by Andrea Littell
Real change happens at the community level when we take a vested interest in one another as neighbors and work together instead of against; real change happens when we shift anger, fear, jealousy and pride to sincere curiosity, honesty, gratitude and love, and when we realize we are all in this together
Every day the news reminds us that we are a divided nation, and after decades of being fed a diet of division and distrust, it could be said that we are now disconnected as a society. But I don’t believe that’s entirely true. I still believe we are better than that and I see evidence of our humanity and connectedness everyday.
A perfect example: This week in Winston-Salem is Mike’s Week. It is a celebration of local business owner Mike Rothman and his popular downtown restaurant, Skippy’s Hot Dogs on West Fourth Street. At the end of this week the doors of his business will close for good, marking the end of a space and place loved by many. I know I can speak for many Winston-Salemites in saying that Mike’s famous dogs on his pretzel buns are already sorely missed. But the soul of this story is about much more than the closing of a popular hot dog joint; it is about the generosity of a community that transformed devastating news into something uplifting and meaningful in support of a struggling neighbor.
Nearly a dozen restaurant owners and chefs have banded together to reopen Skippy’s and run the space voluntarily for a week with Mike’s blessing
As a small business, the operation of Skippy’s has relied on owner Mike Rothman’s presence. But this week, as countless folks line up at the door and thousands of hot dogs are sold, Mike is not there manning the grill. This week as crowds fill his eatery, he is resting in Pennsylvania with his parents as he recovers from surgery and bravely battles an aggressive form of brain cancer. He is, however, watching everything unfold via social media.
Following his recent diagnosis and subsequent relocation to Pennsylvania to be close to family during rehabilitation and treatment, Mike was sadly forced to close the doors to the place he had run for more than a decade. With mounting medical bills, it can be devastating to lose your sole source of income. Putting themselves in his shoes, fellow downtown restaurant owners knew they had to do something to help. As Vivian Joiner of Sweet Potatoes, who has taken the lead on organizing volunteers has said, “None of us are alone and we wanted to let Mike know he is not alone.” She speaks to one of the greatest gifts we have to give in this life: the opportunity to remind one another that our lives matter.
Nearly a dozen restaurant owners and chefs have banded together to reopen Skippy’s and run the space voluntarily for a week with Mike’s blessing, include Joiner of Sweet Potatoes; Will Kingery of Willows Bistro, Kings Crab Shack and Silo; Mary Haglund of Mary’s Gourmet Diner; and Opie Kirby of Finnegans Wake. From the outside, one might think of these restaurateurs as competitors but thanks to the spirit of a tight-knit community they simply see each other as neighbors and friends.
Each day a different restaurant owner or chef is taking the helm to raise funds to help support Mike with his costly treatments, supported by a staff of volunteers coming out from across Winston-Salem’s hospitality industry, as well as Good Samaritans that answered the call. The menu will include Skippy’s popular Chicago and Reuben dogs and each restaurant is having fun offering up its own specialty hot dog of the day.
In a statement on a GoFundMe page created for him, his niece shared that for Mike, Skippy’s success was never measured by any monetary value, but by the vibe and community that he was able to create through the restaurant. This week that vibe and community is evident with lines out the door and folks coming from all over to contribute and show their support. Mike has created his own tasty legacy in this town.
This story should remind us that we the people define our community and that in the end, beliefs and differences aside, we are still one. Stories like Mike’s Week, and countless others like it, are the bright spots that remind us that when kindness is considered newsworthy it will only inspire more of the same.
Andrea Littell is a freelance writer and photographer living in Winston-Salem. Find her latest stories and handpicked Winston-Salem happenings each week at towniesws.com.