I have been expediting the food, which means I am putting together and sending out all the orders for guests dining in and taking out. It’s a very public position, because our entire kitchen is open to the dining room, and the expediter lives directly inside the front entrance: in addition to managing any issues with the dining room I am saying hello and goodbye to all guests, answering their questions, and keeping one eye on the 4 new servers, and the other eye on the quality of the food we serve, while managing the pace and personality of the kitchen. I do all this for 9 or 10 hours straight, and when I physically stop my mind keeps going.
I realized that in my 12 years in the restaurant industry I have only worked for restaurants that have been open for twenty years or more. The Union League Club, where I was a dishwasher (they call it a steward), has been open for 135 years. Turner Fisheries, in Boston’s Copley Square, where I was a busser and first made the leap to waiter, was open for 30 years, although it closed on the winter solstice 2013. The East Coast Grill, 29 years. Frontera Grill, 27 years. In just over a decade, I have become a small part of 221 years of restaurant history.
All the dreams / all the schemes / and all the beautiful scenes / that ever were / First never were / Then were forever / Then never, ever were again -Chongo
A year after I moved from Boston back to Chicago, the East Coast Grill was sold. This year I got to visit Ulrich’s Tavern, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Buffalo, NY: 91 years. After my visit, they closed. And just last week, Turner Fisheries closed. I will remember being a small part of these places: I turned 21 at Turner’s, and Ricky my good friend and their longtime bartender, got me drunk in the 30 minutes between when my shift ended and my sister picked me up (that’s when she and I both lived in Boston). I remember her being mad.
I remember Srecko, who immigrated with his wife from Bosnia, describing cruise missiles striking buildings in Sarajevo: he convinced me to buy a Saturn. Lucian, an award-winning journalist who left Haiti after his life was threatened, and became our fellow server. Native Bostonians, like my friend Carlos, who died in the restaurant, and Ricky, who beat cancer. Gero Lisec, in his seventies, who worked lunch for decades at Turner Fisheries, and waited tables for dinner across the street at the Oak Room. One winter, in the glow of the hotel’s heat lamps, Tim Russert and I crossed paths.
It is a grind, bringing food to the table. Restaurants don’t live this long because of food and drink alone. It’s how they make us feel: we come in one way, and we leave feeling full.