After a truly brutal 2020, in which restaurants were forced to close their doors and reopen amid a dangerous pandemic, Dallas restaurant José found a seriously nostalgic way to celebrate the new normal: by hosting a prom.
Helmed by chef Anastacia Quinones Pittman, the restaurant typically hosts its annual employee appreciation party in December, plans that were put on hold due to the pandemic. As the months dragged on, though, staffers kept asking Pittman about when they could expect their annual bash. “I told them the sooner they got vaccinated, the sooner we could take off our masks and get together,” she says. “One by one, they would come up to me and tell me they were getting their shots so we could make this happen.”
After what Pittman describes as a “record month,” the restaurant decided to close its doors on Memorial Day and finally have that staff appreciation party. She isn’t exactly sure how the prom theme emerged, but it ultimately just made sense. “It’s already around the time when prom would usually be happening, and after this year, it just felt like we had grown so much and were having a graduation,” she says.
In true prom fashion, José staffers hunted down the perfect gowns and rented tuxedos, showing up to the restaurant in their Sunday best. Quinones’s husband, fellow chef Daniel Pittman, also rented a tux, and the chef went out to buy flowers to make a boutonniere for his jacket. The restaurant rented a party bus to ensure that staffers could fully revel while still getting home safely, and blasted cumbia and dance floor classics like the Chicken Dance to get everybody up and moving. At the end of the night, naturally, a king and queen were crowned, plus a full court of prom princesses.
“I was really surprised to see how seriously everybody took it,” Quinones says. “We’re around each other all day every day, and we’re not always looking our best first thing in the morning or after a long shift, and everyone would cheer when someone would walk in dressed to the nines. It was so special.”
Throughout the night, the restaurant hosted a raffle using loteria cards that offered staffers the chance to win primo bottles of booze, like Don Julio 1942 and pricey bottles of champagne, donated by Jose’s suppliers. The partiers feasted on tacos de trompo, and a stunning charcuterie board created by Candelaria’s Bakery owner Iris Candelaria. Local baker Chrysta Miller, of Cookies by Christa, baked cookies emblazoned with the restaurant’s logo, and phrases like “familia” (family) and “chingona” (badass).
Not surprisingly, the night was also especially emotional for Pittman, who was thrilled to see her staff have a good time after such a difficult year. She especially appreciated when the restaurant’s owners took to the stage and offered a heartfelt thank you to the staff for all their hard work. “Seeing everybody together and having a good time after what we’ve been through, it was really emotional,” Pittman says. “We’ve laughed together, cried together, fought for each other, and have bonded like family.”