Fair warning before we start—this week’s edition of The Fork gets into what one might describe as a “political corner” of the food world. We mention this because we’ve received letters about how we should shut up and talk about muffins at all times, so if you don’t wanna get into the whole “nobody wants to work” nonsense and the labor movement that spawned signs like those on restaurant windows, feel free to check back in next week when we’ll probably be like “Oh, shit, summer squash is outta control, homies!”
We don’t know if you saw it around the social media-o-sphere, but Walden “Wally” Minoli, owner of Albuquerque restaurant Gecko’s Bar & Tapas, hung up a rather interesting sign on his business’ window the other day. Let’s take a gander, shall we?
Now, we’re not sure to which socialist he’s referring—can’t possibly be Biden since he’s not even close to a socialist, but we used our context clues to glean that the “Nazi” would be none other than New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Yikes. This move is especially interesting when a simple public records search through nonprofit investigative news outfit ProPublica shows Gecko’s received pandemic assistance in the amount of $124,705—but why split socialist hairs, right?
Later, Minoli issued an apology on Facebook:
Oh, dang! He WAS referring to Biden! Wild! (Also, what the hell does “$15 per cash” mean?)
Anyway, that apology didn’t seem like enough for employees, who put out their own statement, also via the restaurant’s Facebook page:
Lujan Grisham’s camp did wind up responding, saying in part that: “On the whole, we do not respond to people who choose to invoke that kind of language as if it doesn’t have actual, terrible meaning. It’s important to note...that the Federal Reserve studied this specifically and found that the $300 benefit is not keeping people on unemployment longer than they would be otherwise.”
And anyway, setting aside the whole thing where New Mexico did great at slowing the spread of COVID-19, and how lots of people lost their jobs and had no choice but to go on unemployment, and how the health of the people is the one true law, and how throwing around the term “Nazi” is really intense, this scratches at the surface of what might be one of the single most significant and widespread labor movements of our time. We’ll call it Waitergate (because we’re a genius), and at its simplest, it’s something you’ve probably seen all over your own town, no matter where you live: slower service, fewer hours, smaller staffs, signs (not always angry) and a notable shift on which you can’t quite place your finger.
In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, journalist Micheline Maynard pointed out that even with extended unemployment benefits to the tune of about $300, restaurants were already short-staffed. In her piece, Maynard points to analysts who noted there were too many restaurants in the country to fill jobs even before the pandemic, and that already razor-thin profit margins were shrinking further. Ultimately, she opines, a measly few hundred bucks is hardly the only reason people aren’t clamoring to get back into restaurant work.
In another piece from Eater-dot-com (which regular readers know is our favorite non-Fork food thing), writer Gaby Del Valle spoke with foodservice workers who said they’d be willing to come back so long as the money made any risks worth it—aye, there’s the rub. As a former restaurant worker, we can tell you from experience that there’s so much more going on than reductive “nobody wants to work” claptrap, and much of it comes down to some pretty simple things:
-A lot of food jobs pay really horribly.
-A lot of servers and other types of food workers were forced to take time off during the pandemic and realized they didn’t want to spend their lives facing a gantlet of shit.
-A lot of people are biding their time about going back to work because they’re scared, looking for something better, learning new skills or otherwise trying to grow.
-New variants of COVID-19 are beginning to pop up, and since the vast majority of the dining public spent the last year acting like not having access to a brekkie b in public was the single worst government slight in recent history, workers have often been forced into unsafe situations, and that’s really scary.
In many states, foodservice workers make an hourly wage that is the rough equivalent of the amount needed to zero out potential taxes owed. It’s been awhile since we were in foodservice, but at our last job, we literally pulled down $2.13 an hour plus tips. Said tips are why (most) restaurants don’t pay an hourly wage similar to other industries (and we’re not about to get into the whole minimum wage thing here, because that would be an entire newsletter unto itself), and this setup can be kind of bogus.
First off, if we trace the idea of tips paying a server’s wage, its roots are racist as hell. Second, it’s notable that an entire industry exists wherein the consumer pays both for the goods on offer and the wages for said business’ employees. Now, we know what you are thinking—doesn’t all business income come from the consumer, therefore we’re paying workers’ wages anyway? Well, yes and no. Yes, that’s true, technically, but in the case of restaurants, the consumer looks like the bad guy for not tipping well (which you always should do and YOU ARE a bad guy if you tip poorly) while the restaurant ultimately saves on payroll. It’s a little more complicated than we can get into here (and we’re sure any restaurant owners who read this will set us straight as angrily as possible if we’re even slightly mistaken), but suffice it to say it isn’t always great to be a foodservice worker.
Granted, many a server prefers working this way (at least the ones who work in restaurants that don’t pool tips), and even in Santa Fe, the idea of a fair minimum wage for servers in lieu of tips straight up bummed local foodservice workers in 2019.
Nevertheless, in many cases, the restaurants that hang those “Guess nobody wants to work” signs are chainy type places; the places where newcomers start. This is kind of why the Gecko’s thing seems to be hurting folks so much—they’d assumed it was a community-minded business. Also, we can’t speak for every restaurant in Santa Fe, but do note places like La Choza, The Chocolate Maven, The Ranch House and a million other locally-owned, part-of-this-community type places aren’t facing staff shortages like your Sonics or your Chipotles or, apparently, your Gecko’s.
Chainy places generally require longer hours than a local sit-down spot, where it’s not unusual to bang out a shift in 4 or 5 hours (THIS IS NOT A BLANKET STATEMENT). The chainy places come with shittier perks (if they have them at all), and they tend to be staffed by either teens, the elderly or the desperate (this is not the case at EVERY LAST PLACE, so please don’t yell at us). And while industry n00bs who still live at home might not care—ditto older folks who just want something to do during the day—those on whom a family depends, or who trained to do something else at a college because the boomers promised them a phantom job or who just plain took the gig because they had to, are realizing it isn’t worth the hassle and, often, the indignity, to make less money than they might at, oh, say, off the top of our head, a place like Violet Crown Cinema (they start at $15/hour) or Meow Wolf (which famously upped its starting pay to $17 last year).
Considering jobs like that aren’t exactly growing on trees these days—and how the government extended unemployment because the whole wide world is a trash fire right now—why should someone feel guilty about staying calm for a beat and working out a better situation for their future? They shouldn’t. They straight up shouldn’t. Oh, and note that in our attempt to make this VERY LONG newsletter more palatable, we’re generalizing when it comes to numbers, and there are very much places that do better or worse or different or whatever.
Still, when it comes to the gantlet of shit that is working in restaurants, note that we’re not talking about every single place in the world (and some people absolutely adore being foodservice workers), you should know that, if you’ve never worked in one, IT’S A STRAIGHT UP GANTLET OF SHIT.
People who go out to eat are monsters (unless they worked in a restaurant, and servers can ALWAYS tell). Meanwhile, across the pandemic, all kinds of people in all kinds of fields have been talking about how being forced to take a break made them reassess...is it really the fault of workers that they realized working in restaurants is really hard, and maybe they’d like to move on or at least be paid an amount commensurate to running a gantlet of shit? Nope.
Kind of to that end, people are looking into doing other things. One of our buddies in New York City stopped restaurant work after more than 20 years to go into some kind of tech startup. A number of locals we know are taking this opportunity to find other fields they would consider more fulfilling, too. And the folks who act like their dining out experience is more important than someone staying the eff alive aren’t helping—which is worse when ownership chimes in to admonish its staff secondhand by hanging up signs that, by the way, wouldn’t make us wanna work someplace.
This isn’t to say every restaurant owner in the world is a jerk. They’re not. But it is a bit of a jerkish move to assume people are so desperate to work someplace they’ll put up with literally anything for the sake of a job. Can’t we get past that point in human history? Things are changing and, as we say, this truly is one of the most significant labor movements of our lifetime. There will be losses. Eateries will close. Why not band together instead of making crummy signs?
Personally, we’re gonna stop going places that put up “nobody wants to work” signs. People DO want to work, they just don’t want to hate their lives, and that, our friends, has nothing to do with hyperbolically calling someone a Nazi or misunderstanding socialism—that’s something we all deserve. As always, tip huge and be patient in restaurants. These peoples’ whole job is to bring you food after it has been made. Jeez, the world would be a better place if everyone worked in a restaurant and in retail for a year.
P.S. Seriously, though, don’t take this stuff out on waiters. At Gecko’s, for example, the staff seems really cool and they didn’t do the whole sign thing. Also, if the thought of waiting more than 6 minutes for a meal is so unthinkable you’re gonna tip like shit or trash a place online, get outta here. Food quality is one thing, exhausted workers who can’t catch a break is another altogether. Sorry for the novella this week, buds, and we look forward to your undoubtedly mean emails.
-Speaking of signs (but done not the mean way), Atrisco Café & Bar (sister of Tomasita’s) placed one up recently letting folks know there will be no service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the time being. Atrisco’s sign only points out the restaurant’s “amazing staff,” who, the sign says, are “working tirelessly.” Huge bummer, but hey—if you’re looking for a job...
-Word on the street is the Cordova Road Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Café has reopened its dining room. Now, we know we haven’t been naming every single restaurant that’s reopening, but Saigon RULES, so we thought you should know.
-Meanwhile, at the Santa Fe Brewing Co., the taco geniuses from Fusion Tacos are taking over with foodservice everyday (except Monday) for the rest of the year. WHAT?!? Rad.
-Speaking of openings, we understand downtown spot Horno soft-opened recently and then not-so-soft opened later. By all accounts, the newest restaurant from chef David Sellers is outta control good. We can’t wait to catch a meal there soon.
-Have y’all had a breakfast croissant from the New Baking Co. recently? Holy smokes, you should. With chopped green chile and masterfully cooked eggs (not to mention the eatery’s amazing croissant), we’ve been thinking about it nonstop for daaaaaaaays. We’re gonna get one tomorrow, actually.
-We love writer Molly Boyle for her insightful lit reviews in SFR, but she also does food jazz for the Albuquerque Journal and recently highlighted four Santa Fe food trucks you just gots to know. SFR had its own thoughts on food trucks in 2019 and probably will have more one of these days.
-Oh, good...despite having been approved for federal SBA assistance, women, PoC and veteran restaurant owners are actually getting screwed by—get this—white restaurant owners. This is according to Eater-dot-com which, as we’ve said, we love.
-At some point, there was this rush from brands to ditch racist mascots and such, and now syrup and mix brand Aunt Jemima will henceforth be known as the Pearl Milling Co. There...racism fixed forever.
-Wheaties cereal is turning 100, and will produce a special Muhammed Ali box to celebrate the milestone. It also says “100 Years of Champions” on the box, though we’d point out that cereal likely played a very small role in anyone’s champion-ness.
-Delish-dot-com has a magazine now, which we guess is fine, but its latest issue is all about recipes from Disney parks. Now, if you like those ABSOLUTELY MONSTROUS Trackers (being that wildly annoying family that acts like going to Disneyland is journalism), you might be pumped. You might also be pumped if you’re one of those adults who acts like a Disney obsession is a personality trait and not a deeply creepy way to exist. For the rest of us? Well, we know where to get churros and our moms made us Mickey Mouse pancakes before that was even a thing. Also, watch better movies.
-Meanwhile, over at Bon Appétit-dot-com, find more than 30 brekkie sandwich recipes, which rule. A breakfast sandwich always rules.
-Lastly this week, Bad & Boozy founder Essie Quayaki discusses the Ghanian influence on her line of cocktails with the dorks at Thrillist-dot-com, and we wanna try all of them SO BADLY.
A Totally Scientific Breakdown of The Fork’s Correspondence
In this week’s print edition of SFR, our own Riley Gardner checked out the new brunch menu at Dulce Capital, and it is apparently pretty dang excellent. Read Riley’s inspired, if a bit controversial (it’s a French toast thing) take here.
Number of Letters Received
*Oh, so you’re all just a bunch of monsters, huh?
Most Helpful Tip of the Week (a barely edited letter from a reader)
“We don’t like to make muffins at my house.”
Actually Helpful Tip(s)
“I’m going to make a chocolate chip cookie in a skillet.”
*Not so much a tip as much as an awesome thing that happened in our lives that everyone should know about.