EUGENE, Ore. — Early Tuesday morning, the smell of peanut sauce fills Kesey Square in downtown Eugene. As Eric Thomason’s wife Jessica preps the food cart for the day, he sniffs the air, smiles, and says, “I want to get my peanut sauce on grocery store shelves. It will be called, ‘Wrap City Peanut Sauce.'” Thomason says they decided to open a wrap cart because, “Jessica makes great wraps.” Because in April 2012, soups were out of season.
Thomason has been a chef for 23 years, spending 10 years in Sun Valley, Idaho. “I was the one who got the soup thing started at the ski resorts,” Thomason says. Thomason is proud of his soups and says they are his favorite dish to cook. “I made five gallons of clam chowder… and it sold out in two hours,” he says of his work at Sun Valley.
Being a chef is self-serving work, Thomason says. He didn’t mind spending all day cooking and serving holiday meals because of the recognition he received afterward. “I’d always joke that I was married to my career.” Thomason says he’d find himself sometimes working 6 months without a day off. “But no one asked me to do that. I wanted to do that,” he adds.
Thomason says his ego loved the chef title but he knew it wasn’t going to keep him happy for eternity.
“In 23 years as a chef, I never had holidays off, never had a weekend off, I never had holidays with my family,” Thomason says. He’d spend holidays serving dinner and carving turkeys for families, but still missed spending holiday time with his family. “But then I make that phone call to Mom, you know, ‘Merry Christmas, Mom. Did you get that card I sent you?’ And that was about it.”
Thomason met Jessica in Sun Valley three years ago, “both career workers,” Thomason says. Sun Valley is a small town where everyone knows each other, so Jessica, a landscaper, and Thomason were friends for about a year but never dated. Even though skiing was free for Thomason, he says he couldn’t break himself away from the kitchen to ski with friends.
But one day, they had both never been on the gondola before, and they happened to be riding it at the same time. Jessica says, “We were like teenagers, just giddy and happy together. It was new for us because we were both so focused on work.”
Their good timing paid off, because, Thomason says, “We went skiing together and laughed all day. Then we skied the rest of the week.” Simultaneously, they say, “We’ve been inseparable since.”
After about a year of seeing Jessica, Thomason says he went to work Thanksgiving at the resort, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. “I drove home at 6 at night and she prepared this beautiful dinner for me but I wasn’t there all day.”
So he says he told her, “‘Honey, I’ll never miss another holiday with you. This is what’s important to me now.'”
Today, Thomason says, “Now I have weekends off, holidays off, all those things I never had.”
Wrap City is a small, yellow house atop white lattice, and their dog Roscow lies in the shade, rocking a bandana and a fresh haircut. Thomason and Jessica’s work is a dance as they move from one side to the other in harmony. Thomason says they are trying to find balance in their lives and using their time efficiently. They turn down offers to serve at events, and remain focused on serving healthy, delicious wraps to the downtown community.
For the past few years, Thomason has been able to spend holidays with his family and doesn’t regret that one bit. “To say I gave up a lot is hard to say for me because I think I get so much more out of life right now,” he says. “Being married is the biggest joy I have in my life now.”