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Delaware men’s lacrosse has a motto: well done is better than well said.
It applies to many things about being a college lacrosse player. Being diligent in practice, working hard in the weight room, excelling in class. But more importantly, it applies to life after college lacrosse.
Two alumni of the program, brothers Alex and Eric Smith, are embodying that mindset during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The Smith brothers are co-owners of Atlas Restaurant Group, operating 15 different restaurants in both Baltimore and Houston with plans to open five more and expand to Washington, D.C.
Weighing the long-term economic survival of the business in the face of a lockdown, and hoping to ensure that there were still jobs to come back to one day, they made the difficult decision to furlough the majority of their workforce. Knowing the impact this would have on their employees, the Smiths moved to help ease the transition as much as they could.
One hundred percent of proceeds from gift card orders are being donated back to the staff, with matching contributions from Alex and Eric and each. Most notably, Atlas has partnered with contacts throughout the food service industry to organize weekly grocery drives for hospitality industry workers.
“The hardest day of our lives was calling and furloughing 900 employees, it was an absolute tragedy,” Alex Smith said. “We just figured we’re going to do everything we can to provide for these employees while they’re out of work.” With each grocery drive providing about 500 meals, the group has been able to provide around 4,000 meals between their Baltimore and Houston locations over the past month. “We decided that we were going to do food drives and partner with local vendors and local providers to make sure that our staff was able to eat, have something to drink, and survive during these hard times,” Eric Smith said. Before they became successful restaurateurs, the Smith brothers were plying their trade with a lacrosse stick at the University of Delaware.
Alex started as a midfielder, eventually discovering that he had a knack for winning faceoffs. A three-time All-American, he became one of the best faceoff specialists in the history of the game, writing his name all over the NCAA record book and helping guide the Blue Hens to the 2007 Final Four as a senior, then playing professionally for several years. “I got to win a conference championship and got to almost win a national championship. It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Alex said of his time playing at Delaware. Eric, who transferred to Delaware after starting his college career at Ohio State, was an attack who also made an NCAA tournament appearance with the Blue Hens in 2011.
For the younger Smith, the CAA tournament that year is a memory that stands out. “We were the number four seed and we had to travel to Hofstra on a Wednesday night and we beat them. Then we drove back to Delaware, turned around, went back to UMass, which was a seven-and-a-half-hour drive on Saturday and beat them for the CAA Championship,” Eric said. “That was a blast. Just a crazy quick turnaround, but that’s kind of who we were. That blue-collar team, it doesn’t matter if we’re the four seed or the one seed, we’re coming for you.” That competitive spirit on the lacrosse field translated to success in the business world for the Smith brothers. “I think everything’s a competition in life,” Eric said. “Lacrosse is a great sport to learn how to work as a team to achieve a common goal, and also how to thrive in very competitive environments.”
In unprecedented times like these, the concept of teamwork is what’s most important.
“The team aspect for us is so huge. I mean, that’s basically what a restaurant is, a team,” Alex said. “We’re just hoping to get everybody through these two months, and then hopefully we can open up at the end of May and get our family back to work.”