Brooke Warden opened Pink Cactus on Spring Street in 2019 | Photo by Ruta Smith

Stepping Up

I faced several challenges last year that could have potentially closed down my restaurant for good. When the pandemic started, Pink Cactus had just celebrated its one-year anniversary a week prior. I worked through a lot of challenges in my first year of business; and in many ways, I think overcoming those challenges primed me for the pandemic, which took over the entire second year of our operations. 

I originally hired a chef to run the daily operations in the kitchen so I could manage the front of the house and bar. When things fell apart, I was left with the choice of taking on the chef role as well, or being forced to close. I admit, I struggled for months transitioning into the role as it was a whirlwind of a switch. Previously, my entire restaurant experience was front of house and specifically, more of a beverage background — I studied wine for a long time and am a certified sommelier. 

However, food was always my passion. My true love for restaurants began because of my obsession with food and how it is made, and I love that I now have a deeper understanding from running the Pink Cactus kitchen. I now feel much more in control of running my restaurant, with nothing standing in my way that could compromise executing my vision.

I hired friends to help train me to be the chef I needed to become for Pink Cactus. I hired chefs who I worked under for about five years at Macintosh. They helped me learn, along with my prep woman Lydia from Chiapas, Mexico. Lydia has been with me since day one and has helped develop recipes with me, further educating me on Mexican cuisine and ingredients.

When the pandemic began, I lost all employees, and it was the lowest point of my life. I spent several weeks alone in my restaurant taking to-go orders by phone, completing payments and running to the kitchen to make food or the bar to make drinks. I was even forced to train my own mother and almost shut down.  

I didn’t even have a server who wanted to work when unemployment was dispersed, as it offered more traditional income than most servers would hope to take home on a given week’s average. 

So, I just accepted that I would have to work every position. I went down to the smallest menu ever at Pink Cactus that first month, until I got more help. Every day I would set up the restaurant by myself and close it down. There was a period where we were just offering takeout for a few months before patio dining was allowed.

But, the last year gave me a chance to really give a new life to Pink Cactus. It was an opportunity to make changes and streamline certain problems we were having as a new restaurant. Now that things feel smoother for us and I have rebuilt a stronger team than Pink Cactus has ever had before, I think the sky is the limit. I want to keep on this rhythm and continue serving all the people who have continued to support us. That truly is what I look forward to, and after almost losing that, I have even more of an appreciation and dedication to serving our neighborhood community.