Monday, March 28, 2016

The Riviera Gig, Part One

Looking out the kitchen window on a Monday morning, I saw the old man talking to the neighbor across the street. At dinner that night I found out I had a job.

I was 15, a sophomore in high school and a brand new part time employee of the Riviera Restaurant and Lounge. My schedule was interesting, I had one day a week locked in, Sunday. The day began at 5am and ended at 10pm or whenever I finished mopping and buffing the banquet room floor. I usually got home around 11. 

That first Sunday began in the back kitchen of the restaurant. The back kitchen had a long stainless steel counter along one wall, a huge butcher's block, a deep sink, a 6 burner commercial stove and with two ovens. The other side of the back kitchen was taken up by a walk in wet cooler, a dry cooler and a dry storage room. Pots and pans hung on the walls. The assistant cook, he'd be a sous chef today, was a young guy named Gary. Gary was about 21. He was short, rough looking and had scars and fresh burns up and down both arms and Band-Aids on two of his fingers. Gary, lit a cigarette and said, "Let's get to work."

We changed into cook whites. "Get 6 cabbages, 4 of those big onions and a bag of carrots out of the cooler, I'm going to teach you how to make Cole slaw, these god damned people love that shit." We made Cole slaw for the next half hour. I covered the pans of slaw and put them back in the dry cooler.

Next Gary had me get 30 pounds of potatoes, I dropped them into the peeling machine, put them in huge pots and covered them with salted water, "Turn the burners on about an hour before we open the brunch room. I'll come back later and show you how to mash them in that big fcking mixer."

We got the peas, beans, carrots ready. We did a big pan of baked beans. Then we did the meat. The Riviera did all their own butchering, the wet cooler had 1/4s and halves of beef hanging in it along with boxes of chickens, turkeys, hams and fish. We prepared two giant beef roasts, 2 hams and 5 chickens. "All you do with them god damned roasts is rub 'em down with salt, blacken them a little with coarse pepper, put them in the oven about 8:30, hams go in at the same time." The last thing Gary had me make was the tossed salad, "Gotta be fresh as possible." he said.

Gary left me alone, he had to help with the breakfast crowd in the front kitchen. He came back every 20 minutes or so to see how I was doing. The brunch opened at 11. With Gary's help everything was done on time. I hauled all the food downstairs to the brunch line and set it up with the help of Margie the waitress. 10 minutes before the doors opened, I ate a roast beef sandwich. Gary sent me up to change into a clean cook's shirt and apron. For the next 4 hours, I served brunch to the after church crowd. When brunch was over, I hauled every thing back up stairs, washed the pans, took care of the leftovers, took out the garbage. I wandered into the front kitchen. Gary made me a hamburger and fries, I ate it sitting on my stainless steel counter in the back kitchen. It was only three in the afternoon and I was exhausted.

I spent the next 2 hours making ground beef out of the kettle of meat scraps in the cooler, "Better than you can buy." Gary told me.

Howard, the head cook, came back, he went into the cooler and brought out two bottles of Grain Belt beer, handed me one and said, "Good job, we only got dinner to do and we can wrap this shit up for today." Howard showed me how to cut steaks off the beef hanging in the cooler. With his help, I cut T-bones, porter house and filets. I breaded fish and got chicken ready for the deep fryer. By 6, I felt like the back kitchen was my domain. I learned later Howard was only 40, he looked 60. Me? I was tired, sweaty, dirty and maybe a little proud of myself.

The restaurant closed at ten, the staff had a couple of drinks while I mopped and buffed the floor of the banquet room. I finished in time to have a beer with them, by the time I changed my clothes and got out of the restaurant it was almost 11. I had put in an 18 hour day, it took a half hour in the shower to get the food smell off me. 

Next, Catering.


  1. People who want to open a restaurant don't know all the work involved in the kitchen(s).

    1. I had all kinds of jobs when I was young, detailed cars, worked on construction, farm work...none of them was as hard and demanding as restaurant work and it hasn't changed.

  2. I understand what you write about hours. I was a bus boy at a popular "Broasted Chicken" and Pot Roast restaurant on the Indianapolis east side. Got to work early to help waitresses "set up" up the tables. Bussed. Delivered second trays-it was a family style service-then cleaned up including vacuuming, mopping and buffing. All for 50 cents an hour. We were supposed to get 15% of the tip to the waiter or waitress. Only one of them actually gave us the full 15%. They must not have realized we could do the math and we were the first to the table after the customers left. Hard word.