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Over the Rainbow with Brian Burns: Bon Appetit, A Love Story


Photo: Juliette Luchini

As is probably the case with most of its workers, I was unemployed when I sent in my application to Emmanuel College’s cafeteria. It was last February and I was in the midst of a weirder interim of my life than usual. I’d been interning the previous semester at an online news site—writing articles about Boston’s hottest adult-coloring-book get-togethers—and was expecting that they’d let me stay through the next semester. After figuring out that I’d been sending my “So, hey, am I coming back in January?” emails to an unbeknownst-to-me demoted editor, I started sewing my seeds elsewhere.

Fired from a retail store in high school and maintaining a supermarket job during college breaks only because my dad worked for the same company, I came to realize there weren’t that many professional plots to plant said seeds. Having plenty of restaurant-working friends who make more money per shift than I do in most fiscal years, I considered working at a bar until I remembered I can barely navigate conversations with myself let alone with strangers I’d be dependent on for tips. After staring down the barrel of substitute teacher postings, I consulted my school’s career counseling center.

“So, this made me instantly think of you,” said my advisor, pulling a link up on her computer. “Chat with Antoinette! It’s a women’s issues talk radio show based out of Quincy. Sound fun or what?

I started at Bon Appetit the next week.

As strapped-for-cash as I was masochistic, I couldn’t afford to put up a fuss when learning that the only available shifts were for weekend brunch. A fate that would require me to be awake, at work, and brewing Green Mountain dirt grounds into Dark Magic coffee by 8 a.m. on Saturday mornings. I showed up to my first day 15 minutes late, my teeth still stained a shade of Aunt Merlot and my work polo two sizes too small.

A year later, all’s the same.

There’s something kind of heavenly about the brunch shift. The empty dining room, the soft hum of the ice machine, the hordes of freshly born fruit flies buzzing unbothered around the soda fountains. Continental breakfast starts at nine, attracting the specific stock of people who are both awake at such an hour and seemingly satisfied with a food selection that begins and ends at cottage cheese and raisin bran. Beyond that, brunch itself doesn’t start until 11—giving me a three hour block of time to stock tea bags, replenish napkins, and vodka-shit in the Marian second floor bathroom.

Duties change from week to week. I’m not the only student worker scheduled for Saturday mornings so I usually have a peer to rock-paper-scissors-to-the-throat-before-getting-put-on-comforts with when deciding who’s going to do what. Scooping spumoni may not seem any more-or-less miserable than slinging sausages and, in many ways, it’s not. But there’s only so much averted eye contact from the other side of the heat lamps we can take before volunteering our own heads for the carving station.

“Do you want regular eggs or cheesy?” I asked a student the other week, my brain slow-roasting inside my beanie.

“What’s the difference?” asked the student, who will be graduating with a degree worth just as much as mine.

Special events almost always fall on weekends—basketball tournaments, alumni programs, and, most tragically, open houses for prospective students. With parental wallets to impress, the food is never better, the cafeteria workers have to wear a dress-code-fulfilling hat that looks like a flaccid fez, and kids named Madison and Wyatt are out in full-Connecticut-force determining whether or not Emmanuel is the school for them.

“Hi, I only want half of this,” said a girl with a grapefruit in her hand and a Vera Bradley clutch around her wrist. “Can you cut it for me?”

“You’re gonna fit in so well here,” I said, returning to the work she’d interrupted me from completing—fishing out rancid lemons from the aqua fresca and identifying Friday night strangers in my phone’s camera roll.

Less than a week after my first day at Bon Appetit, I got a call from the news site I’d been interning at—they wanted to hire me as a part-time writer. Less than two months before my graduation date, they told me that they wouldn’t be taking me on full-time. Besides coping with the Ghost of Sallie Mae cackling in my unemployed face, I didn’t feel much disappointment or shock or regret. If anything, I was relieved to be free of a job that always felt like science to me. Cold, type-A, unforgiving of employees showing up 15 minutes late.

I served comforts that first Saturday after I was let go. The menu was the same as usual—scrambled eggs of the cheesy and non-cheesy variety, hash browns, steamed broccoli, pasta that no one ever eats. A few hours into serving, my manager asked me if I wanted to take a break and looked at me, baffled, when I said that I was all set. In the midst of famine, this place had never seemed like more of a feast. Picking up a plate as a student approached, his eyes fixed on nothing but the food he was about to eat, I asked, “What can I get you?”

Brian Burns is a Columnist and the Executing Managing Editor of The Hub. He can be reached at Follow him @brianTburns_.

Posted by on April 12, 2016. Filed under Around Campus,Over the Rainbow with Brian Burns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.