Growing up as a working-class kid, I got my first job in the summer between 8th and 9th grade --- as a “Baker’s Assistant” at an establishment at the juncture of Sunrise Highway and 5th Avenue in Bay Shore, in a strip mall. It was good, honest labor, starting about 6 a.m. (one of my parents would drop me off and I don’t remember how I got home but, in those days, children could walk pretty freely and it wasn’t more than 2 miles from home --- not a bad trek for a 14 year old) and running until about 2 or 3 p.m. each day. It was mostly cleaning up after the Baker but it also included mixing up huge batches of “jelly” (for jelly doughnuts) and then filling the pillowy dough the Baker magically produced each morning with a marvelous double-spigot pump that forced the jelly into the doughnut! By my second summer of work I landed a great job as a bus boy at Flynn’s Restaurant, a popular local seafood and steak establishment at the end of a street that overlooked the Great South Bay. The Flynns also had a restaurant and hotel on Fire Island, in Ocean Bay Park, but that meant actually living on Fire Island to work there and Mom and Dad weren’t having any of that in 1964! I was perfectly happy working at the “Mainland” Flynn’s in the summers of ’64 and ’65, as well as during Holiday breaks my Junior and Senior years in High School. The money was good (bus boys were given a “cut” of tips from the Waiters and Bartenders --- and sometimes even from the Kitchen Manager and/or Chef!) and it was fun. If one has never worked in the restaurant business, it’s hard to describe it (I’d highly recommend you read Anthony Bourdain’s brilliant Kitchen Confidential for a sense of what the work feels and smells and tastes like). For two summers during College I did work as a waiter at Flynn’s Fire Island --- where you received no salary but were given free room and board (to live on Fire Island!) and could keep all your Tip Money (giving a cut to the Busboys and Bartenders, of course). It was crazy and glorious and fun --- fast-paced and manic (particularly on Wednesday nights when a Ferry with 250 people arrived at our 125 seat restaurant) while also being languid and relaxed (on rainy days). Above all, the camaraderie, the sense of “family” was paramount --- and probably heightened, for me, by working at Flynn’s, where I went to school with a slew of the family’s children!
And that wasn’t the end of my Restaurant career. Prior to moving to Boston in the summer of 1984 I took a Bartending Course in White Plains, New York. My romantic notion was that I was going to move to Beantown, get a bartending job, and become a “fulltime” writer. Nice fantasy. I was 35 years old, had never published anything (but did have a 425 page novel sitting in a file drawer), and had established a fairly successful career as a high school humanities/history/English teacher. Nonetheless, I thought I’d follow my dream, work as a writer by day and bartender at night. In fact, within a week of moving to Boston I landed a bartending job and spent the summer working in a chi-chi restaurant (featuring nouvelle cuisine) on Boylston Street --- where, by late August, it was obvious I wasn’t making enough money to support myself (to the style I was “accustomed to living”) and I got a teaching job for the fall. But I continued to work, part-time, as a bartender. Aside from the much-needed additional income, it was the culture of the restaurant business that kept me working there until I moved to New York in 1987.
I bring this all up because there was an article in today’s New York Times that I found particularly poignant and thought worth sharing, in case you didn’t happen to see it. It’s written by Gabrielle Hamilton, the owner of the NYC restaurant Prune, and is entitled: My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need it Anymore?
Even if you haven’t worked in the Restaurant Business, I think Ms. Hamilton’s piece not only gives one a great sense of what it’s like to be in the business, but also puts into perspective what this pandemic has done to ALL of us, in one way or another. For me, it brought back a flood of memories about working in those restaurants all those years ago (as if it were only yesterday) and I found it profoundly touching. All that said, here’s the link:
Read it, it’s interesting. Stay home. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Thanks for reading.