I am miserable on a dance floor. No rhythm, no moves, I can’t tell my left from my right. I was fine at the junior high slow dance, which involved swaying slowly in a circle with some sweaty kid. There is only one dance that I have ever excelled at and that is the dance of work.
My very first job was at a small ice-cream shop in my small home town, I was 13. Everyone I worked with was older, much older to me, though it was only a few years difference. I couldn’t figure our why they were always filling balloons with the nitrous gas that we used to make whipped cream, that realization would come much later. It was at this ice cream shop that I first felt graceful, maneuvering around 2 other employees, filling orders with speed and I thought panache. I even thought about writing a book about “the dance” the particular unplanned choreography that allows a rush to happen without anyone bumping into one another.
I have “danced” with chefs, servers, busboys and customers. In some places there are established rules, these doors are for in, these doors are for out. At the Muddy Rudder I would have to maneuver 50-lb trays through a crowd, dipping and swaying with my tray held high over my head. At the Bakehouse Café there were no trays, and two flights of stairs to be conquered, you never wanted to forget anything at the bottom.\
At Bruce’s Burritos it is a different kind of dance. Most of the time my range is 10 feet long, behind the counter, at the register. It’s a much more stationary dance and involves a lot of arm movement. Every time I write a slip, I rip both slips and hand them behind me to the bagger-tagger, who hands one slip to the kitchen and puts one on the line in front of them. When we are dancing well I don’t even have to look to see who is grabbing the slip, they hear the ripping of the paper and in an almost Pavlovian response, reach for the slip. Sometimes the bagger-tagger is busy so the cold side guy, the one rolling the burritos, grabs the slip. This involves a long arm reach around the head of the bagger-tagger, and for the most part we have very few accidents. At a good clip, during a lunch rush, we can process orders in a minute.
With a line of 30 people, I can still hear a small voice at the end of the counter asking for a glass of water, or recognize a confused look in front of the sauce bottles that says, “Wonder what Habanero xxx is.” Generally without missing a beat I can answer questions and fill quick requests.
The dance in the kitchen is a different tempo with more verbal cues. Four people with about 200 square feet of floor space, putting out enough food to feed up to 650 people in day. SHARP, HOT, BEHIND, the refrain is endless but also incredibly important at a fast pace with no room for error. Bruce and Evan have been known to liken themselves to gazelles. Nick is known for his remarkably long reach, he can reach up to 5 feet away while keeping his feet planted and weaving around other moving bodies. Little kids love to stand at the end of the counter and just watch the folks in the kitchen work.
There is a rhythm to Bruce’s Burritos that is unlike any other, from the steady rhythm of the kitchen to the lighthearted staccato of out front, the rise and fall of customers voices, the giggles of toddlers, and excellent music in the background. We have created our own dance.