In Memory of Matt Haley

You may relate to this typical morning routine: quickly scrolling through your Twitter feed, retweeting witty comments, favoriting attractive photos, opening interesting-sounding articles to read a little later… This morning I read a tweet from the Beard Foundation that made me gasp and paralyzed my thumb on the screen: “We are deeply saddened by the death of Delaware restaurateur and philanthropist Matt Haley”

It’s not that I knew Matt well, but from the couple of events I worked with him and the evening we spent chatting and enjoying oysters in Rehoboth Beach, I took a profound amount of inspiration.

Matt was a success story: having turned his life around in his early 30s after years of addiction and jail time to eventually own 8 busy restaurants in Delaware, manage 25 other operations in 4 states and gross upwards of $50 million per year.

Not that you could tell any of that by looking at him or being around him. Walking down the street in Rehoboth, Matt said hello to everyone, greeting them by name and sincerely asking how they were or what they were up to. It felt good to even be in his presence.

Matt’s story in itself is inspirational and of course I appreciated the fact he sourced from his local fishermen and supported small farmers in Delaware. But what I most admired of Matt was his humility and sincerity. He was happy with his success, but was very apparent that he wasn’t doing it for the money. The business and the money provided him with the means to help his community (both local and global) and employ and empower people, no matter what their background or story.

Everyone that Matt touched had a great amount of respect for him, as he did for them. His enterprise was nothing small and required the support of hard working, loyal people. Matt was an amazing leader that commanded the dedication of his employees while at the same time making them feel appreciated and loved. All he wanted was to provide them the opportunity to make their lives as good as they could be.

Matt passed away this morning after being in a motorcycle accident in India. He was on a 6 week trip through India and Nepal, where he was eventually going to deliver stoves to a Nepali village.

I remember talking to him years ago about his work with children Nepal around education and food. When I expressed interest in joining him sometime he whole-heartedly told me to let him know when and he would be sure to make it happen.

Matt and I exchanged emails about 4 months ago: he wished me well on my next adventures and I congratulated him for his recognition by the James Beard Foundation for Humanitarian of the Year. I remember being so touched that he would take the time to respond to my email, but of course he would.

Cheers to Matt Haley and creating community.

Read more about Matt Haley in this New Journal article.

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