Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we have our old standby: horrible, horrible bosses. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
That's definitely not how germs work
"My barista license is old enough to vote now, and this story dates back to the time before you had to specify which Starbucks on which corner of the same intersection you were going to.
"I had worked for a woman in an independent cafe in a quiet little downtown area for almost two years. Things started to go south financially, and even though I liked her and loved our unique menu, it wasn't worth minimum wage to say things like, 'Sorry, no skim today.' (I actually preferred saying that above the boss' suggestion to water down 2% milk and not tell the customer. I know, red flag, right? I was young.) After I left, she moved to assistant manager at a corporate cafe and called me to be her shift lead. At least, I thought, inventory would never be an issue.
"At the CorpCafe, my boss brought me a 5lb bag of coffee beans and told me to dump it out into one of our plastic air-tight buckets. I noticed the date wasn't the next FIFO and went to take it back to the stockroom as she passed it to me. But the date was upside down because the bag was upside down, and there was a hole in the corner. That looked chewed. I started to say something and was shushed until we went back into the stockroom together to see that she had put out glue traps for mice.
"'Mice?!?' I said. 'A mouse chewed through this bag?' I looked at my boss and said, 'You want me to stock the coffee beans that a mouse has chewed.'
"'No,' said the assistant manager, holding out her hand with clearly nibbled coffee beans. 'I sorted those ones out.'
"'But... the mouse could have been INSIDE the bag. Fur. Fleas. Poop.'
"'So what?' said the assistant manager. 'Coffee brews above boiling temp. All the germs will burn off.'
"I looked at the industrial-sized garbage standing next to me and dropped the mouse-coffee bag (still mostly closed) right in with a very insistent 'NO.' I went back to the counter to finish my sidework and heard the boss fish the bag out of the trash and pour the beans into a bucket. She brought it out with a date label and put it under the counter where we keep the on-deck beans. I bent over, opened the bucket, and poured the beans into the counter trash, which was much more disgusting.
"She sent me home. I came in the next day to work a shift with the GM and was taken back to her office with a writeup for insubordination and misuse of company product. I asked her if she knew how the story was related to the glue traps in the stockroom and refused to sign the thing. She didn't have much to say, and I kept my job long enough to support me moving to another town and getting a transfer until I found something ‘real.'" -- Neville York
"To supplement my completely unlivable wages in the early '90s, I used to work for this shifty guy from Long Island who ran a catering company. The base pay was negligible, but on occasions when we could get our tips from the host before the owner could steal them, we could make a decent night out of it.
"One very unfortunate event was a fundraising event called a 'beefsteak' held at a suburban American Legion hall in New Jersey. The caterer promised an all-you-can-eat buffet of sliced, buttered beef on toast. I knew it was going to be a problem when we observed that the average attendee weighed in at about 300lb and that the caterer had allocated about a half-pound of beef per person.
"Needless to say, we ran out of beef after the early arrivers had gobbled up about 3lb each and were still hungry. The caterer began to substitute turkey and ham, but the American Legion would have nothing of it, swearing and throwing the food back at us. 'THIS IS A FUCKING BEEFSTEAK! NOT A HAMSTEAK! NOT A TURKEYSTEAK! A FUCKING BEEFSTEAK!'
"Bad went to worse when the emcee for the fundraiser promised a refund to all the attendees and blamed the caterer, calling him out by name and pointing at us servers in our cheap tuxedos. The caterer told us to pack up and flee, essentially, which -- fearing we'd be beaten or cannibalized by morbidly obese, starving Legionnaires -- we most certainly did.
"Needless to say, we didn't get tips. As an added bonus, the caterer accused us of stealing unused liquor and threatened not to pay until we gave him the 'I hope you value your life more than the money you lost tonight' look." -- Eddie Blakeney
Yet another sexist douchebag
"When I was in college, I worked at a popular neighborhood bar and grill owned by the 30-something cokehead scion of a prominent local family. The place was sort of a clubhouse for his frat bros.
"Owner only hired 'hot' girls for the front of the house. Didn't matter if they were unreliable, incompetent, or lazy. At some point, he hired Manager (to free him up for more sexual harassment and drug use), who hired me. Owner was displeased -- not hot enough. But I was a hard worker, well-liked by customers and staff, never late, and so forth, so he tolerated me while never missing a chance to let me know he didn't want me there.
"After about a year, my brother, who lived in another city, scheduled a bone marrow transplant to cure his leukemia. I told Manager I would be leaving for around three months, thinking brother would be back on his feet by then. I said I would like to come back, but I understood they had to fill my shifts. Could I, perhaps, start back by picking up shifts other people didn't want and possibly work my way back onto the schedule? Manager was very understanding and expressed a desire to see me come back.
"Three weeks later, my brother died. I returned to the college city and stopped by the restaurant. Manager had been fired. Owner told me I would never be allowed to come back. Condolences? What condolences? He never even asked. I would love to say he mismanaged the place and lost everything, but 30 years later the place is a local institution and Owner is a respected man-about-town." -- Carrie Maroni
Possibly the worst boss ever
"In high school I got a job working at a 'fancy' 'Belgian' 'cafe' in Chicago. I took the job because it paid $10/hr and it was four blocks from my house. I think, like many restaurant jobs, it was often (mildly) fun, the customers were a mixed bag, co-workers were great, and by far the worst part about the job was the owner. I might even go as far as saying that the worst thing about Chicago is that the dickhead owner has ever owned anything here.
"One very important thing to note about this 'shoppe' was that it was never busy. Never. Not even when the Gay Pride Parade paraded right past our window of free samples. We regularly brought in less revenue than it cost to pay us, let alone cover the rent, utilities, and cost of the 'food' -- but, as long as we got paid, we were mostly happy that the horrible owner was presumably hemorrhaging money.
"Another woman who worked at the store, who commuted 1.5 hours from the far south side on public transportation, was routinely subject to awful comments from the owner about her weight and was constantly sent home early. But she endured all this because the owner kept telling her as soon as her hours increased she would get benefits like health insurance. Weirdly, she always seemed to be scheduled juuuust under 35 hours a week.
"One Sunday I got a phone call from said co-worker asking if I happened to be around the store, though it was pretty hard to understand her because she was sobbing. I told her I was just about to get home, so yeah, I was very close by, and I asked if everything was OK. She could barely get it out, but told me that her grandmother -- who raised her -- was in the hospital dying. The owner was in the store, but he wouldn't let her leave until she found someone to cover her shift. I said, 'Oh my God, tell him I'll be there in 10 minutes, I just have to change. Go be with your family.’
"Ten minutes later, I walked into the place fully expecting my co-worker to be gone. Instead, I saw her up at the counter, dealing with the only two customers in the store with silent tears streaming down her face. I stormed past the owner on my way around the counter and exasperatedly asked him WHY he didn't let her go already, and he started saying words like 'policy' and 'fair.' I rolled my eyes so hard I stopped being able to hear him. Meanwhile, I went to hug her and take over the (extremely uncomfortable) couple's order.
"She started taking off her apron and headed to the back of the store while I exchanged 'waffles' for money with some very nice people who would almost certainly never return to this Belgian-style forced-labor camp -- until all of a sudden, she was back. The scum-of-the-earth owner was insisting we do a full-press shift-change cash drawer checkout. For a grand total of $59 worth of sales.
"Her grandmother died before she reached the hospital.
"A week later, and three days after a fairly well-publicized stranger rape on the same block as the cafe, the owner sent another co-worker home and had me -- a 17-year-old, 110lb CHILD -- lock up the store alone at 1am. I called my mom, who waited outside the store in her minivan while I weighed every gelato container and counted every tea bag. I quit the next day.
"Ten years later, I still despise that guy.” -- Shelby Sieffert
Do you have a restaurant, home-cooking, or any other food-adjacent story you’d like to see appear in Off the Menu (on ANY subject, not just this one)? Please email WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Off the Menu" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
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