Thursday, October 4, 2012

Choo choooooooo!

I think it's been a sufficient amount of time since I started working at my new job to tell y'all a little bit about it. I haven't said too much before because I didn't want to jinx it. It's not that I'm superstitious or's just a thing.

I am now a cook at SideTracked in my homey little town of Central, South Carolina. I guess I should give you a quick history of the town before I go on to explain the restaurant, because the town's history is important to the theme and the owners' general idea. Central is a small, old mill town in upstate South Carolina. It gets it's name for being the central point between the 2 major hubs in the south east [Atlanta and Charlotte] along the former Atlanta and Richmond Air-Line Rail Line. It was incorporated as a town in 1875. In it's glory days it was a booming little town with lots of great little cafes and eateries. But after the railway moved it's headquarters to Greenville and most mills either closed or downsized, the town took a hit and became mainly residential. Thus, the need for all the neat little eateries was significantly less. Don't get me wrong. Central has some great places now, but nothing like it was way back when. In an attempt to bring a little history and down home cooking back to the little town, the Hedden family started up SideTracked Cafe and Catering. They started the business about 3 years ago. They closed for the summer to move to the new location, which is right next door to the old one, and reopened in September. I was lucky enough to be a part of that.

It's in a 1890's, newly remodeled home directly in front of the railroad tracks. This is a step up from the hole in the wall they started out in. The original cafe shared a building with a hair salon. They could seat about 30 people total as long as the weather was nice enough for outdoor seating. Otherwise they could cram about 20 into a very tiny dining area. The kitchen was...not much of a kitchen at all. It's a wonder they could ever get one plate sent out. The new restaurant is beautiful. They did enough remodeling to make it a suitable place for a restaurant while leaving a good bit of rustic charm (and I do mean that in the best possible way). It can seat 80 people at a time inside and another 20 or so outside. There are rooms that can be closed off for private events and each one is painted a welcoming, warm color. The kitchen leaves something to be desired, but it is a thousand times better than it's predecessor. It is a work in progress and they hope to add better equipment as time goes on.

One of my very favorite things about this place is the fact that the menu changes every week. The only things you'll see every week are the the ham & 3-cheese quiche and boneless fried chicken. The soup is different, the salad is a variation of the same thing but still different, the entrees are new, and the desserts are always changing as well. Everything is made from scratch, with very few exceptions and short cuts. Clyde and Leigh (the owners, operators, and cooks) are constantly cooking and baking. The food isn't gourmet, but it's good. They get their ideas from magazines, cookbooks and cooking shows. Then, like many cooks, they take those ideas and add their own twists to make them unique.

So...what do I do? Well, I do a little bit of everything. I do a lot of prep, a bit of cooking, and tons of assembling. I also expo-make sure tickets are correct and the orders go out as they should. There were a few bumps in the road at the beginning with scheduling and expectations, but things were easily sorted out. It is a pleasure working there and working for this family. They appreciate me and my efforts and I really appreciate what they do and the direction in which they are heading. In my initial interview, Clyde said that their goal was to be in Southern Living magazine. I honestly believe they are well on their way to that.

Of course it's not all rainbows and sunshine. There are a few things that drive me up the wall! I, in no way, intend for the following to sound snooty, but it's going to: I am the only one there that has any kind of actual culinary training. Leigh and Clyde are just home cooks that really wanted to give running a restaurant a go. But they have been in non-food related careers all of their lives. They are not "restaurant people". So they don't use the lingo. They don't do many things as I have/would typically. My station is never appropriately cleaned or organized how it should be when I get there for the evening shift. And the chaos that tends to occur in the daily running of the restaurant could easily be avoided. With that said, it is not my business to run and I keep what little ego I have in check at all times. I do hope to be able to help them make subtle improvements using my training and past experience. But they were doing well before I ever came along and I think they will continue to do so.

And there's my long-winded explanation of where I work. It was hard to go from being a full time stay-at-home mommy to taking on a part time job, but the timing was right and I needed to get back into a kitchen. I think this was a great place for me to get back into the industry.


PS The novelty of the trains barreling by every half hour or so hasn't worn off yet. I still love that sound!

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