Q&K: The Troy Waitstaff Benefit shines a light on Troy’s service professionals

TROY — When The Eastern Highs decided to perform a benefit for Troy’s diverse waitstaff and service professionals, it quickly became more than just raising money and awareness.

The benefit, which streamed on YouTube from the historical Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on June 25, highlighted the plight many of Troy’s service professionals faced in the past 16 months. The 72-minute show featured a full concert from The Eastern Highs, as well as interviews from many of Troy’s key figures; in many cases, these people are not necessarily the ones running the businesses, but the ones who face Collar City guests with a smile and the hospitality that makes Troy special.

Nippertown’s Katie Lembo sat down with The Eastern Highs’ Kirk Juhas for a Q&K about the benefit itself, what his band learned from these resilient figures and how the 518 can support these professionals moving forward.

Katie Lembo: Troy’s cultural effect on the Capital District is unmatched and it’s no secret how much the pandemic affected small businesses. As you spoke with these figures, what did you take away from their interviews?

Kirk Juhas: I think what stood out during the interviews were everyone’s stories. Hearing what these people went through was humbling. As a band, we were overwhelmed by how amazing it was going to be to play Troy Savings Bank Music Hall — not only is it one of the most historical venues in the area, but the acoustics are phenomenal and the prestige is second to none — but we quickly were swept up in the stories of these incredible professionals. One of the people we interviewed was pretty special; before the pandemic, she frequently served us at Peck’s Arcade. During the pandemic, she delivered a pizza to us. It struck me deeply and viscerally how many changes these people had to make to survive the pandemic and how much of an impact this had on those whose entire career is making your experience brighter.

KL: Tell me about the planning of the benefit, between getting your band’s set list together and tracking down all of these key people.

KJ: The planning was intensive. I had to reach out to each restaurant individually because there is no organization that oversees the Troy waitstaff force as a whole. So that took a lot of time. Plus, the semantics of getting our performance where we wanted it. During the pandemic, a band performed at TSBMH and had all the lights on. I was inspired by the performance; I was asking myself what it would be like to perform a set with some of the cinematic lighting that you might see in “Fantasia.” When we finalized our participation, I reached out to the Hall and sent them clips from “Fantasia” and told them that was the kind of effect we wanted; an artistic spin on a revered TSBMH show.

Photo: Kirk Juhas

The planning was also figuring out how we were going to interview these professionals because I wanted to get into the harrowing details. I wanted to understand not only what they did to keep themselves going and the networking they did to keep themselves in the forefront of the industry, but what those darkest moments were like. These professionals are really tough people. Despite restrictions beginning to lift, it felt like the right time to do this benefit because many of these people are back to work and are now facing a whole new set of challenges, including those that come with vaccination laws and no masks and how they will both give the best experience to customers while still having to maintain all of these different variables.

KL: As an entertainer and connoisseur of Troy’s rich culture, how can we support these workers and business owners in one month, two months, one year, when the pandemic is a distant memory?

KJ: I wish there was a clear-cut answer for this question. The first thing that really comes to mind is empathy. Be understanding of the challenges they are facing and the variables they have to balance. I’ve been tipping 40, 50 percent because I want to make sure they are still making enough to sustain themselves. Even when I’m just picking up food, I’m tipping like crazy. The key is keeping a pulse on what these people are going through and how you can be more involved and supportive. These people put themselves on the front lines of your experience day after day and in many cases, are in the dark about health statuses and who they are dealing with. If we just showed empathy to these professionals and did our best to help them, we’d be so much better.

Photo: Kirk Juhas

KL: Anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked?

KJ: Something that became scarily prevalent during my time with these professionals is how many of them left the service industry all together when everything happened. A realization that came to me was we will never know the true extent of how the past 16 months affected the service industry. There is nothing tracking this impact with hard data and the different pieces of knowledge that would be needed. We will literally never fully know how much this changed everything and how much it affected these people. We also learned the importance of interacting with these establishments directly; GrubHub and other delivery services take a chunk of the profits with delivery fees from small businesses and while they are convenient, they’re doing more harm than good. Why not take a small adventure, either by foot or vehicle, to your favorite restaurant or store and pick up your food or groceries? If you’re going to pay money for goods, don’t you want all of that money going to the place you’re purchasing from? When you cut out third-party services and interface with the business directly, all of the profit goes to them and that few extra dollars can be the difference in payroll, rent or even better, the hope these people need to keep fighting.

To be considered for a Q&K feature, email [email protected]

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