“Today’s My Last Day.”

Story 8

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Our knife supplier enters the kitchen. We’ve used him for years. He arrives between lunch and dinner every Saturday. Today is no different except we don’t hear him sing or see his smile when he puts a variety of razor-sharp knives on the table.

“Today’s my last day,” the knifeman says to nobody in particuliar.

Chef lifts his roux off the stove. He shouts for one of us to turn down the music.

“What did you say? I couldn’t hear a thing over the music,” Chef says shooting a look at one of the prep cooks.

The knifeman unzips his jacket. He rubs the skin below his eyes.

“Today’s it for me. Everyone is hibernating. After you, I have one more stop then my day is finished.”

Chef picks up one of the French knives. He runs his finger the length of the blade.

“You’re the best in the business. Are you serious about stopping?”

The knifeman nods his head.

“There is no more business, so it doesn’t matter who is the best.”

The knifeman pulls a small yellow pad out of his jacket pocket. He writes down what we owe and tears the paper off the pad. Chef puts out his hand.

“Thirty-five dollars. The next stop’s bill comes to thirty-seven. That’s seventy-two dollars for the day. Before this craziness, every day had a minimum of ten stops. Six days a week for twelve years. That was a third better than my father’s best year and he owned this business for twenty-one years.”

The cooks stepped away from the stove and claim their knives. None of them knew what was going on and Chef didn’t say anything to anyone.

Then the knifeman looked at Chef.

“So, what are you going to do?”

Chef scratched his head.

“You heard Miami closed their beaches to prevent the spread, right?”

Chef looked at the invoice.

“Our takeout is picking up, but we’re having a hard time getting food containers. If you hear anything, let us know,” Chef said realizing he’d probably never see the knifeman again.

“Absolutely,” the knifeman said tapping his foort on the floor.

Chef asked a line cook to finish cooking the roux before getting the knifeman’s thirty-five dollars. Out of habit, the cooks began bringing the knifeman knives that needed sharpening.

Knifeman shook his head.

“This is it for me, boys.”

Everyone looked at each other. Stunned looks on their faces, which is when Chef returned to the kitchen. He put three twenties in the knifeman’s hand.

“That’s the best we can do for you. Hope everything works out.”

The knifeman zipped his jacket, turned and pushed open the kitchen doors. Chef watched the knifeman leave the restaurant. His head down, hands in his pocket. Not another soul on the sidewalk.

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How Fifty Percent Capacity Lead to March Madness

Story 6

Thursday, March 12, 2020

“Now we are in March madness, aren’t we?”

Nobody laughed.

They sat in a windowless basement office. The door shut and cold pizza in the middle of the table. Excel spreadsheets in front of each person with tabs for the kitchen staff, the floor crew, office personnel, and the maintenance crew.

“If we’re limited to fifty percent of capacity, then we’ve got to cut a third of our staff,” said the restaurant’s General Manager.

Chef spoke first.

“So, what are you talking about? I have five cooks that already cover thirteen shifts in seven days.”

The restaurant’s owner tapped her fingers on the table.

“We have no choice if we want to keep the restaurant going,” said the owner.

“What are you talking about here?” asked Chef.

The General Manager looked at the owner. She nodded her head then turned away.


“Two what?” Chef asked.

The General Manager reached for the pizza box, but realizing the pizza was cold he pushed away from the table.

“You’ve got to lay off two cooks.”

Chef coughed.

“You’re crazy.”

The General Manager shook his head.

“We’ve got no choice.”

Chef leaned back in his chair and squeezed his eyes shut. The grill cook had been with Chef for seven years. He never called in sick and always picked up his phone if Chef called on his day off. Last week the cook’s son received a diagnosis for an anxiety disorder and needed to see a therapist. The Garde Manger cook started with Chef years ago. Everyone knew they once were involved, but that happens in a kitchen. One saute cook put out three thousand dollars last week to bail his brother out of Rikers on a trumped-up drug charge. Another saute cook is splitting from his wife and just started looking for an apartment. A garbage truck hit the roundsman’s sister and he buried her three weeks ago. The pastry chef came to work last week with two black eyes. Everyone begged her to stop seeing her girlfriend, but she is reluctant to follow advice and says work is her Happy Place.

The floor manager did not have it any easier than Chef. If anything, he had it harder because he had to pick the names of four servers. Deciding who to lay off in the office was easiest of all the choices. The bookkeeper did not hide the fact she planned to leave at the end of the year and retire to a condo in Fort Lauderdale.

What happened next was not pretty. The names of hard-working decent people were read aloud as though they were items in an auto parts catalog. The restaurant owner kept quiet during that discussion. She crossed and uncrossed her legs while scrolling her phone. Or at least she did not say anything until everyone decided they needed to go upstairs and get fresh air.

“I hope you realize this thing is not going away so fast,” said the restaurant’s owner. She looked at her phone and started reading aloud from her screen without making eye contact with anyone.

“Cases in the United States have now passed 1300, including 38 deaths.”

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“Check the Schedule Before Going Home.”

Story 5

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The grill cook plated two orders of lamb chops. He wiped the plates with a damp towel and slid each plate down the line. Then, the saute chef ladled a Merlot reduction over each lamb chop before placing the dishes beneath the heat lamps. Meanwhile, the kitchen’s latest hire sauteed spinach and was adding salt when the expeditor called for a pickup.

“Waiting on the lamb for table seven,” said the expeditor.

Chef tapped his fingers on the stainless-steel table.

Rookie, or at least that’s what the kitchen crew has been calling him for the past week, lifted his pan off the stove, placing it on the cutting board. One cook shook his head and said something in Cantonese. Chef, of course, knew enough Cantonese to follow up with loud words of his own. Then, after collecting himself, he warned the rookie that if the lamb chops died on the pass, he should start looking for a new job tomorrow. Not a moment later, one of the Mott Street wizards moved toward the rookie with his tongs. Rookie panicked when Chef raised his voice again and tipped his hot pan too far, causing the steaming spinach to fall on the floor.

Chef tilted his head and for a moment you thought he’d break his neck. Luckily another one of the line cooks had the sense to fire a good amount of spinach earlier because he sensed the rush was coming. And before you knew it, the two orders of lamb chops were out the door and on their way to table seven.

For the next twenty minutes, the board filled with dupes. Chef ordered the rookie away from the line and relegated him to cutting sprigs of parsley. The rookie’s hands shook while working and he didn’t say a word or lift up his head.

When the rush finished, Chef asked for two pitchers of beer. He poured beer into plastic cups and passed them out to his crew. Rookie was the last to get a beer, which was Chef’s intention.

“You learn anything tonight?” Chef asked.

Rookie was about to say something when the restaurant’s owner came into the kitchen, which wasn’t a normal practice for him. He motioned for Chef to join him the dining room. The two of them sat at a booth not far from the kitchen.

Ten minutes later, Chef returned to the kitchen and poured himself a second beer.

“They’re saying the Governor is going to reduce restaurant capacity starting tomorrow, so you might want to check the schedule before going home.”

“But, didn’t the mayor say it was safe to continue eating out for healthy people?” Rookie asked.

Chef’s eyes narrowed.

“You’ve got a lot to learn,” Chef said finishing the rest of his beer.


Check out interesting Queens street photography: @queensstomp