Aiden and Louis Ardine, brothers and restaurant veterans from Red Bank, share a passion for connecting with people—something they did often while working at Bond Street in Asbury Park.
Following the stressful, pandemic-plagued summer of 2020, they left their jobs at Bond Street—Aiden was a bartender, Louis, a barback and handyman. Last December, the brothers drove to Las Vegas to visit their grandmother. They passed through states they had never visited, ones they felt were filled with untold stories. The trip made quite an impact on them, which led Aiden to ask Louis, “Would you consider walking across the country with me?”
They began planning their trip—which kicks off May 1—and are partnering with the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation (RWCF) to raise money for industry workers and small businesses affected by the pandemic. Along the way, the two plan to speak with business owners around the country, sharing the stories of these businesses and encouraging people to donate. Aiden and Louis plan to pay their own expenses so all the money they raise can go to the fund.
“We’re going to try to give a platform and a voice to small businesses and individuals,” says Aiden. As for Louis, he is “excited to see America through a new lens,” as they speak with dozens of business owners across the country.
Table Hopping: Tell me about your restaurant industry experience.
Aiden Ardine: I’ve been working in Asbury since I graduated college. I thought, if I bartend, I can move to any city or move across the country, and I’ll always be able to provide for myself while looking for a quote-unquote real job. Four years later, I realized any job that pays the bills is a real job, and bartending afforded me the flexibility and the means to pursue my other interests, like writing and traveling.
Louis Ardine: I wasn’t a bartender, per se. I had worked at Bond Street prior, then took a year off, but I enjoyed the position because it was part-time work, and you get to meet people. I learned a lot from people—it was a really cool job. When Bond Street got a PPP loan, I was able to come back and do some maintenance work because I’m very handy and can do some carpentry. I also had another job working for a coffee roaster called Maiden Coffee Roasters, which was cool because they were teaching me a new skill.
TH: Has walking across America long been an idea in your head?
AA: We were definitely, given our upbringing, open to an idea of this sort. We grew up hiking with our dad who was from Maine, so at very young ages he showed us that appreciation for being outside in nature. We always made it a priority to get outside and hike and camp, and we’re both runners. When I was abroad, I did a hike across the North of Spain called El Camino de Santiago, and I spent a month hiking.
LA: I’ve always loved running. Cross country helped me out a great deal with having a free space and learning about myself. I remember reading [Christopher McDougall’s] book Born to Run, and I would think about how you could run across America—never taking it too seriously, but it was always floating around.
TH: Who will your walk benefit?
AA: If we were going to do something like this, given our backgrounds, we wanted to help to give back to our community and make it a charitable thing. I started looking for people with a Covid-19 impact towards the restaurant industry. We found a group called Restaurant Workers Community Foundation, and 100% of the money we raise will go directly to them.
TH: What will RWCF do with the money raised?
AA: They provide direct relief assistance in the form of grants to individuals, as well as provide funds for regional nonprofits who might have a better way of dispersing the funds in their communities than a national organization would. They also provide interest-free small business loans to businesses that have been affected by the pandemic.
TH: How will you spread awareness for the restaurant industry along the way?
AA: We’re planning to have a huge social media presence because that’s the move of the world right now. We’re trying to connect with small businesses along the route, tell a bit about their story, how the pandemic affected their business and what they want people to know from their experiences.
TH: What are you most looking forward to?
LA: In New Jersey, we live in a bubble in terms of diversity and ideology. I think of my friend group; we all agree on the same things, and this is obviously a crazy time period in America. I think the model of restaurants and idea of breaking bread might help us learn and experience other aspects of American culture. You may disagree with someone on political matters, but you find out that you actually have a lot in common outside of that. It will be super interesting, and I’m excited to learn more about that.
TH: How long will your trip be, and what do you plan to do afterwards?
AA: Hopefully we will be finished towards the end of September. We’ll be crossing the Golden Gate Bridge with our friends and family there with us, and I guess I’ll have to start writing a book about our experience. Hopefully, at that point we’ll have raised more than our goal of $30,000 and helped contribute to a meaningful conversation about how the restaurant industry does business. Sharing a meal with people is one of the best, most powerful human experiences. We just want to honor that throughout our journey—I think that’s something a lot of people can understand and relate to.
Aiden and Louis begin their walk on May 1. Follow the journey on their Instagram, ArdinesxAmerica, and read about the people and businesses they speak with along the way at unmutedstories.org. To show your support, donate to the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation.Click here to leave a comment