Mischeif at exit 7

The Good, The Ugly, and Everything Between.

Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina

16 August, 2010

Written by: Del Dotson

I have worked in many different restaurants through the years.  My first job was in a buffet style place in Northern Virginia.  I moved from there to steakhouses, seafood places, a cafeteria or two, and even Hooter’s once.  It always starts out the same way: they ask me if I want to be a waiter, I decline, then they stick me in the dish room.  I can hack it there, sometimes I prefer it.  The hardest problem you have in the dish room is: “Crap, there’s cheese on this plate!”  I can usually work my way out of the dish room and move on to other responsibilities pretty quickly.  Also, the dish room is usually located in a perfect place to observe the rest of the kitchen.  It’s fun seeing the flow the cook line has with one another.  When they get a big rush on a Saturday, they almost look like they’re all dancing together ballet style.  Everyone helps each other out, while still finding a way to piss one another off.  It’s just the way of the kitchen.

I’ve never worked at a place quite like Salsarita’s.  It’s a different kind of restaurant.

The Good

At Salsarita’s, everyone that worked there did everything.  Instead of just one person doing dishes all day, another cooking, another prepping, and so on, everyone did a few dishes, served a little bit, cooked a little bit, etc.  It was fun working there (when the owners weren’t there).  Everyone got along, and the job never got boring.  Also, Salsarita’s is a weird mix of a restaurant that’s part sit-down, and part fast-food.  I love all the fresh local ingredients they used.  There was never a chance of any food even being close to rotting or going bad.  I saw the managers throw away food days before the expiration, or should I say, “serve-by” date.  Sure, a few things were kept overnight, but they were done so properly.  I really can’t complain about their food at all.  Everything is fresh, delicious, tasty, and reasonably priced.

The Ugly

Now to the fun part!  The restaurant is a Cantina.  They serve alcohol.  They have a full bar, as a matter of fact.  And a big part of restaurant sales is the grossly priced mixed drinks, shots, and beers they serve.  The then-owners of the location at exit 7 in Bristol could have taken full advantage of that and helped offset their income for the slow days they had during the week.  I worked there for about 8 months.  I was over 21, and was allowed to serve alcohol to customers.  I never sold one alcoholic drink.  In fact, no one I worked with served one.  No one wanted to drink there.  Even during dinner rush on Friday and Saturday nights, no one had a margarita with their enchiladas.  No one wanted a Corona with their nachos.  The biggest reason is that the stereo system by the bar was constantly playing Christian/Evangelical music.  Which is fine, I listen to some gospel every now and then, but if you own a restaurant with a bar in it, it is an asset.  It’s a substantial money maker.  It is the last place you expect to hear religious music.  It stops people from spending money at the bar.  I respect religion, and I respected the owners for having the same faith I had.  But if they were so religious they were uncomfortable selling alcohol, then they should have scrapped all the liquor, and turned it into something else. They never really communicated with the cooking staff very much, but if they had held even one meeting with us, we could have come up with about 10 creative ideas for the bar, each.

They were the type of owners that had never owned a restaurant before, and I’m fairly certain that neither one of them had ever worked in a restaurant even once.  Our manager most of the time was their oldest son.  He back talked his parents a lot, and they were never able to separate their family’s home life from the restaurant.  It was the type of thing that made all the other employees not respect the owners.  I saw it on multiple occasions.  It’s sad really to see a pimple faced 17 year old play dumb(er than they usually are) when the managers walk in, and get out of their side work at the end of the night.  They sold the restaurant shortly after, because some people aren’t cut out to own their own restaurant.

Everything Between

It was kind of funny watching the whole staff switch personas when the owners left, and we knew they’d be gone for at least a few hours.  All of a sudden, the cameras got turned off, and I watched people who were into drugs (myself excluded) whip out their little baggies.  One guy would go out back and puff on a joint, while another guy cleaned off a prep station in the back and was measuring out lines of cocaine.  All while one of the Assistant Managers was in the bathroom smoking meth out of a test tube.  Those were the days where I knew I wouldn’t have to do anything.  I would just sit back, and watch the little Tasmanian Devils run amok on the serving line.  They would finish everything up in record time.  All I had to do was make sure they had enough clean plates freshly chopped ingredients.

Overall

It was a fun place to work, and peer pressure has never really influenced me.  The co-workers I had were hilariously idiotic in their own way, but they got the work done, and they always did a good job and worked hard.  The owners have changed since I worked there, and in my opinion it’s for the best.  I love eating there, and have even had a beer or two on my off days.  I recommend it to everyone, tourists and locals alike.

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