Checking in with… Chris Ladley of Nudo House

In our new column, Checking in with…, we’re catching up with local food industry employees to find out how they’ve been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

You may not know Chris Ladley’s name, but if you’ve been to Nudo House, you surely know him as the bearded guy that sometimes brings you ramen. His actual position? “People call me the chef or the manager,” he reflects, eventually settling on, “I guess ‘chef at Delmar.’” When Nudo House made the expansion to The Loop last year (the original location is in Creve Coeur), Ladley went with it. Now, he’s working alongside owner Qui Tran to help the business make it through to the end of the stay-at-home order. “We had to chop everyone’s hours in half, but we’re busy enough to keep getting paid, which is the best you can ask for in this current situation,” he explained. “I guess bittersweet is the best term to use.” We asked Ladley what he thinks of Postmates, how the stay-at-home order has changed his nightlife routine, and where he’s going to eat and drink once the quarantine is over.  

What does it feel like to be working in this climate? 
There’s this number in my head of what we have to do everyday. If the phone’s not ringing and the Postmates tablet’s not going off, there’s just this dread. Two or three bad days in a row, and we’ve just blown the whole week, you know? There’s this overwhelming anxiety. Margins in restaurants are already super tight and super thin. To keep some income for our staff – that margin’s even tighter and slimmer. It’s just a matter of hitting a certain number a day. We’re getting good support from people. People are buying gift cards and dropping some nice tips for the staff, and that’s awesome and it makes you feel good, but as an operator, I wake up in the morning and I’m like, “Oh fuck, what’s going to happen today?”  

You recently posted a photo on Instagram of a Postmates driver parked in the wrong direction on Delmar. He had gloves on, but was using a phone, which isn’t super sanitary. What’s your impression of the attempts of delivery people to practice good sanitation during these times? 
I think 50% of the Postmates drivers are gloved-up and have a mask on. Most don’t, or it’s like the guy in the photo, where he’s got gloves on and he’s on his phone, which leads me to think that people probably don’t change gloves very often. When people wear gloves a lot, they tend not to wash their hands or change out their gloves. It’s good that these people are wearing gloves, but if you’re not changing them out every time you do a delivery, then you might as well not be wearing them at all. 50% of the Postmates people are on their shit. If there’s people inside grabbing a pickup, they’ll wait outside. They’re being smart about it. But then there’s the other 50 that are trying - in air quotes [laughs]. They’re making some sort of attempt. But if you wear the same pair of gloves all day, that really doesn’t do anything. Or, you know, a mask on, but they take it off to talk to you. I guess they would get a little star sticker for the effort.  

What about on your end?
Anytime anyone comes in to pick up anything, we get the Lysol wipes out. The credit card machines, the tables, the iPads, all that shit. I’ll disinfect it every time someone comes in. There’s no overkill when it comes to keeping your guests and your staff from catching this thing.  

As someone who’s still going to work six days a week, how has the stay-at-home order affected your schedule?
It’s not like I get off work and go out to see some friends at the bar and kick it for a while. My roommate and I are good friends, so her and I will play cards or video games. I think the best part about going straight home after work is that I hadn’t really cooked for myself for a very long time. You spend 10 to 16 hours a day cooking food, so you come home and nuke something, or grab something on the way home, or just not eat. I’ve been cooking every night for the last couple weeks. I forgot how much fun it was to just open the fridge and the pantry and go, “OK, what do I have?” I made some steamer clams and Greek orzo last night, because I wanted Greek food.  

Not being up late every night, I’m getting up earlier, doing a lap around Tower Grove Park, which is like four miles a day of walking. On a personal note, there have been some good benefits from all of this – forcing myself to slow down and turn off after work.  

Let’s look a few months down the line, to when dining rooms are open again. It’s the first day that you can go out after your shift. Where are you going? 
Wow. It’s been long enough that I think the first night would be just making the rounds to check on friends. [I’d start] in The Loop. Zip by The Grove, see my people in The Grove. Make sure everyone’s staying alright. Bomb extra money into everyone’s tip jars. Late night food? The food at Flamingo Bowl… there’s some pretty fire shit on their menu. Their Cuban sandwich is the best Cuban sandwich I’ve had in this city. Their pizza’s fire. Plus, there’s always some shenanigans we’re doing down there. The first place I’d go eat for a sit-down dinner is probably Sardella or Nixta. There’s great people there – that’s a guaranteed home run. One night, go hit Morganford, go see Dan at Three Monkeys, go see the folks at Tower [Pub], swing by Stella Blues for some chicken wings. Have some cheap beers. Restaurants have been hit hard, but bars… If you’re somebody who slings drinks four or five nights a week, you make cash. Show some love. Just try to get everyone back to normal as quickly as possible. 

Adam Rothbarth is the staff writer at Sauce Magazine.