Raised in Rossmoor, the writer was waiting tables in Manhattan’s West Village when she told a longtime customer, a book editor, about her novel. She was subsequently signed to a high-six-figure, two-book deal. Her first job was as a hostess at Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach.
“The first time someone slipped me $20 to move them to the top of the (wait) list and I did it, I thought, ‘This is incredible; this is a great job.’ It
was my first restaurant family. I already knew that artists had jobs in restaurants to support themselves and their art. I also knew that financial independence was the key to adulthood. ”
After graduating from Kenyon College in Ohio, Danler moved to New York with the goal of becoming a writer. She got a job at restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe and ended up in the hospitality industry for eight more years. Nearing 30, she enrolled in the New School’s fiction-writing MFA program and wrote the first draft of her novel.
“I never stopped writing, but I hadn’t crafted anything long format. I would occasionally think to myself, ‘What’s happening? I moved here to become a writer.’ Then when I was 29, it felt very urgent that I either go back to school or abandon it completely.”
“Sweetbitter” feeds readers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for books about restaurant life, such as Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”
and Eddie Huang’s “Fresh Off the Boat.” But this is about a front-of-the-house “backwaiter,” who buses tables and refills water glasses, and it’s a female coming-of-age novel rather than a male-centric memoir.
It follows Tess, a 22-year-old newcomer from Ohio, who gets a job in a restaurant famous for its impeccable service, falls under the spell of a sophisticated waiter and a handsome bartender, and savors Prince Edward Island oysters and $26-a-glass Alsace rieslings.
“She has my apartment. She has my walk to the subway. But the plot is very fictional. She does things I could have never done. Tess is a really admirable blend of optimism and recklessness. While I aspire to that, because I think optimism and recklessness are important to bravery, I’ve always been a lot more cautious.”
Danler, 32, moved to Laurel Canyon in February and has been promoting the book.
“At a reading in Seattle, a young woman asked me what advice would I give 22-year-old women. I told her to learn how to say ‘no.’ I think young women have a really hard time saying no, or saying ‘enough’ or ‘I don’t like that.’ I think that we are taught to please. All these things about language are really about boundaries.”