On the twelfth day of the twelfth month, 1975, my story begins…
Born at Crozer Hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania, I was granted four years of peace and quiet before my sister Jess was born. Then my other sister, Beth. Then my brother, Justin. Then the youngest sister, Rachel. I was the oldest of five children, spanning thirteen years, all born to Jim and Cindy Busz, and all as unique as we were (and are) wildly different. I learned early that family was paramount, and I took my role as eldest very seriously. My father was a hard-working man who supported us on his single, blue-collar income… which sounds like something you read about in a history book. I have a very early memory of watching my father leave for work from my bedroom window as the sky was still dark and being so overwhelmed with appreciation. I spent my entire childhood admiring his work ethic. Later in life, I wished I’d seen him more.
As for my sister Jess and myself, the two oldest of the bunch, our upbringing was a bit different than the younger few. For us, my parents were very much zero tolerance. In my eyes, this translated into zero fun. I spent most of my early teenage years wishing I could do the things my peers were doing without the constant worry of consequences. By the age of eighteen, I left home to make my own assessment of what the term “consequences” meant. I learned… over and over and over again, so it would seem. Although, while living what some would label a ferocious party lifestyle through my twenties, I was able to keep a focus on my professional goals. Or one of them, at least.
As with most kids, I spent a decent amount of time fantasizing about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even at an early age, I gave myself two oddly rational options: Architect or Restaurant Owner. The former because I loved to spend hours drawing and the latter because I thought it would be cool to have my very own parking spot in front of my restaurant. This was probably a side effect of my love for Matchbox cars. I don’t know. What I do know is that I lacked the discipline to continue my education in Drafting and Design, so option A was quickly thrown out the window. This left a perfectly acceptable option B remaining, so I put all my focus in the restaurant business.
All I’ve ever done is full service restaurants. My first job was a busboy at the neighborhood steak house down the street in a shopping center in North Wilmington. I immediately fell in love with the lively atmosphere and lifestyle and bounced around a few restaurants until I found one in particular. It was opening day of the Melting Pot Restaurant on Concord Pike and my first day on the job. I started as a dishwasher at the age of seventeen, moved up in the company, and at the young, and potentially underprepared age of twenty-three, landed a GM position at a new Melting Pot in Towson, MD. There, after some growing pains, I spent almost a decade leading one of the top performing stores in the franchise. Life was good!
But I got bored.
So, I picked up my comfortable life in Maryland and set out in search of an opportunity to open my own concept. That was the dream, after all. I had the experience, I had a chef in my sister who had just finished culinary school, and I had a business plan. All I needed was some money. After two years of searching, the man I worked for all those years at The Melting Pot, Jeff Nichols, called me with an idea. Jeff docked his boat at the Summit North Marina in Bear, DE, where, for years, restaurant after restaurant had failed. Loving the idea of owning his own clubhouse but not really wanting to get involved in the day to day, he thought of me! I had complete creative control of the concept and he was willing to pay for the startup in its entirety, and on March 16th, 2009, we opened Aqua Sol Restaurant & Bar. A South Beach inspired Latin-fusion restaurant with an eighty seat patio overlooking the C&D Canal. It was absolutely perfect… and also the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I can only compare the experience to a roller coaster ride. The warmer months were fantastic, with wall to wall excitement from April through September. The colder months, however, were bitter and unforgiving. For nine years I rode that ride and could’ve happily done it for the rest of my life if it wasn’t for the fateful Summer of ‘16. My livelihood, which was obviously very weather dependent due to the aforementioned patio, took a nasty turn that year. You may remember it. Between thunderstorms and heat waves I didn’t see a full weekend on the patio until the end of August, and by then it was too late. So, we made the very difficult decision to shut the doors in September of that same year.
Dust myself off.
I was never afraid of failure, I just never planned for it. So, a little dazed and confused, I set out in search of a new opportunity. Do I get right back on the horse? Do I do something different? Do I go back to school? Am I a painter now? Is the circus hiring? For a few months, I wandered around searching, knowing that if a restaurant was calling my name, it’d have to be perfect. Then, one Monday morning as I was searching through the endless sea of daily online job listings, I saw a post for the Assistant General Manager position at Stone Balloon. This would be, and for good reason, the first and only restaurant I sent my resume. From being a part of the Delaware restaurant scene for so many years, I knew of Bobby Pancake and the excellent reputation of High 5 Hospitality. That, along with the prospect of working with Chef Robbie, whom I’d met several times over the years, was enough to have me revitalized to get back in the game again. I’ve now been with High 5 Hospitality for 18 months and have never stopped learning and growing. I am thrilled to be a part of this journey with all of you and can’t wait to see where we go from here!
I couldn’t possibly tell you my story without filling you in on the people who are my universe. I met Alison back in 2010 and instantly my story became our story. After an incalculable archive of failed relationships, I had never met a girl who was able to make me truly want to be something better. Until now, that is. Alison and her son Jaxen, who was two years old at the time, made me realize that I had spent the better part of my life thinking that everyone was an accessory to me. But now, suddenly, it’s not about me at all… it’s about us. Then, and at risk of sounding cliché, the single greatest moment of my life happened on August 1st, 2012: my daughter Penelope was born. To say that she changed how I viewed the world would be an understatement. The three of them are the reason I get up and do what I do every day, and I’m gonna keep doing it until this story ends.
What’s your Story?