By Catherine Bourassa
Monday is the busiest day of the week at our sandwich/salad cafe. Part of me thinks we are so busy because we make amazing tossed to order salads, the other part thinks people are just doing the “I’ll start on Monday” thing of getting back on a healthy track after a binge filled weekend.
My husband manages the kitchen and the office, and as they say in the restaurant business, I manage “the front of the house”. I think of our relationship at work as “good cop” “bad cop. I have difficulty with confrontation. I am a pleaser and my spine has yet to fully develop. When situations arise (a customer complaint, or an employee reprimand) I call on him to handle it. When a staff member is crying in the bathroom because her boyfriend just broke up with her, he counts on my caring touch to deal with it. I am the greeter, the schmoozer, the cashier, the meditative, mindful, face of the business. I care.
The cafe has a clean minimalist look. Its rectangular shape is lined with fourteen chrome stools for counter seating. Amber colored glass pendulum lighting fixtures contribute to the contemporary vibe. When customers come in for the first time they look at the rainbow garden through the glass shield as if they were in a museum. I feel a sense of pride as I watch them take a slow investigative walk observing the freshness. I tell our staff, when you are making a customers salad they are watching your every move. This is theater. Never let them catch you out of character.
This is a typical Monday and where you place your order, a line is starting to form into the shape of a horseshoe at about 11:30 am. The regular customers know the drill and quickly fill out their salad forms, the new ones wait for one of us to give them the spiel.
“Name goes at the top”
“Check off all the items you would like”
“Dressing tossed or on the side”
“We will call your name, and you pay at the other end.
The austere decor of the cafe is not synonymous with the clientele.
Linda is a loud talker and a vegan. She has a different story daily about her disdain for meat eaters.
Curt wears navy blue dickies and a work shirt and always orders roast turkey on a roll with cranberry mayo. He shows us pictures of his grandchildren in Florida. He gets pissed if you forget to give him a receipt
Bill thinks avocados are “bullshit” and doesn’t get the point of putting them on or near anything.
Jake entertains us with stories from his weekends. We tease him that he is too old to be participating in things like Santacon!
It is now about 12:30 and there is a sea of customers all looking down at their cell phones waiting for their names to be called. I am running the register and calling their names.
A cute twenty something year old wearing nursing scrubs and full sleeve tattoos steps up and I ring up her salad.
“That will be $10.05 thanks have a wonderful afternoon”
Next order up is a sandwich and the ticket has the name Cassandra written on the top. I feel a quick flutter of panic. and three thoughts dart through my brain 1) Oh shit she had two things 2) there couldn’t possibly be two people named Cassandra in one place 3) she is already out the door.
At that moment the other Cassandra steps up to the register.
She is not cute.
She is stiff and pressed in high end clothing with a Louis Vuitton bag that could house a small family. She is annoyed at the lunch time crowd and just realized that the other Cassandra has left with her lunch.
I said “Hold On”
I run from behind the counter into the parking lot like a Marvel Superhero screaming “CASSANDRA, CASSANDRA, WAIT” as I flag her car down.
She stops, rolls down her window and casually says “whats up” not sensing my sense of urgency.
“Did you order a salad or a sandwich?”
A sandwich. Why?
“Because you took a salad ( now I think cute Cassandra possibly smokes a little weed on her lunch break) Can you please come back inside for a second.
“Oh, sorry. No problem.” she said
I’m now again standing behind the register looking all cattywompus after my heroics, with the two Casandras in front of me. Cute Cassandra is patient and understanding while I try to figure out how to do a return on our recently updated registers. Not cute Cassandra is pissed.
She says to me with tight pursed lips
“You would think the person that they let run the register would know how to use it”
I felt embarrassed and verbally assaulted and dumb. I wanted to say “Fuck You!” Not Cute Casandra. Can’t You See We Are Slammed In Here And We Don’t Want To Serve Mean People!” Of course I didn’t say those things because there is Yelp and Google and Trip Advisor and I practice mindfulness. All was resolved in a matter of minutes with both Casandras getting their correct lunches. I had a lump in my throat and was on the verge of tears.
I joke about meditating and practicing mindfulness but I really do both. It is not easy. It is a constant practice and working with the public gives me plenty of opportunity to practice. The Metta meditation which is the cultivation of benevolence or “loving-kindness meditation” has given me strength. You recite phrases such as ‘may you be happy” may you be healthy, may you be peaceful, may you be free from inner and outer harm. You extend these thoughts first to yourself and then to others. It is a little gift that I give to our customers that they are not even aware of as I ring up their order. A free parting gift of positivity.
Two weeks later “not cute Casandra” came in for lunch and it wasn’t busy. I didn’t think she would ever come back, but here she was. As I rang up her salad at the register I asked her how her day was going. She seemed less stiff, less hurried, less mean. I wished I had taken the time to practice loving kindness with her the last time she was in the cafe. I felt a softening toward her. I think I may be more than just the face of the business I might be the heart as well. I care.
Catherine Bourassa lives in Connecticut where she owns a catering business and small tossed to order salad cafe with her husband. Catherine reads and writes in her spare time. Though they had to close their cafe initially, it is now open, check out the delicious menu. This is Catherine’s first published piece and we are thrilled it is with The ManifestStation!
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