Archive for the Gourmet Category

Another “Things You Learn When…”

Posted in 2000's, Downtown Bristol, Family, Gourmet, Grocery Stores, Local, Modern on February 17, 2011 by Divide By Zero

A lot of the things I do for money are part-time.  One of those jobs is working in the seafood department of a grocery store.  There are a lot of things you pick up that they don’t tell you in orientation.  As with any job, some of the things you learn are good to know, and will help you become a better salesperson because you’re getting to know your customer base.  Other things you learn are completely useless.  Here are some of those things:

Things you learn while working in a grocery store in Southwest Virginia:

  • Old people shop between 7am and 9pm.
  • You [obviously] sell more seafood and milk [for some reason] during Lent than any other time of the year.  Aside from Christmas.
  • In this part of the country when you’re nice to a customer, (shockingly!) they are nice to you back.
  • A lot of people prefer “krab meat” as opposed to crab meat.  For those that don’t work in a seafood department, when “crab” is spelled with a “k”, that means it’s imitation.  And the  customers will argue with you when you tell them “it’s actually a fish”.
  • I think there may be a mathematical relationship between a persons favorite NASCAR driver, and what kind of fish they buy most often.
  • Some people want to complain because they are bitter people.  EXAMPLE 1:  There is a brand of egg rolls called “Chung’s” it’s made in the U.S.A. and distributed in the Mid-West.  There are customers that won’t buy it because they think it’s from China, and won’t change their mind.  Example 2:  People will complain about the price of salmon (or   whatever fish they want) going up and up and up!  Even if it has been the same for months on end.
  • There are customers out there that actually try to hurt employees feelings/make it their fault that they don’t like a particular type of fish.
  • It doesn’t matter how good or bad your uniform looks–how subtle or flamboyant it is–people will still ask “Do you work here?” before they ask you the question they want to ask.
  • A lot of customers come in regularly because let’s face it, people need groceries a lot.  Some of them are good, and a pleasure to talk to, and you remember them.  There are also some customers that are a pain in the ass.  You remember them too.
  • People will come up to you and ask where something is, and get upset when you don’t know.
  • You might be buying shrimp and imitation krab meat, but chances are you’re paying the all shrimp price.
  • There are more kinds of paper towels than you can imagine.
  • For grocery store employees, there is one size extension cord they can use should they need it.  It’s 150 feet.  It doesn’t matter if you need it for 8 inches, you get 150 feet.
  • Customers who have their hair dyed radical colors (blue, purple, green, etc.) are generally more fun and interesting to talk to.
  • Pepsi delivery men seem to be happier, and more cooperative than their Coca-Cola counterparts.
  • Men with mustaches generally shop later than everyone else.  The bigger/longer the mustache, the later they shop!
  • After about 10:30pm, just about any and every teenager in the store is inebriated in some way, shape, or form.
  • [This is the way it should be everywhere] At a grocery store, if you’re on time, you’re late.  If you’re early, you’re on time.
  • Little kids don’t care where they vomit, or who is watching them.
  • The amount of catfish a grocery store sells is directly related to how far south of the Mason-Dixon line that particular store is located.
  • Apparently craw fish are the same deal, and they are sold in “even 17.5 lb. bags.”
  • After a few days, you can tell what people do for a living by what kind of clothes they wear [e.g. painter, drywaller, manager, computer programmer]
  • In that same vein, there is no shame in wearing a tool belt to go grocery shopping.
  • If you work in an older building almost none of your freezer/cooler case thermometers work.  Always trust your temperature gun!
  • Also, if you work in an older building, you won’t have hot water after about 6:00 pm.  It doesn’t matter if you close your department at 9.
  • Male employees are supposed to shave every day.  No matter what the customer base  looks like.
  • None of the clocks, not even your cell phone, are right.  None of them except the time clock.
  • Working with seafood, it’s possible to burn yourself at the exact moment you cut yourself.
  • Two things parents should never be allowed to do:
  1. Buy their annoying 4 year old kid a harmonica.
  2. Let that kid run around a grocery store unsupervised with said harmonica.
  • For grocery store employees:  Every customer thinks that every employee knows where every item on every shelf is.  No matter what department you work in.
  • People get their food stamps at midnight on the first of the month.  Grocery stores know this and stay open until 2am on those days, because by 11:50pm [read: 10 minutes before they get their stamps] they are loading up their carts to spend all of their food stamps by 12:15am.
  • On Saturdays, tweens/teens buy out all solo cups and tang.
  • It’s estimated that 83% of all grocery store employees are part-time.
  • There is more drama between grocery store employees than there was in my middle school.
  • One good thing about working in a meat/seafood department is that it’s like working in a restaurant, without ever hitting a dinner rush.
  • I would be willing to bet good money that at least 90% of all the customers that ask a minimum of 15 questions to a clerk–walk away without buying the product at the end of their questionnaire.
  • I would also bet that at least half of all people who partake in free samples, wait until the employee giving them out turns their back , so they can take more without the employee noticing.  Why?  I don’t know.
  • There’s always one customer that comes around about once or twice a month just to poke their finger through anything shrink wrapped.
  • Cleanliness really is next to Godliness.
  • Common sense is next to impossible to find.

That’s about it.  That’s what I’ve learned in my few short months of working at a grocery store.  I don’t know if it’s the same all over the country, but that’s how it goes down here.  For better or for worse, that’s how it goes down here.

See you from behind the counter.

The jester.

Advertisements

Outback Chronicles: The time a few people got fired. (Then re-hired)

Posted in 2000's, Alcohol Involved, Drugs, Gourmet, Hell, Jeremy Dotson, Local, Modern, Outback Steakhouse on December 22, 2010 by Divide By Zero

At a restaurant, you have to understand.. there’s a core crew.  You’re either in that crew, or you’re not.  I never really knew where I fell in that crew.  I kept my mouth shut for the most part, and I saw how other people fell into the crew.  I could care less, as long as my paycheck was right.  Here’s one story:

Papa, you remember that guy.  He was a server, in the front of the house.  He was a jokester in the back of the house.  He showed up and did his job.  He did it very well.

Twice while I worked there, I found out that Papa was taking advantage of the dark parking lot on the side of the OS-Lounge.  He was taking advantage of it in a way that he wasn’t using it so much for parking, as he was using it for dealing drugs.  Well that’s all well and good right?  He never did it inside the restaurant, and he never did it while he was working, right?

Wrong on both counts.  He was the dealer for most of the restaurant staff, and a lot of the customers, from what I’ve heard.  I heard he served more pills/weed in the dining room of that restaurant while I worked there, than he served food.

He got fired twice, rehired twice, and then fired for the final time after I had stopped working there.  He was part of the crew.

Schmangle.  There’s another guy I haven’t talked about yet.  He was a 16 year old kid who could work the cook line (most of the time) better than anyone else could.  He got fired thrice by 3 different managers.  But always got hired back, because he was the “golden child”.  “He’s too young, he’s not mature” is what the owners/Ted would say.  He always left me out in the dust.  By that I mean he left an hour early which meant I had to stay 2-3 hours late.

It was ridiculous closing his station when no one else would do it.  He was part of the crew.
There’s 4 or 5 others that come to mind that run along the same lines, but I can’t give you the details, because then I would either put myself in danger, or someone else.  I don’t want to get anyone fired, and I apologize for this week’s entry being so short.  I promise I’ll have an awesome one for you this coming Friday.

Just remember that your cooks and waiters may not be who they seem.  Even though that doesn’t make them a good waiter/waitress, it makes them a different kind of person.  Do you want those people serving you your food, or even cooking it?  If it happens in this little place, it happens all over the place.

Keep that in mind the next time you order from a restaurant… exactly how much work goes into your food?

See you ordering off the vegetarian menu,

The Jester.

The Outback Chronicles: Part 2

Posted in Alcohol Involved, Bad employment, Downtown Bristol, Gourmet, Outback Steakhouse, Restaurants with tags , , , on December 5, 2010 by Divide By Zero

Working in the restaurant industry, when you’re not some stupid kid on Summer Break, or saving up for a car or something, you get to watch things unfold that probably wouldn’t happen outside of a restaurant kitchen.  Some things are funny and everyone tells the story for a while and laughs about it.  Other things are terrible, and you spend years drinking and trying to repress the memory.  It depends on the day you show up to work.

Down here in Bristol, we have a NASCAR racetrack.  I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, or have ever been here to visit it, or even follow NASCAR at all.  I don’t, I did a whole write up about how awkward that whole situation is.  But I digress, there are 2 “race weekends” a year, and our simple, slow-paced little town turns into a touristy, throbbing metropolis.  People travel from all across the nation to be here for the race, it’s crazy.  They spend tons of money to get here, tons of money to stay here, and tons of money on souvenirs, entertainment, and food.  Food being the key word in that sentence.  They go out to eat 3-4 times a day, and when the race is a few hours away, they don’t mind waiting an hour and a half to sit down and have a steak and some beer.

Tensions run high, and I mean that is putting it very, very mildly.  And Larry, one of my best friends to this day through my former job at the OS-Lounge, is a trained chef.  He is a no nonsense kind of guy, and gets the job done by any means necessary.  As I said in my previous post, Larry worked prep, he was on the back line.  When we were slow, Larry had time to relax, have a good time, and show his true colors.  During race weekends, he would help do everything involved with the inner-workings of the kitchen because he knew how to, had the physical ability to, and was willing to, no matter how hard it may have been.  He was the owner’s “Ace-in-the-Hole”.

I forgot to mention this, but it is pertinent to the story.  Before I started in the dish room of the OS-Lounge, there was another dishwasher there.  For all intents and purposes, we’re going to call him “SWard” (short for “Socially Awkward”).  I didn’t like working with him.  I worked with him, and I bit my tongue when he talked, because he was very awkward.  I didn’t want to provoke him talking to me any more than he already did.  I think a lot of people felt the same way, or at least that’s the general consensus I got while on my breaks with other employees.  One thing he did have going for him though is he was one heck of a musician.  From what I heard, he was mostly interested in the drums, and played all the time, and was rather good at them.  Other people told me stories of him playing guitar and keyboard and being at least better than average at anything else he picked up that could play music.  Okay, back to the story…

One crazy race weekend (before I had been hired on), SWard was using a crutch, and had a cast or a sling or something.  Whatever it was, he was too crippled to be working in the dish pit, so the management put him out front as a bus boy.  No one was in the dish area, and all the cooks, prep guys, and servers were pitching in to keep up with the dishes.  If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, you know that is a slippery slope and can get really backed up, really fast.  That was the case at the OS-Lounge this particular night as well.  So then Larry, being the man he is, jumped back there to help get everything done, so he could get back to his regular job.  When he went around the corner, SWard was in there doing nothing but drumming on shelves and any stainless steel surface he could find.  That is the kind of thing he did all the time, even when he wasn’t crippled.

Larry then told him in a very commanding, very stern voice “You either need to get to work, or get * out of my kitchen!” (*insert whatever colorful language you’d like here).  In all honesty, you learn to take those kind of comments in stride while in a commercial kitchen.  As soon as I walk into the kitchen, I know I am the low man on the totem pole, so when someone tells me “move”, “GTFO”, “coming down”, or anything like that, that’s exactly what I do.  Also though, I never stand around on company time drumming on stuff with spoons.  In this case, SWard didn’t want to move or go back to work or anything.  So while Larry hopped to it and started pushing dishes through the machine, SWard started to get angry and hobbled himself out of the way a little bit, while cursing Larry out under his breath.

Well, another thing you know not to do around a bunch of irate cooks is to piss them off any more than they already are.  This is exactly what SWard did to Larry, and Larry is not the type of guy to mess with like that.  Especially not on race weekends.

This is my artist's rendition of why SWard shouldn't mess with Larry. And why he should have pee-pee'd himself.

When Larry tells me this story, the words he uses is “yolked-up”.  What that means is that Larry backed SWard into a corner and made it so SWard wasn’t getting away from Larry without Larry being able to do something about it.  Arm-bar, Head-lock, whatever it was, whatever you want to call it, that’s what being “yolked-up” means.

While in the corner, Larry pretty forcefully explained to SWard that if he had something to say he’d better * come out and say it.  If he didn’t have anything to say, he’d better shut * up and get * back to work.  Yes, all the asterisks mean there was some colorful language involved, way more colorful than I’d like to post on the internet, but you get the idea.  With that, SWard didn’t have anything to say, so Larry let him down, let him go, and turned to walk away.  He was walking from the dish area towards the fryers, into the cold-side of the cook line.

This will help.

As soon as Larry turned to walk away, SWard decided to start cursing Larry under his breath again.  Since Larry had already yolked-up SWard, warned him, and let him have a moment to respond, Larry didn’t take very kindly to SWard being a little girl about the situation.  Larry wanted you to say something to his face, not behind his back, (literally and figuratively) he didn’t play that game.  So Sward got hit a time or two.  He was already crippled, yes, but it wouldn’t have made a difference even if he was in great shape, and uninjured.

Pandemonium broke loose in the kitchen.  Whatever orders were being made, whatever tickets were in the window, whatever anything anyone was doing, came to a nasty halt.  Papa had to hurry his self over toward Larry, grab him and drag him to the employee bathrooms, where Larry was then locked in.  Rightfully so too.  There may have been people in that kitchen that could match, or beat Larry in speed, no one could match him for power.  So Papa was freaking out because of how volatile of a situation he was in, Ted was screaming and crying because he didn’t want to get near Larry.  SWard was threatening to call the police, and sue Larry, and the restaurant.  Everyone else in the kitchen was laughing their butts off.  I would have been too, had I been there.

Like I said, this happened before I started working there.  I kind of wish I could have seen it because apparently it was a paramount event.  Everyone talked about it later like it was epic.

I remember hearing about it when I was in one of the employee bathrooms with the employees who smoked, while we were all on break.  One of the other people in there, a waiter, said: “Yeah, if I knew we were allowed to hit one person and get away with it, I’d have hit someone like that a while back.”  Which begged me to ask the question.. what happened to Larry after that?  Lose his job?  Cops get called?  Fines & penalties?

A verbal warning.  Nothing else came of that situation.  And that, I believe is the way it should be.  Especially in any high-stress situation, or career-field.  If two people have a disagreement, they should be able to smack each other around a few times, then get back to work.

This was a few years ago, maybe the policies have changed since then.  I don’t know.  I do know, and can tell you that back then, the owner/manager had a bail bondsman on speed dial because of the staff.  That’s right, on more than one occasion the management had to bail out their better cooks/preps to make sure they made it to work.  They also had to invest in a breathalyzer so that people would stop showing up to work plastered.  So maybe a few things have changed.

That’s the kind of stuff that’s going on while things are busy at that place.  Don’t worry, there’s more to come.  Be patient.

The Jester.

A Grape Place to Be

Posted in Downtown Bristol, Gourmet, Inari Wines, Sophistication on September 24, 2010 by Divide By Zero

This week, I ventured into a little spot near State Street called Inari Wines.  If you haven’t been here yet, I recommend you get there soon.  It’s right across the street from the Bristol Public Library.  It’s sort of easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.  But once you see it, you can’t un-see it.  My girlfriend and I have had a chance to take part in one of their wine tastings, and we both had a very pleasant experience.  We learned some things about wine that we didn’t know before, and enjoyed the company of everyone in the store.

That wine tasting was the first time I remember having some free time to look around their store, and it really is a different place you can find some interesting things.  Like Whimsical Gems & Treasures, there are a lot of nifty little gifts that you wouldn’t find in mainstream stores.  The items Mr. and Mrs. Brandt (the owners) have at Inari Wines make perfect gifts for people who are hard to buy for, or already have everything.  If you take the time to browse a little bit, I’m sure you could find a perfect gift for everyone you know.

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Mrs. Aulikki Brandt for a few minutes, when she had some time.  She was very welcoming to me, and seemed to enjoy the questions I had to ask.  She gave very informative answers and was very friendly.. as has been my experience with her store overall.  I have taken the time to transcribe my mini-interview for you all.

Del Dotson: Okay, so you’re the owner?

Aulikki Brandt: I’m one of the owners.  Me and my husband.

DD: And what’s your name?

AB: My name is Aulikki.  Aulikki Brandt, here’s my card.

DD: That’s a pretty name.  Okay, my first question is What made you choose to open a business, like, in downtown Bristol, right near State Street?

AB: When.. We used to live in Houston, and our dream was to leave Houston and come to a small town and open our own business.  And we didn’t really know what it was going to be.  We thought maybe a computer business, or a coffee shop.  Then when it finally came the time where we were in Bristol, and we kind of evaluated what we did not have here, this is what we came up with.

DD: Yeah, okay.

AB: We wanted to do gourmet food, wine, cheese, beer, gifts.  Things like that.

DD: Yeah, because you have a lovely store.  And I’ve noticed there’s not too many places like this.. you know..

AB: mm-mm (as she shook her head ‘no’)

DD: In or around Bristol.  Or the Tri-Cities, really.

AB: Right

DD: Um, is this the first business you’ve opened up?

AB: Yes.

DD: So you’re a first-time business owner, that’s cool. And um, I think you’ve already answered this, but what do you think Inari Wines brings to downtown Bristol that wasn’t already here?

AB: I would think that we have a really unique.. niche that is very different than anything else, anybody has downtown.  So I think that for the whole area, I think that we have definitely changed a lot about of the appreciation of good wine.

DD: Definitely, yeah.  I’ve come to your wine tastings a few times on Saturdays and I really enjoyed that.  Um, my next question is this.  How do you think Inari Wines fits in with the whole personality of downtown Bristol?

AB: I think it really fits into the specialty shops.  And I think that, I think we have lots of great antique shops but it’s really neat to see, now that we’re getting more specialty shops.  There’s a shoe shop, there’s ladies purses and all that kind of stuff.  There’s art shops, so I think it really fits into that kind of a..

DD: That kind of atmosphere.

AB: Yes!

DD: It kind of “goes with the flow”?

AB: Mm-hmmm.

DD: Is there anything we can look forward to?  Any, um.  Besides the wine tastings.  We always look forward to the wine tastings!

AB: Well, we are hoping to expand our store to have a whole special wine tasting area.  It seems to be getting so busy right now but we are planning to remove one of the walls up here and build a special tasting area.  That’s something we are slowly starting to work on.

DD: Very nice.  And the last question is, is there anything else you’d like to tell me, or share that I haven’t already asked about?

AB: We’re still kind of the best kept secret down here, that people just.. Still, people walk in every day.  They say: “Oh I never knew that you were here!”  And I say “Well, we’ve been in business 7 and a half years, so..”

DD: And you guys used to (looks out the window and points across the street)…

AB: We started across the street and we were there for 2 years.  We ran out of space so we moved to State Street across from Paramount for 2 years.  Now there’s a fabric shop in that space.  And then we moved here, and what really works for us in this location is that we have the whole front for parking, the back for parking.  Parking for us is a big issue, especially when you start to move the cases of wine.

DD: Oh yeah, I’ll bet.  Hahaha.

AB: We really lucked out to get this spot.

DD: Alright, well thank you very much for your time.

AB: Thank you!

That concluded my interview with Mrs. Brandt.  I wish we both had more time for her to answer more questions.  I also wish I hadn’t just spent my money in the antique shops.  There was a big can of Wasabi Peas with my name on it in there!

Seriously though, I recommend this establishment to everyone.  There’s really no way I can write down the passion and information the staff (especially the owners) of Inari Wines freely gives out to its customers.  You can visit their website here.  It has a more extensive list of the inventory they have to offer, and a detailed schedule of events they have planned.  Whether you’re a wine connoisseur, just have a general interest in wine, or are (like myself) a complete novice of everything wine and just want to learn a little bit about it.. this is the place to go.

I also highly recommend attending one of their wine tastings, I am certain that they will offer a wine that you will have to take home with you.  They really know their stuff.

Thank you Mrs. Brandt for the opportunity to talk with you.  And thank you both for being a big part of the downtown Bristol community, all the best in the future!

Inari Wines Gourmet Market

39 Piedmont Avenue, Bristol VA, 24201

(276) 821-WINE (9643)

http://inariwines.com