No Filter – Karla Walsh

The Saving Grace of Restaurants

One year and two weeks after I moved to Des Moines, I needed to be rescued. It wasn’t by doctors, although I had just taken a brutal fall after being hit by a car.

I needed to be rescued from myself. That accident, and the events and people who joined my life as a result, are the ones who quite possibly saved my life.

Let me rewind. I was walking home from work that evening to pack for a marathon. Twelve months after moving to Des Moines, I had approximately two friends (my left and right running shoes) and one hobby (running).

Looking back, I was still struggling with an eating disorder I thought I’d overcome. My weight was more “normal” than it was at the depth of my battle with anorexia, according to my doctor’s charts. But I had slipped back into a pattern of overexercising that initiated my downward weight spiral back when I was 16. Then 25, I had already wasted more than a decade dedicating a good portion of my brain, every moment and every day, to tabulating calories. It was time for a wake-up call, and that car provided a big, painful, important one.

Since I had no idea how long it would take for my four broken foot bones and broken elbow to heal, I was forced to find new ways to keep my brain busy. That way, I wouldn’t think about all the calories I wasn’t burning running around Gray’s Lake. Consider it the ultimate head fake.

And it worked, once I landed at a table served by Jennie, who taught me the magic of a perfectly seared scallop she delivered from chef Sean’s butter-lined skillet. It worked, once Josh paired the ideal wine to match that dish that somehow transported me to a land that I hadn’t visited since I was 12 years old. A land where I could find joy, rather than fear or anxiety, in food. I could find joy sharing a meal. I could find joy in living in my own skin. It was a 10-course Second Saturday dinner at Proof, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

That summer, I began exploring Des Moines through food, instead of on foot. Many dinners out led to new friendships, as companions brought pals or staff became more than industry folks—they became family.

True, I needed physical therapy and plenty of rest. But what I needed most, and what truly saved me during that time, was the people in the restaurant industry who taught me how rich life can be when you’re not at war with your body—and when you’re not at war with yourself.

After having their normal operations impaired due to the coronavirus, many restaurants find themselves struggling to keep the lights on. They’re facing a stark wake-up call if they don’t receive additional support.

Think back to your most memorable meal in Des Moines. Our restaurants showed up for us. These are the places where we’ve celebrated our wins and mourned our losses. Now it’s our turn to show up for them. That can be in any way you feel comfortable and by any means you can share: via a gift card purchase, a takeout meal, a favorable review on social media, or a dinner at the restaurant itself.

Restaurants lifted me up after my fall. Now, if we team up, we can lift restaurants up from their fall, too.


Karla Walsh is a freelance writer and restaurant brand manager. Contact her at karlaswalsh@gmail.com to share your favorite restaurant-related memories, and follow her latest culinary adventures on Instagram @karlaswalsh.

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