Emily Gassman, 67: Radical Life Transition

For 22 years, Emily Gassman worked grueling hours running a restaurant and now, in retirement, she is applying that same determination to engaging in the activities she loves and enjoying every moment. She discusses what it is like to decelerate after such a demanding career, her persistent curiosity, and her advice for others undergoing radical life transitions.

How does one decelerate from an 18-hour-day 7-day-a-week work, sell a business and leave an entire way of life and not become entirely disoriented? We last spoke with Emily in 2016, way back in AGEIST #11, when she was running one of the most prestigious restaurants in Salt Lake City. It was an all-consuming experience, one that she lived for 22 years.

That all changed when she sold the business and began a very different life, one that has a great deal of flexibility and freedom in it. We have heard so many stories of people who have trouble with the loss of work structure, work community, and work as a defining value in life, that we wanted to hear from Emily, who seems to be having an excellent time post business owning. 

So you sold the restaurant and retired from the restaurant. When did that happen?
3 months before Covid hit. December 31st 2019.

You had your restaurant for 22 years. What do you miss about that?
I miss all of my regular customers. And that’s it. Before, when I was at the restaurant and that was my social life, they were my family. But I did have a few core friends that were there and are still in my life. 

Do you still do some cooking gigs?
I still do a few private chef gigs. I’ll probably start doing less of that. I enjoy cooking for friends and experimenting with recipes. I’m still obsessed with food, I’m just not working at such an extreme level these days. 

“I still fill my calendar up with cooking and food. I’ll read cookbooks; I’m still learning how to cook new things”

How do you organize your days?
I get up, meditate for 30 minutes after I’ve had a cup of coffee, and just see what comes up. I might go to the store if there’s something great that I want to cook. I try to get a bike ride in when the weather is nice at least 3-4 days a week. It’s ski season right now so I do that 3-4 days a week. It’s just nice being able to say yes when somebody invites you to do something or being able to invite people over on a day that isn’t a Monday or Tuesday which were my days off in the past. 

Is life now how you had imagined it was going to be?
Well, Covid kind of threw a little loop in things. I thought I would be traveling more but now that we’re hopefully at the end of this, travel will start up again. 

My day to day is what I thought it was going to be. I putter, but with intent! 

What are some of the things you’re doing more of now that you weren’t able to do when you had the restaurant?
I’m able to garden. I don’t drive as fast. Every minute is not planned like it was when I was running the restaurant. I’m able to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I can go to the nursery to pick out plants, go to a friend’s house to work out, or being able to stop and chat with people. 

Having all of this extra white space in your week, do you feel that’s a good thing or disorienting?
It’s a good thing. I still fill my calendar up with cooking and food. I’ll read cookbooks; I’m still learning how to cook new things. 

You’re someone who has done one of the more radical transitions that I’ve seen from working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week to not working. What’s the advice you would give to other people who are transitioning?
Just see what happens, okay? See what you want to fill your days with. I have a lot of interests so I’m never bored. I’m always interested in what’s going on and what’s happening here and there, so I think that’s the main thing. If you’re interested and curious, there’s always something to do. 

“If you’re interested and curious, there’s always something to do”

If you were to recommend resources to people who may not have the same sort of disciplined curiosity as you do, what would those be?
Look for places that need you. I’ve volunteered for a nonprofit called Waste Less Solutions to assist them in their fundraising galas. They repurpose food that is leftover from a catered event, for example. They’ll come and pick it up to redistribute it to people in need. They also do that with whatever doesn’t sell at farmer’s markets.

Say someone retires from a very high-intensity job like you, and now they find themselves somewhat disoriented — what would you tell them?
I spoke with a woman who retired at the age of 40. Her aunt was one of my regular customers. She was giving me all of these places to volunteer. I’ve talked to other people who are retired and they mostly agree that they don’t want to have to commit to a schedule, which is where I am. But, if you can commit to a schedule, there are all sorts of organizations that can use your help. Find out what your interests are and what you can bring to the table. 

What are some of the health things that you’re able to do more of now?
I’m meditating twice a day now instead of once. I’m exercising more. I try to do yoga 3 days a week. I bike 3-4 days a week and I lift weights 3 times a week. During this ski season, I skied over 65 days. I thought I might get bored skiing that much but I didn’t; I was having a blast.

What are your 3 non-negotiables in life these days?
– Expanding my culinary skills
– Outdoor physical activity
– Meditation 


  1. The author keeps mentioning 18 hours and 7 days a week.
    Emily says that she takes Monday and Tuesday off.
    Who to believe?

  2. i wish i could say that i get as much exercise…but otherwise, i left a 35+ year career in interior design. i was a one woman show – doing marketing, design, sales, omg all that is involved! loved it until i didn’t. my clients became friends, and covid impacted that. i went full circle back to an acting career i had in my early 20’s. i am loving, loving, loving it! and i’m now booking jobs and working at it with the same energy i did 50 years ago. honestly, it is opening my heart to what i am capable of! so, thank you for this story!


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David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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