Pay No Mind to the Woman Behind the Window, and Other Kitchen Tomfoolery

How many people do you know who wake up each day emphatically stoked to go to work? Zero? Uh-Duh. One pre-requisite to being human that seems to be universally accepted is that you feel at least minor feelings of animosity about the task you perform in exchange for your wages. Even the people lucky enough to stumble into an incredible work environment and be handed every opportunity to thrive find little bits and pieces of their work annoying (at the very least). I should know.

I started at Iron Horse just over a year ago. I was looking for work that could compliment (and not interfere with) my Big Girl Job as a preschool teacher during the academic year, and which would become my primary income during the summer. This is something that my previous supplemental job as an adjunct at CWU was not doing. My friends and family initially laughed at me for taking on something that at first glance seems to be an outrageous demotion; maybe you do too, but hear me out.

I began as a server at [the pub]. I immediately adored the people I got to interact with every shift and how the work kept me moving basically all day. I am a little bit of a busy body, and unless I’m sleeping I prefer to be in motion. I am highly social and find so much joy in hearing the stories our regulars bring in. Some of my favorite work interactions have been with people traveling through Ellensburg for the first time. It was a great relief to have escaped my obligation to office hours and days on end sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen. I feel like I transitioned into my serving role with relative ease. The work was fun and interactive, and I was 100% sold when I noticed that I was actually earning higher wages as a server than I had in all of my time as CWU faculty. Who is so lucky to land a job that’s a freaking blast AND pays well? This girl.

That’s not to say there weren’t days when I really would rather not. Anyone who has worked in a food service role could write the same (and mayhaps a more extensive) list of woes that I can regarding the standard struggles of the industry. There are obviously the occasional pub patrons who find all the right ways to brush me the wrong way (I’m looking at you, Cozy Sweater Party!). I still remember the stress I felt the first time I had to cut somebody off at the pub; I felt like my heart was going to pop out of the top of my skull, despite the guest in question being super sweet about it and accepting the glass of water I offered him. Hauling kegs became more tiresome somehow, and the smell of dried out beer on my clothes and shoes started to wear on me. There were days when the energy of smiling and greeting people as they entered the pub was more than I had to offer. I think this is what they call burnout.

In March, our kitchen staff at [the pub] went down to two people, and (though I was bummed to say goodbye to some really cool cousins) I saw this as an opportunity to find a change of scenery. I love learning new things and pushing my comfort zone a little bit, so I emailed our super-awesome pub manager to let her know that I would love the chance to cross-train in the kitchen and she was very receptive to the idea. While this wasn’t my first rodeo in a commercial kitchen, it was a far cry from the pizza, deli, and gourmet sandwich spaces I had occupied in my teens and early twenties. Thank goodness I was already familiar with the menu! My training shifts seemed to fly by and before I knew it I had my first solo shift in the back of house. It was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, and I walked out after closing that night feeling pretty proud.

Now I’ve been almost exclusively in the kitchen all summer and I’m feeling very comfortable back there. I love that within the realm of the kitchen there is so much variety in the tasks I perform: I am given creative license to come up with new menu ideas, I am offered the benefit of constant motion and physical labor, and I am able to assist with ordering and inventory. It’s been especially nice when I have those off days where I feel less social than normal. On the hard days, I can hide behind the window and focus on the seemingly endless list of things to do back there. It is challenging on the good days though, when I look out and see some of my favorite people sitting at the bar chatting with the servers. I do miss many of my mug club friends who I used to chat with every week. Once in a while I pick up a serving shift, and it’s like re-learning how to ride a bike. All of the information is still there – all of the muscle memory is still present – but I’m always a little wobbly for the first hour or so. I appreciate the variety I have been offered at [the pub].

The academic year begins again for me on the 13th of this month, and I have been thinking a lot about my present employment situation. I am one of those stupid-lucky people who has found a way to earn a living by mashing together a number of things that I enjoy doing, and that provide me with the variety I need to stay engaged. I am excited to see my preschoolers again, and I am so thrilled that my work at [the pub] fits so perfectly around that part of my life.

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