Restaurant Menu Mastery Part 5
My very first job as a college graduate was working as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant called Gordy’s Sichuan Cafe. I only worked Friday nights for a month or so before I even had more than two shifts a week to my name. It took me more than a year and a half to get this job after a very awkward phase in my life, but I am truly thankful destiny dealt this card to me. Last Friday was my last day at the restaurant after working there for about 10 months.
As I finish writing this, I will already be trying to adapt to new surroundings on the other side of the state. But with this post, I have to say, “Thank you for everything,” to everyone I met and worked with at Gordy’s.
I only found about Gordy’s because my eighth grade social studies/language arts teacher from middle school, Mrs. Robinson, told me about this small restaurant one day and mentioned how her son Casey worked there as a cook.
She had heard that the restaurant was looking for a new dishwasher and said I should go check it out. She also wanted to ask Casey to put in a good word for me. I have always loved the intricate elements of how a restaurant functions, so I set out to find this little place tucked away in another part of town and met with Gordy himself.
Gordy and I ended up having an interview while sitting in the back of his truck on a scorching, sunny September day. He talked about the history behind the restaurant and how there was an emphasis on maintaining a certain level of standards that preserved the business’ integrity. I left the place with a “maybe” as to whether I could be wedged a few hours into the schedule each week. It was better than nothing at this point in a point of my life where I would have settled for anything.
That week went by and there were no responses at first. I just thought it was another botched part-time job pursuit to add to the list, but then my phone rang. The dishwasher at Gordy’s called in sick that day, and so Gordy decided to give me a shot to fill in for at least the evening to test me out and whatnot. It was the first bit of good news for me in a long time, so I gladly accepted the offer.
I was finally “employed” again after being out of the game for so long. I felt nervous and unsure of myself. I recall just entering the restaurant just thrilled to have a job of sorts again. I did not really know what to expect. I had a lot of experience back in college with working at a dining center for three and a half years. So I thought to myself, “Washing dishes shouldn’t be so bad.” Boy, was I mistaken.
To put it bluntly, I got my bell rung in the early outings at Gordy’s “dish pit.” I was out of practice, just so rusty from being inactive for so long that I struggled with the restaurant’s dishwasher duties. I underestimated the volume of customers this little restaurant could handle with just 12 tables total in the dining area. Guests just queue up at the door and wait with bated breath for a seat. I was just the guy downstairs trying to keep up with it all. The front of house needed its porcelain and silverware on the double, after all.
But I stuck with it. I was already someone who was starting over again from square one. I went from an aspiring college graduate to someone who was washing dishes, yet the drive to bounce back in life kept me going to do this for at least my own well-being. So I attempted to regain my composure for the next few weeks, just striving to get myself to become at least a shell of my former self back at the dining center. I once was able to serve hundreds of guests over and over without stopping for hours, working multiple stations on the fly and then some.
But over time, I got the hang of the dish pit. I got to the point where I could keep up with all the stuff from upstairs. I built up cadence with the station, made it my own and slowly garnered enough consideration from the kitchen staff to try my hand at some of the food preparation. And again, I really sucked at first.
Despite how much I admired the restaurant industry, I never actually had a lot of practical experience with doing things like cutting vegetables and meat to stock the line upstairs. I found myself cutting things with my fingers inches away from the blade due to fear and a lack of confidence.
My knife techniques were so flawed. The key aspect here was I slowly started to learn how clumsy I was as a person. I just did not have a natural knack for certain tasks, which was I found myself accidentally breaking stuff randomly. But I digress. Though this was a part-time job, I wanted to put forth the right kind of attitude and effort to learn, albeit slowly.
I had to take my time to make sure I was doing things correctly, making sure I would not hurt myself with my knife and whatnot. My crappy dexterity and hand-eye coordination led to me cutting things awkwardly. It was frustrating, but I had to keep trying and persevering. But hey, at least I could handle stuff like the various marinades and sweet and sour sauce, so I was not completely hopeless.
So throughout this whole time, the restaurant’s staff made me feel like I was part of a family. The kitchen staff in particular really tried to put me under their wing to show me the ropes, especially because I was such a newbie to this type of prep cook stuff. I appreciated their patience, though I knew I certainly pushed their tolerance with my inexperience.
On a side note, I definitely created a reputation as the guy who tried to do too much at once, in the sense that I was always trying to help both the kitchen staff and front of house at the same time. I was someone who would try to bring the front of house extra dumpling bowls and extra glasses for water, and then prepare the rice and while also trying to carry up extra veggies and proteins for the kitchen’s line. I also made it habit to bring candy for the staff members for every one of my shifts. Oh well, I do enjoy being helpful and nice.
So yeah, as time went on, I gradually got allowed to work with the kitchen staff up on the line as a setup guy. It was an interesting, face-pace station because it entailed handling all the orders for the restaurant. It became a lot of fun once I learned some tricks to keep up with all the orders. I loved the rush and exhilaration of a busy service that keeps you on your toes. It made me feel real productive when there was a dining room full of happy customers who received their food in the right amount of time.
I really enjoyed working on the line. I actually looked forward to working at the restaurant in general. Though Gordy’s was just a part-time job, I owed a lot to the place for helping me get back on track in life again. I opted not to learn how to cook with the woks because I realized it would be a huge investment on the kitchen staff’s part to teach me the recipes if I could leave at any given time.
This was the thing, though … I never did find myself leaving anytime soon. Early weeks at the place gradually turned into months, and then the months just kept rolling by one by one. During this time, I found myself bonding with my coworkers through the various tasks we needed to complete each day.
The initial plan was to work at Gordy’s in the meantime while I looked into things related to the stuff I studied back in journalism school. But my confidence was still in fragments. I did not really feel 100 percent together. I needed further time to “recover,” just more weeks or months to mend my broken spirit from the previous year and a half.
But regardless, this still worked out as well. One of the things I realized at the restaurant was how anti-social I could be for no reason. I was a stubborn and overly shy person to come out of my shell, but I still managed to loosen up a bit and hack away at some of my cryptic tendencies. I even shared with my coworkers some of my dreams, my goals, my interests, my dislikes, my fears … even tried to crack some jokes here and there. Social problems or not, I was at least making a few strides at being more … ordinary. This was vital for me to come to grips with as I pondered about my future.
When it came time to put in my two-weeks notice, I was very reluctant. I did not really have a concrete plan or anything. I felt like moving out of my hometown of Spokane, Wash., and moving to a new city. My friend offered to let me move in with his family, which would make me into a pseudo-exchange student of sorts. Not completely what I had in mind, but change was calling out to me. I yearned for something different. Living in Spokane for so long had started to grow old. I became too acclimated and complacent with my surroundings and circumstances. Things were somewhat stable, but the aspect of advancing from my current status in life proved nonexistent.
I just had to do it.
And the circumstances kept popping up, one after another, which delayed my two-weeks notice. Two weeks ended up with another month tacked on, but this was a good thing. The restaurant needed my help, and I would go nuts being so inactive for that time period. In a way, I was glad I could spend a bit more time with my coworkers/friends just a bit further. Was I really in that much of a rush to leave?
So it saddens me that I have to say goodbye to everyone back in the little restaurant nestled on the South Hill of Spokane. In the span of 10 months at this place, I had my share of triumphs, my boneheaded moments, my happy days, my lackluster performances and everything else in between. However, I am fortune to have experienced these circumstances and then some. Working at this restaurant definitely helped with my perspective on the world in more ways than one.
Thanks for everything, everyone at Gordy’s. I learned a lot of things, regained my sense of confidence and increased my sense of determination to “make it.” I have nothing but utmost respect for all of you. I do not intend to return back to Spokane anytime soon, so I wish you all the best for your respective goals and aspirations in this game we call life.
I hope beyond my social awkwardness and constant stammering that I at least made a good impression. Everything from here on out for me will be a giant “?” as to what exactly I will end up doing, but I must be brave. It is time I put forth the willpower to take on this dog-eat-dog world with unsheathed claws. Later down the road, I hope to swing by and visit Gordy’s for a bowl of Dan Dan Pork.