Sunrises, Gratitude and Coronavirus

A restaurant owner in San Diego is hoping to inspire others

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A Spring Valley restaurant owner, facing several coronavirus-related challenges himself, is hoping to inspire others with a new movement.

Shawn Walchef says a new daily habit he calls "Sunrise Gratitude" has been critical in getting him through these uncertain times.

He gets up before 4 a.m. every single day, and spends an hour exercising as the sun rises. And he reminds himself that every time the sun rises, he has something to be grateful for.

"It's such a hard thing to do, but when you do it and you're grateful, it changes everything," Walchef said.

The San Diego native owns Cali Comfort BBQ in Spring Valley. Like so many small business owners, he is struggling to keep things going.

"Our team fought like crazy to stay open, changed our model," Walchef told NBC 7. "We're serving out of a window."

Despite his best efforts to pivot to delivery and take-out orders, he still had to lay off 27 employees.

"It was the most difficult thing I've ever done in the last 12 years of running the restaurant," he said.

And there's another reason Walchef says his new sunrise habit helps him through each day. The sports bar owner became sober eight years ago, after a second DUI.

Until the pandemic, he was hosting two weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at his restaurant. When those in-person meetings had to be canceled indefinitely, he worried people might slip out of sobriety.

But he says, just like the BBQ business, the AA meetings have been able to pivot. They're now holding them online. He celebrated eight years sober during a Zoom meeting in late April.

The husband and father of two young children decided to step away from anonymity and share his journey on social media. He says he's gotten an outpouring of support.

Walchef hopes his Sunrise Gratitude habit will inspire others. He thinks the lessons he's learned in AA are more relevant than ever: take it one day at a time and realize what is, and is not, in your power to change.

"People want to be certain, you want to know when is this going to end? When can I not wear a mask? When can I actually go hug somebody that I'm friends with that I love? We don't know when that is," Walchef said.

"But what we do know are the things we can be certain of," he added. "And those are the things we can control. We can control that we're grateful. We can control our attitude, our mindset."

You can follow his Sunset Gratitude journey on social media, including on Twitter and Instagram and by looking for the hashtag #SunriseGratitude.

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