Is there life after the restaurant business? Does one have a life when they are IN the restaurant business? I spent about 10 of my wild and carefree years in DC’s restaurant scene. I knew Jose Andres BEFORE he was JOSE ANDRES! I started as a hostess at the downtown (and at the time the only) Jaleo and quickly realized I had skills. That was right after my junior year of college. I subsequently returned to work for the up and coming restaurant company whenever I came home from college.
Eventually I split my time between Jaleo and Cafe Atlantico, Jaleo’s Latin American sister spot. I often likened hostessing, and later managing, to a stage production. All this prep time went in to making sure everything was JUST right. No spots on the glasses or silverware, no stains on the linens, soda lines working, music just right for the early theater crowd and later for that “I want to be cool and drink mojito’s” crowd. I felt a rush right before every shift. Who will be dining with us today? What interesting people will appear at my door? Among the list of diners who came through my door are Conan O’Brien, Janet Reno, William Cohen, Kevin Bacon and Edward James Olmos, to name just a few! Beyond the obvious celebs, were quieter, less obvious yet very interesting people. It was always a pleasure to find those interesting people that I had things in common with and with whom I could just chat it up only later to find out that they were the president or CEO of this that or the other thing.
But I digress, these restaurants were exciting…cutting edge, THE place to be in DC and me and my Leo self thoroughly enjoyed that. Not to mention the great perks like eating great food for free, being able to buy wine at cost and the various other perks that came with working at new-ish, IN restaurants. I always looked forward to the curtain call however…my feet ESPECIALLY looked forward to it! As a hostess I simply did all my closing duties and went home..or out which is the more likely of the two scenarios. I pursued a management position when I worked under a totally useless manager at Cafe Atlantico and realized that I was certain that I could do a better job than he did. The owner gave me a shot and I was sucked in for the foreseeable future. It became clear that I had the leadership skills to manage but I did not care for the part of the job that required me to “check” on people to ensure their meal was going well. I always felt like I was interrupting them. That did not go over well with the higher ups and they pointed it out every chance they got.
As a result of being in the food industry at the time I applied for graduate school I qualified for a scholarship for food service professionals. Who knew? Whatever works…even though I was hoping to NOT pursue a career in the field, it served its purpose. After grad school, and attempts to enter the “normal” working world, I returned to restaurants. I knew it, and I knew it well. Jaleo Bethesda took me back and I spent two great years there. The hours were long, the glamour was less, but the people I worked with there were top notch. We had a lot of fun. I will say that Jaleo and its parent company (currently called thinkFOODgroup) spoiled me for all others. Their focus on customer service, quality ingredients and a clean, healthy work environment are unparalleled. I did stray from them on a couple of occasions only to come crawling back and received with open arms. I know, I know…you probably think they paid me to write this…they did not. They will always hold a special place in my heart. Cafe Atlantico, in particular, I consider MY restaurant. Once my daughter was born, however, everything changed. The hours became too long and the abnormal work schedule was too erratic. I longed for a 9-5 job and weekends off without having to request them off months in advance. Eventually, I made it out of the restaurant business, but there are times when I truly miss being in the mix. I try to keep up with the goings on of the DC and national restaurant scene and in my office I am certainly the go-to girl when it comes to dining advice…a role I cherish, but there’s a little (very little) piece of me that longs for the pre-show rush once again.
Who knows…maybe one day some lucky restaurant will convince me to dabble again…at least for a few hours a week.