The cheesecake was great, but my future wasn't in the restaurant business

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 11, 2017 9:05 am

Every time I walk into a restaurant, I remember the first job I had. I was a busboy in the summer of 1971, working for what was a popular national restaurant chain at the time, one that is now out of business.

I've always wondered how much I contributed to that failure.

My duties included cleaning tables and hauling dishes back and forth from the kitchen. I started in June, and by July I felt I had turned these simple tasks into an art form, all for $1.60 an hour.

I worked mostly Friday-Saturday-Sunday shifts, which meant the managers were not around a lot of the time. With that kind of freedom, a guy could get in a lot of trouble.

A few times each shift, I was sent to the cooler to reload the salad and coleslaw tubs. The coleslaw was kept in garbage cans, and, to be honest, it was quite a disgusting process. I would dip this shovel-type of kitchen tool into one of the cans and plop a big gob of coleslaw into the container that would be used moments later by unsuspecting customers. I vowed to never eat coleslaw in my life after that summer.

That aside, the cooler also held trays of desserts, such as small cups of gelatin and pudding and pieces of cheesecake. I have always loved cheesecake -- even more so after the summer of '71.

After I had been working at the restaurant a few weeks, I began sampling the desserts when I went to the cooler. I think I can reveal this now because of some sort of statute of limitations.

There were weekends when I consumed a dozen (OK, maybe two dozen) pieces of cheesecake, containers of pudding, and anything else I found interesting.

One weekend, however, the manager of the restaurant happened to show up and opened the door to the cooler while I was shoveling another tub full of coleslaw. He was incensed.

"Do you have any idea what has been happening to our dessert trays?" he said in a rather high-pitched voice.

Uh-oh, I thought.

I looked at the boss and with the straightest of faces said, "I have no idea what you are talking about, sir."

I kept shoveling the coleslaw, hoping he would leave.

"Well, if you do, make sure you let me know!" he continued. "The desserts are either disappearing, or someone is stealing them."

I wanted to ask him whether eating the desserts technically counted as stealing, but I thought better.

I cut back on the dessert trays for a few weeks until the controversy had settled. By August, though, I was eating more cheesecake.

Another memorable moment at the restaurant came when I slipped on a tile floor and a rather large tub full of dishes went flying. Broken plates and food remains were everywhere. There had been a lot of roast beef and gravy orders that day. What a mess.

That debacle occurred late in the summer, and at that instant I knew my future was somewhere other than in the restaurant business.

And I was right. Never in more than 40 years in a newsroom have I once had to clean up broken dishes or roast beef and gravy.

Plus, someone occasionally brings in a cheesecake.