And now for a new workplace

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

It would seem I finally have something to write about! I started working in the kitchen of a popular spot in the downtown area when you’re going to baseball games. It’s been going pretty swell except for a few things

  • After being here for a bit it seems the Ownership don’t want to admit they are running a full restaurant. This lack of admittance leads to stupid decisions based on what the front of house wants, instead of what the entirety of the business needs. The kitchen is completely shut out.
  • There is ongoing drama with the KM and the sous not being responsible over what is happening in their kitchen. They also don not seem to be training greenstick cooks at all.
  • Due to the above I now have to come in on days off to work.
  • A coworker had a full-on mental crisis and blew up on the Ownership bypassing the GM and the KM entirely. They apparently had no inkling anything was amiss. This does not seem to have caused any changes to be made. I’m left wondering about this one coworker just going MIA one of these days.
  • They seriously want to pay people $16/h when businesses around us are starting people at $18. The minimum wage here in town is $15/h.

My fear is everything will come to a head at the worst time. The front of house is getting an entire new bar installed while the kitchen keeps dragging along with a couple of induction burners and a couple of steam food wells. Then there’s a big red flag we had the other day that I need to find out more about.

All of these things I’m sure will give me enough material for more posts, in time. But for now I get to enjoy two shifties at the end of the workday. I usually look like the featured image while I’m drinking them.

Here’s to everyone being safe out there. And fuck the Supreme Court.

A Stage, gone corporate (and toxic)

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

From the Michelin Guide:

Simply put, a stage is an unpaid internship a cook takes to expose him- or herself to new techniques. Before the advent of culinary schools, this was the most common form of education.

Kitchen Language: What Is a Stage?

As most in our industry know, it is relatively common for cooks to stage at a restaurant before they are hired so they may decide to take a cooking position there, if one is offered by the restaurant. Its current standing is perceived in a negative light given the abuses the system enables— but I digress, and we’ll leave that for another time. Same goes for staging for a Front of House job.

What I am seeing more often now is corporate jobs requiring applicants to perform labor as a requirement of obtaining interviews for potential employment. While a kitchen will often have one or two stagiaires at a time, many white-collar employers will just post a job on a board and then expect all applicants to submit work the company can benefit from, again, as a condition of obtaining an interview or advancing the interview process.

Case in point:

To work in a kitchen most people will stage for a couple days, and then be on their way, or be offered the job; with a tacit understanding at the beginning of the stage whether you are there for a job and or if you’re there to check out the culture and methods of that kitchen in particular.

But now we’re seeing a lot of employers blindly follow in the footsteps of FAANG, with 4 interviews or more whether the position warrants it or not, without regard to the compensation or the benefits the position affords. I have even heard of small law practices attempt this! All because rich companies are doing it.

Such a waste of time for everyone. The HR person (or whomever is performing this task) now has to worry about hiring someone over a period of weeks, potentially months. The hiring team now has to spend time with multiple applicants taking away from useful work. The applicant now has to worry about a process taking weeks (or months!) while there are bills to be paid and food to be put on the table.

AIN’T NOBODY GOT FOR THAT!

So now we have an equivalent of staging but now with more negativity and and abuse built into the process. If your interview process as a company takes longer than three weeks (mind you, not three months) tells me the following about your company:

  • Your internal processes are glacially slow. If you’re this slow to hire me, you will also be slow to approve any potential vacation time.
  • There are people who relish the sense of power making the process slow gives them. I do not want to interact with people like this for everyday work.
  • You will be lightning fast to fire me. It happens in kitchens, it happens in corporate!

I personally will not wait a month for a company to decide to hire me while it also takes ownership of any unpaid work all applicants performed as part of the hiring process, whether it led to employment or not.

Without mincing words, that is theft. And companies that want you to steal your labor in this manner deserve to fail.

Getting Rolled: Just end me

Previously: Getting Rolled: When Middle Management is more important than the guests


Day Four. I’m at my early morning job and I’m already dreading showing up to the Rolling Workplace based on just three days of experience there. I did tell the bartender I would be there even after the frustrations of the previous day.

So off I go.

Get into the place, open up the bar, get the floor ready. There wasn’t that much to do as the night before the closing crew did actually shut down the business properly, including burning the ice in the bar!

After a while the GM got there and informed us she wanted to get the bar cleaned up, so get on scrubbing. At least by now we, the floor employees, had decided it was going to be a slow day.

Got that entire back scrubbed and bleached. By the end of it there was no mold anywhere, because there was mold everywhere. Just because you cannot see it does not mean it isn’t there. Mold is one of those things you just can’t get rid of if you let it have a foothold in your kitchen or your bar. But we got it downright spotless!

Which is when everything went sideways. The GM had me follow her to one of the private dining rooms. We sat down and she was short and to the point: “Management thinks you’re hard to work with so I have to let you go.” I couldn’t be sure if she was okay with this or not but one thing learned from years in the service industry is to know when to pick a fight and this was not the time for it.

Thanked her for everything, gathered my things, left the place. Went to another one of my workplaces to grab a drink or two while I collected my thoughts and tried to decide what was next for me. This was supposed to be my big Front of House break and … it went nowhere real fast, aided by the fact I wanted to work and not hang out.

This is one of those parts where having working in the kitchen for so long turns out to be counter-productive. I don’t quite know how to carry on a conversation when I’m cooking or cleaning; months after the experience I’m getting better but at least back then I could not quite handle it.

I have not been back to this place since then, nor have I eaten at any of the other restaurants managed by the company. The real kick in the shins is social media keeps suggesting this GM as a contact. Even LinkedIn.

As people say now, please, miss me with that shit.

Getting Rolled: When Middle Management is more important than the guests

Previously: Getting rolled: Meeting everyone except the person that counts


Crap, I’m running late for the job and this is only my third day here. It was a rush to get to work on time but made it a few minutes late.

Not that anyone cared because, as the previous two days, I was the first person in the front of house to actually make it there. The kitchen usually get there one hour before to start with prep for the day and receive vendor orders.

I start opening up the bar and, as the previous two days, the ice in both the bar well and the server well hadn’t been burned, so set about doing that. Did the miz for drinks, got everything ready. All of this on my own. It’s not hard to open a bar when you even have a dim idea of how it’s done. About 30 minutes later, at long last, I get to meet the GM during the work day! And finally get instruction from someone about it!

Fat chance. She just said hi and then hid in the back office for the next hour.

Okay, fine. I suppose she’s busy. Bartender shows up 10 minutes before open and sees everything is done so we’re good to go. 20 minutes later the first of Middle Management show up.

Making chitchat with her we started talking about restaurants and websites. I made mention of how most restaurants just never update their menus, or if they do, it’s just a PDF file they upload. She said she would never do that. I snorted disbelief.

“Don’t you believe me?” she asked. I replied “no, I do not”, then walked over to the host stand to welcome a guest. I suppose I could have handled that more gracefully but what’s done is done.

That first table was the first of many during an extremely busy lunch service. Bartender and me are doing good, he’s behind the bar and I’m handling serving duties. Now, at this point I am still not enabled within the POS system so I cannot enter orders myself, I have to write them down and then pass them on to the bartender. Roadblock: The items in the POS are not labeled. They are numbered and you are supposed to learn this on the first day but no one had thought to tell me about it. No chance for a cheat sheet menu as the owners don’t allow for anything to be put on the walls if the guests might see it. Still made a go of it with a little cheatsheet I kept next to the POS terminal.

By this point there are six people from Middle Management in the restaurant. They commandeer a table in once of the closed-off sections, break their laptops open and start having a meeting. 30 minutes later GM shows up and joins them. They completely ignore the fact the dining room is now full and a couple of tables in their closed-off section are being used.

So that’s an entire restaurant full of people. Five 4-top high tops, Ten 6-top booths (including those in the closed sections), 16 seat bar, four 6 benches out on the patio, plus a fair number of to-go orders. All of this handled by the bartender and myself in the front, two cooks in the kitchen. It stayed liked this for a solid three hours before lunch rush was finally over; even then it wasn’t a clean cut-off between being slammed and being slow. It just became manageable for two people and not leave tables dirty until they were needed by a new set of guests.

This is where I get annoyed. At no point did anyone from Middle Management offer to help, or to have the GM help. I can’t even be sure they noticed. Their meeting was just too important to interrupt. Indeed, at one point they got miffed when they tried to order a bunch of salads and the kitchen told them to wait cos they were busy.

So that’s confirmation of a concern of mine. How does management behave when the restaurant is understaffed and needs help? I know knew the answer.

At some point it had quieted enough I finally got around to cleaning all the tables, cleaning the bar, restocking, and whatnot. All of the things you would do once you’re cut.

But… I hadn’t been cut, and no one, the GM, Middle Management, or Ownership, had told me what my job duties would be. Talking with Bartender he thought I was hired to work on the floor as a server. Again, at this point I still don’t actually know what my work duties are. Bartender himself said he moved up the ranks from To-Go cashier to bartender when the previous GM quit and took half the staff with him.

The day finished up as suddently as it started. GM tells me I’m cut and as all my sidework is done, start gathering my belongings to leave. I still have no number in the POS so the only record of my hours is on my calendar. As I start to leave, GM calls me to one of the back rooms:

GM: “I was told by someone that you walked away from them.”
me: “Some guests were coming in when it happened. Did she not hear me apologize?”
GM: “Look, some others have said you’re hard to work with.”
me: “So far I’ve only worked with the bartender. I’m not sure if we’re coming to you with different stories but I like working with him cos he already knows the flow of the restaurant and he lets me work on my own without trying to get in the way. Unless it’s someone from the kitchen or one of the manager ladies?”
GM: “Just make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
me: “Okay, sure, I’ll just keep quiet then. Do you happen to have my schedule?”
GM: “You do that. On your schedule I don’t have it yet, I’ll have it tomorrow.”

As I went out the door after this little meeting I ate another protein bar because you don’t get a staff meal after a shift. At this point I just left to my next job, increasingly sure I was going to have to put in my two weeks notice not even a week into the job.

Getting rolled: Meeting everyone except the person that counts

Previously: Getting Rolled


I hear back from the GM. Excellent news. We finally settle on a first day of work and when I am supposed to be there. Still no mention of what my actual work duties would be.

I got my calendar via a shared Google Sheet that anyone could edit. A very odd setting which I pointed out, but didn’t hear back so I just made plans to be there on time at the appointed time and place.

The day of I took my leave from one of the jobs and headed yonder. Walk in the front door and… there was no one there. Not the cooks, not any floor staff. Sat down on a chair and waited for about fifteen minutes before one of the cooks came back to the kitchen so I could introduce myself but they couldn’t help me as I was technically hired for a front of house position.

It took another ten minutes before someone else showed up. We set about opening and this, my dear reader, is where I started encountering issues.

  • Ice in the bar well wasn’t burned the night before.
  • Ice in the server well wasn’t burned the night before.
  • Sticky floor, a sign people didn’t mop the night before.
  • Sticky tables, a sign people hadn’t wiped surfaces the night before.

When I set about burning the ice so I could clean the well and put in new ice I actually dislodged a 3 inch long strip of dried out slime mold from the drainage hole. Flat out one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in the one place you’re not supposed to have any kind of dirt, specially in a… reputable… place, like this one. And then had to clean up the flood I got from the server’s well after burning that ice.

Very entertaining on your very first day of work. Totally makes you look like you know what you’re doing. I did manage to catch the bartender rolling their eyes at my blundering.

Set about making iced tea and another surprise. The tea maker had not been scrubbed in years and years as well. Someone made a comment they weren’t aware of anyone who had ever scrubbed it.

The day just went on with many surprises just like these except for the one nice surprise of new glassware washing equipment for the bar. Always nice to have that.

And then! Time to open! Within half an hour the bartender and myself were doing really good, with him commenting often I clearly knew what I was doing as he needed only to provide some direction on what needed to be done, and when, but for everything else I could work without assistance. Only bit of difficulty was the POS but that’s always something you have to learn with practice.

Other than the cleaning it was a good day. Met some of the kitchen staff, Ecuatorians most of them, all of whom had been working there for years and years and years. Met some of the regulars. Met a few of the managers the company employs– we’ll call them “middle managers”, as that is what they are given the business structure.

Did not see the GM at all.

Met more of the managers the company employs. The owners came by to hang out as owners do, with that distressing tendency to get in the way while you are trying to work. Met some regulars who politely ignored you to talk directly with the kitchen for their food.

During the course of the day no one really knew what my position would ultimately be. Given I was interviewed by both owners and the GM I was still under the impression it would be a junior management position but no one could give me an answer. I asked the middle managers and they declined to provide an answer, deferring to the GM.

Middle management could, and did, ask us floor staff to do things for them as they were busy.

This is where I started to get concerned. I have seen this combination of elements in a corporate environment, and any whiff of them in food service doesn’t bode well for you as an employee. Clueless ownership? Overabundance of middle management? Salaried staff choosing to stand apart from hourly staff? Check, check and check.

Then it was time to clock out except I had no entry in the POS to do so. Worked a solid 4 hours.

Then it was time to leave. No family meal, no shiftie. Not even an offer of a salad.

Thank God for the protein bar I put in my backpack. Put on sunglasses, went out into the summer heat, and got going to my next job.

Tomorrow will be the second day at work.

One less refuge for rich white lake aristocracy, according to some

Something doesn't quite track...

This time it is the Birchwood Cafe‘s turn on the spotlight of infamy:

Long a darling of vegetarian and vegan foodies in the Twin Cities, it is now under the microscope as the owner summarily fired the entire staff including the GM on June 21st:

Instagram comment by @royale_withcheese

Myself the last time I ate there was years ago. I met a few people who worked there over the years but I personally had no idea of what management and ownership was like, other than I was never hired despite applying for kitchen positions multiple times.

The gist of it:

  • Tracy Singleton fired almost all the staff after setting up for Juneteenth.
  • Then she proceeded to post about it on Facebook and Instagram in a way that everyone says misrepresents her actions.
  • She declared this as a “prairie burn”; a chance to clean house.
  • When negative comments started coming in, she deleted them.
  • Then she deleted the original posts themselves.
  • She created new posts with comments disabled and people blocked.

There are a few screenshots going around but somehow no one thought (or refused) to take screenshots of those original posts so we will have to do without them. The fact this happened over two weeks ago means local food media is actively ignoring the story since most reporters probably want to stay in the good graces of the ownership.

Just the fact she used the term “prairie burn” as most of the western United States is under extreme drought, record high temperatures, and already started what will be a horrifying wildfire season… someone didn’t bother to read the room.

I found out about it via Twitter when someone retweeted @OhDionne onto my timeline, bringing up posts from Instagram and Facebook where the owner immediately set about deleting all comments from employees and those who would support them, so everyone will have to settle for screenshots of those posts.

However, activity elsewhere is still happening:

Former employee of Birchwood here and one of the many who were fired last week. It looks like you’ve read through the comments and have the gist of it. We were fired because the owner was paranoid that we were actively working against her and that we didn’t like her (which we don’t). The Juneteenth block party was just a convenient excuse for the public despite our questions on the logistics being legitimate. She truly believes she is a white savior while still making racist comments and tokenizing her POC employees. She’s received over a million dollars in PPP money and restaurant relief funds just to fire everyone.

As you’ve probably gathered from the comments, the owner is going through a mental health crisis combined with a drinking problem, but that’s no excuse for how she’s treated us this week and this year. I sincerely doubt the restaurant will reopen this summer if ever based on what we’re seeing here and her lack of staff. I’m happy to elaborate more on anything!

Update: the owner has deleted the Instagram and Facebook posts and reposted a similar message without our comments.

plantsaspets on Reddit

Not sure if it’s still there, but it was fun watching the owner and ex-employees go back and forth on the Birchwood facebook page. As a complete bystander, it looked like the owner came unhinged.

Michelle Zajec on Service Industry MSP

Still plenty of activity on Twitter itself based on the results of a quick search.

It makes me happy to see the support being shown by the rest of the community for the people who now find themselves unemployed! A lot of these people are deserving of a better workplace under better employers.

As for the Cafe and its owners we’ll probably hear about them in a few months when local food media breathlessly writes about the reopening of the place with a new-to-town chef and all-new staff.

Hopefully this time they will actually season their food.

Today’s food media character is… @deardara

Let us start with a screenshot:

And that’s how the entire thing got started

And from there it just kept going, until someone with a good deal of sense came through:

Getting rolled

A few days ago I picked up a new job. In the front of house, even! Imagine that! It is an extremely nice change of pace from the usual behind the pass.

But it also has plenty of risk, particularly when management is not clear on what the job you will be doing actually is, which is just what happened to me.

A few weeks ago I contacted an establishment looking for a general manager position. After a week I got a response from Lady Owner asking me to come in for an interview, which I accepted. At this point my assumption was they were still looking for management.

Sat down for the interview with her, her husband, and the GM. I made it clear I was not going to leave my current position as it offers benefits but they agreed we could work around its schedule. All in all a good experience.

And then I didn’t hear anything for a week. Sent the GM a few emails trying to find out what exactly was happening and there was no response.

Finally, after two weeks of no communication I heard back from the GM, requesting my schedule so she could draw up hers. Shared my calendar, written days and times, and screenshots. The works, basically, to make things easy for her. She got back to me three days later at 10 PM requesting I fill out a PDF form. Got that filled out, and waited for another two days.

At this point we are have been interacting for three weeks and I am still unsure of what my schedule would be.

I ought to have realized it was but the start of a really bad experience…

Ah, Thr3 Jack. Would you walk in The Normandy Inn’s footsteps?

This popped up on craigslist and was sent to me. It will probably disappear of their site but that is what screenshots are for.

This one should go up on “Best of MPLS Craigslist”

Here’s the text in full:

thr3 jack is a nightmare (The loop)

Thr3Jack is an abusive place where Dan Elliot (the GM) treats the staff without basic respect. He is nice in interviews and in front of the owners. Chef Robert is also very nice in interviews. Thr3Jack has had a full turn in the last year with the whole staff. Ask around. The owners are great but this is an incredibly toxic environment. 13 former employees in the next year, coming forward. This place is awful for women, black people and culture in general. If you feel #BLM or women or Black people matter, stay away.

From https://minneapolis.craigslist.org/hnp/fbh/d/minneapolis-thr3-jack-is-nightmare/7333412133.html

I had been wondering why they would be looking for people every couple of weeks. Guess now we know. I’m not one for gossip but finding out about work conditions somewhere is always useful.

It’s hard enough to work in the industry as it is right now to suffer under bosses like this.

Tragedy

Due to catastrophic hardware failure pretty much everything from February until this post was lost.

Backups were corrupted as they had not been tested. But the website is back online and I assure you all that backups will be now taken once a day,

But for now I am going to sleep. It has been a long week now the weather is nice in the city.

New Theme!

How about that? I thought it was time for some changes around here. If you run into any issues make sure to let me know!

Third Wave

Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count

It’s here. Or more appropriately, it’s a tsunami. A wildfire. Ten million cases.

COVID-19 US cases by county, by Johns Hopkins University

No matter how hard local and state governments try to spin it or deny it (particularly Republican governors), the third wave of infection in the United States has arrived just as the weather in most of the Midwest has cooled down after what one of the warmest weeks in recent history, which thankfully happened during the election.

But now that’s done and people will be heading indoors. From what I’ve seen a fair amount believe now that the election is done it’s more or less “safe” to be out and about, but that is mere wishful thinking.

The risk is higher than ever.

Because of this governments are starting to take action and one of the first targets is the food service industry:

  • Minnesota governor Tim Walz will announce bars and restaurants to close at 10 P.M. on Tuesday November 10.
  • Wisconsin as of right now has nothing planned. The state Supreme Court keeps striking down all efforts of Democrat governor Tony Evers.
  • North Dakota’s governor, Doug Burgum, has only issued recommendations to reduce capacity but no order has been issued to help prevent virus spread.
  • South Dakota tried to one-up their neighbors to the north. Governor Kristi Noem went in on a scheme to promote tourism from people frustrated by lockdowns in other states. Her position remains about the same.
  • Michigan is likely on the verge of a second lockdown. This past week contagion rates skyrocketed. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been very proactive about communicating her plans.

None of this bodes well for any our industry. OpenTable currently has a state-by-state map of restrictions to help clientele navigate the situation but without comprehensive assistance from local, state and federal governments society at large stands to lose a vast amount of bars, restaurants, coffeeshops… ranging from chains like Starbucks and Pizza Hut, to little hole in the wall joints.

Eater wrote about it back in August. Vox said about the same in September. Mashed wrote what Andrew Zimmern thinks will happen if there is no bailout. Yahoo News has already reported about bankruptcies earlier this month. Foodable Network has an interview with Elizabeth Blau (from the James Beard Foundation) about how things are looking out for the next couple months.

Things are still looking really unstable for us. Here’s hoping now that a new federal administration is on the way in things get better because right now surviving is all we can do.

Corrupt courts deserve the guillotine

What they have encountered is very different. Twenty-one women told The New York Times that they have been sexually harassed, manipulated or assaulted by male master sommeliers. They, and other current and former members of the court, say the abuse is a continuing problem of which its leadership has long been aware.

Source: The Court of Master Sommeliers Has a Sexual Harassment Problem – The New York Times

This is truly horrifying to read. I have met lady sommeliers who have forgotten more about wine than I will ever learn; to read how their career prospects and personal goals are limited by the usual cabal of old white men shows how deep the toxicity of our industry has reached. These are people who will never experience any hindrances in life in their quest for booze and sex and the vast majority of them need to suffer both civil consequences and for those who have commited assaults, criminal charges.

I’ve read stories of rock stars who have been more respectful even at the nadir of their personal lives— and they are people who sing about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

Those who control the Court of Master Sommeliers all need to quit or be forced out, new leadership brought in and new rules implemented to prevent people in power from forcing situations and relationships on those who just want to learn more.

This sadly feels like just another stop in the #MeToo journey but here is hoping it will bring about lasting change.