friend, colleagues, and the passage of time

I can’t believe it’s November 20th, I just can’t. I remember my dad told me in high school (when I felt time was dragging me through class after class after getting up early and going to band and soccer and chorus practice) that college would be great and then after that, time would start flying by with work, relationships and other activities filling up the time.

When I think about graduating from college three and a half years ago, it does seem like someone vacuumed up some of the time from under my feet. I have great memories from these years, but I feel like I just finished college, even high school doesn’t seem so far away. But I’m more than “becoming” a real adult now. I really am one.

And although the time feels short, my life has changed very dramatically in the last few years. This period can be marked by the amazing people I have been so lucky to work with in the past few years. This week my assistant manager is leaving for another store where he will become an interim general manager for a few months. Last night, after the last shift that I would work with him, I couldn’t help thinking back a bit on some of the great working relationships I’ve been lucky to have, so here’s a bit of a tribute.

My first job out of college was at a brand-new fast-casual Asian restaurant in my old stomping grounds in the Milwaukee ‘burbs. It was my first interaction with Mexican immigrants, my second language of choice slowly turned from Chinese (ironically in the Asian restaurant) to Spanish, and I met the man who would become my husband. I also developed as a leader and an individual in ways I would not have thought possible in a restaurant. After a few months there I got the position of assistant manager working under Paul, a great manager with years of full-service experience in Florida and Wisconsin. Paul took my experience, willingness to learn, and natural talents and taught me all the fundamentals of running a good restaurant. I was immature and overly interested in playing investigative reporter, revelling in all the amazing stories I got from the immigrants who staffed our kitchen. But Paul always respected me and treated me like his equal. I learned the most from Paul.

Time passed and I decided to take a position with the company I am still with today, a local franchise of a large “fresh-Mexican” type chain. I was so optimistic and excited when I took the job. I had gotten really lucky in the negotiation process, and was excited to work for a place that seemed a little less corporate my previous company had been. After a month of training with a great GM in Milwaukee, I was sent to a great location at a busy intersection between Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, West Allis and Brookfield. I found out the weekend before I went that I would be working with Roxy, a woman about the same age as me who had just been promoted to general manager. We got along very well immediately. She had been with the company a long time, working her way up from being a line server in college. She had great interpersonal skills and literally, never broke a sweat, as our boss once commented to me. She was always calm, even in situations where I might have freaked out. In a social context, we were probably pretty different, but inside the company at the time, we were viewed as something like twin 20-something girls running a big store. She graciously allowed me to learn from her as she took on the role of GM and amazingly, it never felt like we were competing. Later she moved to California about the same time I was transferred to my current location to be a GM.

And that brings me to Adam. I have always seen myself, a bit arrogantly I suppose, as an ideal employee. I have been loyal to a tee to my employers, hard-working, panned up a lot of corporate BS (that I don’t believe in) with a smile, and always tried to improve whatever situation I happened to find myself in. I definitely have my flaws, but I have seen a lot of people who work in the restaurant industry by default, as something to fall back on, and I always wanted to be better than that.

I have to admit however, that Adam, in the ways stated above, put even me to shame. Adam is also mid-20s, like me and had been with this company a few years. We had never really met before, but there was a bit of a legend around Adam, who had run one of the busiest stores in the company with very little support during a time of double-digit growth in sales. In the four days I had to prepare for becoming a GM (when I found out Adam would be my assistant), people described him to me as “golden” and said “he’ll volunteer to come in on any day off to deliver a taco bar.” Wow, this sounded pretty good.

The store I was going to take over was in the midst of a meltdown. It had been open just two months and had a a few good line servers, but a terrible kitchen staff and no shift supervisors. It was ridiculously dirty, had very poor operations, and had screwed up some great catering oportunities. Adam had been there a few weeks before me, and the weekend I found out about my transfer, I spent one late night after my shift at the other store helping them bail out after a cook walked out in the middle of his shift and they ran out of most of what we serve during lunch. Frankly, I had never dealt with a disaster quite like this as a leader, but I was damn excited to give it a try.

I have to admit, the burrito gods knew what they were doing putting Adam and I together, because after a few months, a ton of hours and hard work, we had that place running as well or better than many stores in the company. Adam is cynical and hilarious, to use the first two words that come to mind. He’s a workoholic but does it because he cares. My Mexican cooks wrote in their goodbye notes to him that he was a great worker and should keep it up. This is significant because Mexicans are legendary hard workers, and typically do not have a lot of respect for the work ethic of the “guero” (American). I haven’t met my new assistant manager yet, but Adam is a tough act to follow for anyone, and our staff will miss him a lot.

Congratulations if you have actually read all this. I’ve been writing for an hour, but I felt last night that I had to give a little tribute to some of my favorite people. You see, work has always been important to me, and I have always had great relationships at work, but writing this has given me the opportunity to ponder how these people have affected me and made my life better, and I’m grateful for that.


3 Responses to friend, colleagues, and the passage of time

  1. Jack says:

    Nice post Laura. The experience you’ve gained in the last few years will be invaluable in any future endeaver, be it in the restaurant busness or anywhere else.

    I got a kick out of your comments regarding how fast time goes. I’ll warn you now that it will go much faster in about 20 years. I’m reminded of a quote I once read by Andy Rooney, of all people. He said “Life is like a roll of toilet paper – the closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes”.

  2. Laura says:

    Wow (laughing) – that’s a great quote. Mary will love it. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Mary says:

    that quote is hilarious.

    man, it’s already moving too fast. it’s supposed to get FASTER?

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