, I decided to pour myself a shot of Southern Comfort and dig out my fiddle. Paul sat next to me and we played and then passed the totally out-of-tune instrument back and forth. We laughed so much and Paul encouraged me all he could but I got frustrated and I handed him the fiddle to keep. I went into his music studio and returned with an acoustic guitar, which felt good strapped across my chest and sounded pretty decent once the whiskey kicked in!
Soon Paul and Mac (our dog) were lying on the floor in front of me. I must’ve played for an hour asking Paul all kinds of questions about the guitar. Then, an amazing thing happened. Paul kissed me passionately, then lifted his guitar off of me and started singing and playing me the most beautiful songs! He never lets me hear him play.
I feel like I’m not afraid anymore. We’re gonna be okay!
March 17th, 2003
All the world news stations are telling me tonight that war is inevitable and rapidly approaching. Two or three days until bombs will start dropping. The US does NOT have the support of the United Nations but President Bush does not pay that mind, nor does he pay it mind that so many US citizens are protesting this war in Iraq. I am still confused about how they are to blame for 9/11. Bush has oil and dollar signs in his eyes and a lot of innocent men, women, and children are about to die for his greed. This is so wrong.
April 16th 2003
I don’t know where to begin. I’ve been through so much since I last wrote. I thought getting a bank to loan me $150,000 was going to be one of the toughest parts of the restaurant move, now I look back with fond memories of the process. From March 15th- April 4th Paul and I found ourselves in lease negotiation hell. We finally brought in an attorney to fight our battle for us and we ended up satisfied with most of the terms of the lease, but the landlord is not putting his promises of paying for some of the buildout in writing and says it will have to wait till he comes back from a trip to Italy.
We still need to iron out very important details regarding the construction and who pays for what. The rent, $2,000/month still makes me smile, but the loan repayment, $2600 is the one that scares me. But I remember being very scared of the $1500 I pay now at Golden Plaza, which is laughable now considering it included all of our equipment as well. All I can think, is that the loan payment is only for 7 years and I had a four-year car payment that’s been paid off for six years now, so time flies.
Tomorrow we can officially start the demolition and then construction. My architect is slow-moving, my kitchen design guys are slow-moving and I am going crazy. I have been waiting for my insurance guy to show up for a month and today he said he just supposedly took care of things over the phone. I’m fat. I have a stiff neck, graying hair, and acne! I’m asked important questions about my new restaurant while I am trying to run my current one. I have to be tough and be a bitch and be assertive at work and I find that I am bringing my work home with me. Paul and I have had miserable fights lately, in fact, one was so bad that Paul jumped out of the car in Lakewood and walked home!
Last Sunday my dad and I drove out to the Akron Museum of Art to hear George Bilgere read his poetry. George teaches English at John Carrol University and his brilliant poetry is full of tough love, dark humor and tragic dysfunction, something we McGinty’s know a thing or two about! We were moved to laughter and tears, many times as he read, often simultaneously! Afterwards, we drove around looking for a restaurant on a Sunday in Akron and of course ended up back in Cleveland eating at Number 1 Pho, a Vietnamese restaurant I’d been hoping to take my dad to for a long time.
We talked about literature, art, music, politics, and religion. The wealth of my dad’s knowledge is such an inspiration. The whole day I felt like I was ‘sucking the marrow from life!’ I showed my dad the new restaurant space and he seemed pleasantly surprised. The sun was setting behind the downtown skyline and all of the rooms were glowing orange.
Last month my dad and I went to Amish Country together. I was hoping to find peace after being robbed at gunpoint at Tastebuds. I wanted to feel the sun on my face and felt strongly that deep breaths of fresh air and horse manure could cure my PTSD! I wanted to hear water in streams rushing over rocks to feel tranquility. As we were leaving, an Amish girl riding in a buggy smiled at me when we passed slowly and carefully and she gave me the peace sign. I smiled and thought, ‘I found it! I found my peace!’
To Be Continued!
Thank You For Being Here with Me My Friends!