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Sigh of Relief

I thought making the decision to leave would be the most difficult. After a particularly rough week, and the realization that I was starting to show signs of anxiety and depression, I decided to put in my two weeks notice, backup job be damned.

But it was as if he knew it was coming. For nine straight days, we either did not work the same day or he would have already ducked out by the time I came in for my shift. Literally nine days. Okay technically eight… the ninth day I was given the day off to take care of a foot injury fiasco.

Today we finally sat down, face to face, and had the conversation I’d been wanting to have… not the uncertain phone call that he cornered me with on Sunday (he suspected I was planning to leave and I was upset that I showed my hand). This time it went much smoother. A clean break. The 30th is my last day.

Now I can breathe a huge sigh of relief. The hardest part is over. Everything else will fall into place.

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Family

Family is the most important thing in life.

That’s one of the first things my dad told me today when I broke the news that this new gig isn’t really working out. It seemed a little tangential at first, but then I thought about what he meant. He knows that I’m back to working nights and weekends and that my schedule makes it difficult to spend time with my loved ones. He also hinted not-so-subtly that if I was in need of financial support, he and my mom are more than willing to help. But, perhaps most importantly, he just wants me to be happy. He’s only got one daughter, he said to me, and while I’m still young, I should just go out there and keep trying. Don’t be afraid to get out of a bad situation. Don’t be afraid to quit or start over.

My mom was just as supportive and at this point, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised anymore. After all, this was the woman who once asked me if I felt that going to culinary school would help me advance my career to Sous Chef and offered to pay for it if money were an issue. She has an amazing intuition and seemed to know that something was up before I even opened my mouth to speak. But she helped me put things into perspective – as long as I have my health, Honey Bunny, my friends, and my family, everything else is secondary. It can be fixed with enough courage to take a step in the right direction.

I’ve been nervous about telling anyone. I think part of me still feels like I’m quitting in the face of an obstacle instead of rising to the challenge. Like I’m giving up, like I’ve failed. But the other side – my gut – is screaming that this is an unnecessarily stressful situation and that, like leaving an abusive relationship, I need to get the hell outta Dodge. I’m too smart to keep torturing myself like this, or at least, I hope I am.

So, five months later, it looks like I’m back to square one of my job search. I still love food and cooking, but I really need to find that change of pace I was searching for before I took this detour.

Rising to the Challenge

We recently took on another Junior Manager, which at first, I’ll be honest, felt a little bit threatening. Someone moving into my turf, possibly gunning for the same promotion. But it turns out that we have very different backgrounds and very different strengths, and they seem to complement each other well. She started as a cashier and worked her way up to FOH Lead before this, so she’s better with the customer interactions and dealing with the cashiers (who are like the servers of the quick service world — cooks and servers often have trouble seeing eye-to-eye). I have my admin and culinary background, so I handle the nightly specials, ordering, inventory, and requests from corporate. We’ve been chef’s dynamic duo as the closing team.

The past few nights, though, definitely brought challenges. Staff called out from their shifts last minute, the restaurant was busier than expected, one girl had a meltdown in front of the guests, the power went out in a 5 block radius around our restaurant… it was bad. I thought, man — why is this so hard? I’ve closed on my own before, so it should be even easier with another manager. It was reassuring to learn that it was bad luck that all of these things seemed to occur simultaneously and that we did a good job of maintaining composure and pushing forward. I mean, it sucked but we survived. I’m very proud of that. We are definitely reevaluating our team (some cuts have been made, and some have given us their 2 weeks’ notice) and hope to build a stronger team, especially with the busy summer months ahead.

But, come hell or high water, I’m not going to let this restaurant break me. I definitely had my “I don’t want to be a manager anymore, let me be a line cook again” moments, and the honeymoon period of this new job ended really quickly, but I have my eyes on the prize. Once I get the title (and responsibilities) of Sous Chef, the sky’s the limit.

Real Talk

So last night, after just one month of being here, I was scheduled to work a shift by myself as closing manager. I was very pleased with how it went — no major issues, only a few customer complaints (the dreaded ask to “speak to a manager”), orders inputted for the next day,  doors locked. I don’t know how it’s been in the past as far as having Junior Managers or Managers in Training running shifts by themselves, but I have a feeling that this is definitely the fast track. Chef has a lot of faith in me, so I’m slated to be the solo closing manager for the next few weeks.

Tonight went even smoother since I had Sous Chef M with me. He was pretty much invisible though; just my backup while I run the show, he said. Still, it was a relief to have that extra pair of hands and an extra manager on duty in case I had questions. He and I finally got to chat more; we had worked pretty much opposite schedules for the past few weeks. We even had a glass of beer; I guess he had worked that into his closing arrangements with Chef when he first started working here. (I teased him, “You’re just setting me up to get in trouble, aren’t ya??”)

I also heard through the grapevine (the grapevine being Sous Chef M) that he’s getting promoted to Sous #2 soon. (The hierarchy is Exec Chef / GM / #1, Sous / AGM / #2, Sous / AGM / #3, Junior Manager / Junior Sous.) And, he added, since he and Chef both like me and want me on the team, I may be fast tracked to get promoted to Sous #3 before my 1 year is up. Possibly as soon as my 90 day review! This is exciting news and definitely cheered me up after finding out that Junior Managers and Sous #3 tend to work primarily closing shifts. I was upset at first, since my primary reason for leaving Fancy Spanish Restaurant to come here was for better hours… aside from management training and all that. This wasn’t disclosed to me during the hiring process, so I feel like I have to adjust my expectations. But I think with the title bump, and since Sous Chef M would be open to switching with me for mid shifts on occasion, I think this is still overall a good move.

I’ll probably feel more positive about my overall experience when I finally stop feeling sick! Been down for the count with a cold for the past week. And speaking of sick, Sous Chef M heard me hacking up a lung today and commented “Why don’t you take a sick day, homie?” And then we just shared this look… he and I have both worked in kitchens long enough to know that calling out with the sniffles is not going to fly. Haha. But there have been multiple situations where he and I have bonded since we both have a good amount of kitchen experience, and I think I’ve earned his respect because of my background. Like being able to handle it when Chef talks shit to you about something (I have a thick enough skin to say “Yes Chef” and move on; Sous Chef M likes to talk back but they have that sort of joking relationship). Sous Chef K hasn’t been handling it so well and we both feel bad for her, but it seems like she just isn’t used to how old school chefs can be.

At least tomorrow I get a break from the restaurant — it’s off to corporate for New Hire Orientation (aka: getting paid to drink the kool-aid!).

 

Clopening

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind — I’m essentially getting a crash course in all the goings-on for the restaurant. Every single thing, Front of House and Back of House. For FOH, I’ve greeted customers, taken/entered orders into the POS, made our drinks and juices, and worked the cash register. For BOH, I’ve helped the prep crew, made salad dressings, worked the salad and to-go stations during service, and, my favorite, “expo” (expediting). The funny thing is, I’ve grown more comfortable with expediting in Spanish, so I get thrown off when I get an English-only speaker on the line.

Anyway, it’s been good to get to learn the ins and outs of the restaurant and to learn the management side of things as well. It’s been an awkward balance of trying to figure out how things are usually done, and running into situations that don’t pop up often and just winging it. And learning from the guys with the goal of understanding and mastering their stations enough to be able to supervise.

Running the lunch and dinner specials has been exciting too. At first I was overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless opportunity to just make anything. Chef seems to know that I’ve grown used to following recipes strictly by the book, so he’s been giving me guidance and letting me run with it from there. (For example, instead of “make anything,” it’s “braise pork belly, cook polenta, and make a nice sauce.”) It’s been going well, I think. As we’ve been going through the (very thorough) company checklists for my training schedule, he keeps repeating the same sentiment — “I’m not worried about your kitchen skills. I just want to get you trained on the FOH and managing aspects.” That’s been a relief especially because I always seem to get nervous around him. (It happened with the other executive chefs I’d worked for too — I always seem to make stupid mistakes and panic when I’m around them.)

As I’ve gotten more trained, I’ve been able to fill in more often. Just like at the old restaurant when I could pick up Plancha shifts even while working on Cold station. The more you know, the more useful you are to the operation as a whole. Unfortunately, that meant that I got called on to work a few “clopening” shifts the past few days… a portmanteau of “closing” and “opening” when you work back-to-back, save for a few hours in-between for sleep. The struggle is so real.

Speaking of sleep, off I go. Just wanted to post a quick update to let y’all know I’m alive.