From about 2004 to 2006, I waited tables at a hot brunch restaurant in uptown Chicago. I got the job right when it opened and it was almost immediately the spot to eat breakfast on the north side. this was a lucky break for me because I needed money and I made good money there. I worked for it, as you’ll see, but it was worth it.
We were only open on Saturday and Sunday from 8am-3pm, so it felt like an event to be there, even if you just had coffee and toast. The dining room was small: at capacity, we packed about 45-50 people in there — not many people if you’re a brunch restaurant in Chicago. There were many weekends when the wait for a table would be three hours long, and folks would wait. If your friend tells you he waited three hours to get into a brunch restaurant, you’re going there next weekend. You going to get there earlier than your friend did, but you’re going there.
The decor was fabulous, the front-of-house team was tight as a drum, and the owner has been beloved by the community for decades, but true honor and praise has to go to the cooks. Oh, the cooks! How I loved (my) cooks! Those three men toiled in that tiny, city kitchen and like some six-armed Indian god, they turned out delicious, gorgeous breakfasts for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people every weekend.
Yes, hundreds. I would do my tally sheet at the end of a shift and I’d have turned 300 covers. That means I waited on 300 people. In eight hours. But there were three waiters. So you’re talking a thousand plates of food served from 8am-3pm on a busy Saturday, same thing on Sunday. Much factors into a successful restaurant, but honestly, it comes down to the food, man, and we were doing breakfast well: perfect chewy-crispy bacon, a lox platter big as your purse. Hollandaise so creamy somebody’s gonna get in trouble. A vinaigrette with the perfect tartness, everything organic, blah, blah, blah, yum. And the people who prepped, handled, and made all food in that hot beehive back there were the engine. The food people are the engine for any restaurant, so you should always be nice to them. But that was the other thing about my guys on the line: they were great. It was a pleasure to be in the weeds with them.
“Glen! Pot-roast Benedict on the fly and I’m missing an over-easy bacon –”
“Look at that,” Glen would say as he handed me the eggs before the order was out of my mouth, magically plating a perfect pot-roast Benedict in the time it took me to toast the toast. This was all happening in a hurricane, you realize.
“I will marry you,” I’d say, and Glen, who was about 6’4, Jamaican, and had thick dreads down the middle of his back all the way to his waist, would turn to his physical opposite, wan, beanpole Steve at the grill and say, “She loves me, Steve.”
“I know!” Steve would say, and flip ninety free-range sausage patties. “If I can’t have her, you’re alright, I guess.” I’d whirl around to get another cup of apple compote before I forgot it and bang! Out the double doors, back into the fray. It was a punishing job made well because of the people.
So one Sunday morning, this family comes in. I’d waited on them before. They were nice folks. But they were extremely high-maintenance. I did not have time for maintenance, so when I saw them my heart sank a little. Many children. I like kids, but the kids in this family ran the show. They got whatever they wanted to eat and if they didn’t like what they ordered, they’d get to pick out something else. At 11:30 on a Sunday, one round of food per table was all anyone could handle.
For the next part of the story, please see the Part II post. This is getting long. But the best part is coming, I promise.
*Hi, Michelle! Thank you for giving me the opportunity for this story and for all the wonderful years I had at Tweet.