Archive for the Restaurants Category

5 Guys. A Taste From Home.

Posted in 5 Guys, Downtown Bristol, Local, Modern, Restaurants on December 10, 2010 by Divide By Zero

This is an article I’ve been meaning to write for a while.  I don’t think I even really have to write it, it will write itself for me.  If you’ve ever been to a 5 Guys burger & Fries joint (5 Guys), you know all about it.  If you’ve never been, stop reading this now, go eat there, then come back and finish reading.

I don’t know how many of my readers know this, but I was born and raised in Northern Virginia.  Not too far away from Washington D.C.. Five Guys originated in D.C./the D.C. area, right in my neck of the woods.  I fondly remember going to 5 Guys after school when I first had my driver’s license.  We loved it, up there.  After school, hit the best burger joint in town, get some good food, with some good friends: wonderful.  One of the things we loved the most about them, 10 years ago, was the portions of the fries you get.  I just learned recently (on my last trip to a 5 Guys) that a “Regular”, or a small, serves 2-3 people.  A “Large”, or a large, serves 4-5 people.  They are not lying when they say that.  They definitely serve more than one person.  I’ve even gotten away with just ordering fries from there, and being set for my lunch.

Which brings me to my next point.. peanut oil.  We as Americans take peanut oil for granted.  It’s healthy, it’s delicious, and here it’s pretty cheap.  If you’ve ever read Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential, I ask you to remember the very last section of the book.  When Tony went over to Japan.  He suggested to a restaurant to use peanut oil instead of the crap they were using.  The Japanese fellow then told him that you could rent an apartment in Tokyo for what it would cost to keep the restaurant stocked with peanut oil.  Crazy?  A little bit.

Also, if you’re a nerd like me, or you enjoy writing like I do, you’ll notice upon entering a 5 Guys that their advertising is solely made up of banners that quote what past reviews have said about them.  An I’m not going to lie, I hope one of my quotes makes it up on their wall one day.  But they don’t need my support.  They have won countless awards in many different food magazines, in many different cities.  They are, for all intents and purposes, the best “fast food” joint ever.

The ingredients are what set it apart from other places like it.  In a world of greasy hamburger patties, soggy pickles, and stale buns, 5 Guys stands out as flavorful, crisp, and fresh.  They use a lot of local produce to cater to a wide customer base.  They keep it plain and simple, and they do it very well.  It is the epitome of what we as a nation should come to expect in our burger joints.  Not the watered-down, tastes-the-same-as-the-place-next-door, trash we have been force fed for decades.  Five Guys is the King of the Mountain when it comes to this sort of thing.

The opening of a 5 Guys in Kingsport, as well as right here at Exit 7 was glorious to me.  Being from the area this restaurant originated and the time frame it originated in, I didn’t think I’d be able to partake in their delicious, everything, when I moved down here.  Then they followed me.  It was awesome, and I can never repay 5 Guys for that.  I know they didn’t just do it for me, but having the ego that I have, it makes sense that they would.

So when you dine at this casual eatery, just know that your money is going back into the local community.  Also, apparently the 5 Guys company is on the cusp of a huge business expansion.  They plan to open up a lot more locations, and it is the hope, wish, and dream of this local jokester to see 5 Guys outnumber McDonald’s all across the world.  I believe the key to their success is that they do the same thing other people do, but they do it better.  They keep it simple food, done fresh, done right, and done delicious.

I’ll see you in line.

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.

The Outback Chronicles: Part 1 of ???

Posted in Alcohol Involved, Local, Restaurants on November 20, 2010 by Divide By Zero

For a while, I worked at the Outback Steakhouse.  Keep in mind this was back in my “demon days” when I was making choices that weren’t very.. shall we say, good.  I have thought about how to write this article over and over again, and have even come close to writing it before, but I would delete it in hopes of getting a job there again.  It has recently been pointed out to me though, by another former Outback Steakhouse (OS-Lounge) employee, and now one of my best friends, that neither of us are probably ever going to work there again.  So let’s just jump right in, shall we?

There were so many things that happened in the back of house (BOH), or in other words, the kitchen area of the OS-Lounge.  I honestly don’t know where to begin.  Let’s start with the organization:

Background information

There was a prep crew,who always came in early and prepped the food.  There was some overlap in the shifts they worked and the shifts I worked.  The shifts I worked were usually 12 noon till about 3am.  No lunch, no official breaks, though there were 2 employee bathrooms in the back that everyone used to smoke cigarettes (or partake in other activities) in.  There were the dish guys.. which were 2 guys stuck in an area of the kitchen smaller than a cubicle.  It was always wet, it was always hot, and it was impossible to stay clean.  That’s where I was most of the time.  I tried to do a good job, it just depended on how busy we were.  But the dishes were rarely ever spotless, so the guys washing them were nowhere near clean.  Then you had the cooks.. there was “hot side” and “cold side” over there.  Cold side consisted of one guy running all the fryers, and another making all the salads, they were a team.  Hot side consisted of one guy running the saute station and the grillmaster, they too were a team.. or dance partners, if you will.

I’m just going to call it like it is, I don’t want to reveal anybody’s name, so we’ll call the grillmaster the GrillMaster, and the saute guy, SauteGuy.  My friend and the only guy I still talk to from there, we’ll call him Larry, the kitchen manager at the time we’ll call Ted, and I’ll make up the rest of the names as we go along, Okay! So…

Mischief & Mayhem…

If I took the time to write out everything that happened while I was working at the OS-Lounge, I’d have a book’s worth.  And like the title says, this is only part 1 of…. however many I feel like coming up with.  Here’s the basic outline of different things that happened there, and i will end on that.  All I really wanted to do in this article was whet your whistle for what’s to come.  Next week, I’ll jump into some of the serious stuff, but first I wanted to let you know what really goes on in the kitchen, and get you familiar with the characters.

  • One of my dish washing partners would sneak off to the bathroom, crush up a loritab, snort it off of one of the cleaning supply shelves, then come back to work fired up.
  • SauteGuy, Grillmaster, and a girl, we’ll call her TheWaitress, would constantly smoke the ganja in the employee bathrooms.  We’d use a metal shrimp skewer to lock them in, so they would get blamed for the smell.  They never got in trouble for it though.
  • Larry (this was back in his demon days as well, he’s not like this anymore) would show up most days hungover.  To be fair though, most of the kitchen crew did as well, Larry was the only one that would show up with a pistol strapped to his back though.
  • Another guy, we’ll call him Parolee, would come in with 64oz. plastic gas station cups full of beer, or some type of alcohol and drink it during his shift.
  • Ted was a good manager.  He did his job, and was #1 in the region.  He had to be balanced though.  What I mean is, if he were too broke, he couldn’t afford his drugs, and he’d just be pissed off all the time.  If he was making too much money, he’d be too strung out to really care about anything.
  • Food preparation… that’s all I’m going to say, I’ve got a ton of horror stories about that.
  • A waiter, we’re going to call him “Papa” once urinated in a can of Monster, and gave it to SauteGuy.  When SauteGuy took a swig of it, he said: “Whyzit taste like piss?”, and Papa’s answer to it?  “Because I pissed in it.”  These are the guys cooking and serving you your food.
  • It was so bad in the kitchen that if an employee had something to eat, then stepped out of sight for more than 10 seconds, came back, and the other employees even had a smirk on their face, they would throw their food away.
  • Drunk & rowdy customers.
  • Have you seen the movie “Waiting”?  Remember the after parties?  Those exist, and happen frequently.

Are you satisfied for now?  Keep checking back, and as the weeks go by, I’ll fill you in on all the goings-on behind the scenes.  You’ll probably want to read what I have to say before you decide to go eat there again.

Happy dining!

The Jester.


Mischeif at exit 7

Posted in Drugs, Restaurants on August 24, 2010 by Divide By Zero

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.