Guerillas in the Midst: The People Who Work in Restaurants

The restaurant industry has a long history of attracting, shall we say, very “colorful” characters.  Part of me feels that one has to be a little off-center to want to do what we do:  the long hours, the late nights, the stress of preparing a crazy amount of orders in a hot, crowded kitchen or taking care of multiple tables filled with needy guests.  It takes a toll.

I have a friend who is an attorney and once we were talking about our individual careers.  I had an epiphany during our conversation. I realized that I could probably do his job, but I was pretty sure he couldn’t handle mine.  I’m not saying I’m smarter than he is…in fact I know I’m not.  I’m speaking more of the full throttle lifestyle of restaurant people in general, and the ability to manage this circus of personalities on a daily basis.

If you have been reading my blog, you already know about the after-hours cleaning crew girl who offered sexual favors to her teammates to make extra money, or about Evan at the Full Moon Cafe who would light the back of kitchen aprons on fire while the victim was wearing them.  Here are a few more of the fun players I’ve met in my travels.

One of my first restaurant jobs was at Church’s Chicken (the poor man’s KFC as we called it) in Vegas.  The GM there was a rascal named Jose who would refer to every woman as “Donna”.  It didn’t matter if they worked for him or came in as a guest.  He called them Donna, as in “Hey Donna, you want ketchup with that?” or “Donna, check the bathrooms, will ya?”.  I never got the story from him as to why he did that. Suffice it say that it never failed to crack me up, and I’m chuckling even now remembering that guy.

At Full Moon, we had a dishwasher named Mario, an older man with biceps of steel.  Every day, before the rush hit, Mario would be in the corner doing calisthenics and getting ready for the mountain of plates, pots and pans coming his way.  I would be checking the hollandaise and out of the corner of my eye there was Mario doing deep knee bends and stretching exercises to get ready for his shift like some maniacal Jane Fonda…

There was the Muslim kid at eatZi’s who looked like he just stepped off the beach in SoCal. When I interviewed him he mentioned that he was a practicing Muslim and that he would need to pray from time to time.  Given his experience and our need for a solid line cook I was like, no worries, we’ll make that work. Unfortunately, this dude would disappear to pray at the most inopportune times…like during the lunch rush.  I would be walking past the receiving door and there he was on a small rug in the parking lot, facing Mecca while my sandwich line was going down in flames.  He didn’t make it very long…

There was a manager I worked with once who would wear a tuxedo to every performance review he received.  I guess he felt it would boost his scores…

Another sartorial story involves a young man who came in for a dishwasher position, the worst job in the kitchen by far.  This kid came in wearing a suit and tie and carrying his Eagle Scout certificate…to apply for a minimum wage, entry-level crappy job. Needless to say I hired him on the spot..

At eatZis, there was a prep cook that was so brutally hungover, he secreted a 6-pack of Coronas under his station to make it through his shift.  He looked like hell and smelled like death, but showed up on time and was determined to make it through.  The executive chef came to me and said what should we do about the beer.  I just shrugged and told him you gotta admire the kid’s dedication…

Remember the scene from the movie “Waiting”, where the two miscreant kitchen guys were found in the dry storage room with whipped cream around their mouths, giggling while high as a kite from doing Whip Its?  Whats a Whip It, you ask?  This is where someone sucks the small amount of nitrous oxide (present as a propellant in cans of whipped cream) to get you high.  If you’ve ever purchased a can of whipped cream at a store and it doesn’t work, chances are someone had a party in the walk in cooler at the store.  WELL, we had our own kid at Full Moon Cafe named Trey who I would find sitting on a crate of oranges in the pass, laughing to himself with everyone else staring at him strangely.  I finally told him to stop wasting both his brain and my inventory. Buy a can on the way home, Trey…

One of my favorites involves a young lady named Maria who worked as a prep cook for me at eatZi’s.  She was from Guatemala, was learning English and overall a very sweet girl. However she would call out from work with the craziest stories. The best was when she called me to say that her “chango es malo”.

“Your what??”

“Mi chango is malo, Dah-veed!”

“I don’t know what you’re saying! Let me get someone to translate”.

I retrieved one of the guys in the kitchen to assist me.  After handing him the phone, he listened for a moment and then looked at me and laughed.

“Her monkey is sick and she has to take care of it…”

Turns out this young lady had a small monkey she kept as a pet and it would get sick from time to time.  I stared at him as if I were going insane.  I took the phone back.

“Maria, you need to get in here and get to work.  No more sick monkeys…”.

She showed up a couple hours late, looking at me sheepishly as I clocked her in. Eventually the poor monkey “was malo” just too many times and it caused her to lose her job.   Crazy.

Lastly, I remember an after-work event at a local Vegas sports pub where one young man was carried down the stairs and folded into an Albertson’s shopping cart, then wheeled home by drunken Chili’s co-workers.

Oh wait…that young man was me.

Enjoy.

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