Laid Off a Year Ago, This Executive Chef Still Found Benefits in Unemployment

“I know what I’m supposed to be doing and I am supposed to be cooking”

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Cat Gustin-Rau is an executive chef who can make hundreds of meals every day at the corporate kitchen she runs. Or at least, she did, before COVID-19 hit.

“It was March 18 and they’re like, OK, we’re going to shut down,” Gustin-Rau said.

We first met Gustin-Rau one year ago, just days after getting laid off.

“I remember me and my team, we threw stuff in my walk-in freezer. We were like, three to four weeks. We’ll see you in a month,” she said.

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One month turned into two, then three. Gustin-Rau was receiving unemployment, but what she really wanted was to go back to the job she loves.

To keep busy, Gustin-Rau posted cooking videos on social media and whipped up special meals for friends and family. It gave her a purpose, she said.

In June, she got excited about a call from work -- but it was only a request to throw out all the food in the refrigerator. “Then they said Labor Day. And the date just kept moving back and back and back,” Gustin-Rau said.

Thanksgiving brought more disappointment, unable to celebrate with her close-knit family. Then, news that her unemployment benefits would run out in December. 

Gustin-Rau knew she was more fortunate than most. Her wife had continued with her full-time job. But it was about much more than the money. 

“It was definitely the mental thing. I had struggled with some anxiety and I think, like a lot of people, I was sad,” she said.

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Linda Rau, Gustin-Rau‘s mother, understood. She had also been laid off. But it was particularly hard on her daughter, a go-getter who loves being around people, she said. 

“So to be all of a sudden doing nothing was tough on her,” Rau said.

So Gustin-Rau stopped collecting unemployment benefits and got a job at Trader Joe’s, which lifted her spirits for “being part of a team again.”

If there’s a silver lining to this year, Gustin-Rau said, it's that she learned a lot about herself: that she’s strong, resilient and chose the right career. 

“I know what I’m supposed to be doing and I am supposed to be cooking,” she said.

And she may be getting back to that sooner rather than later -- she was thrilled to hear she will likely be going back to work in May.

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