My six year old was attending a Girl Guide/Sparks event on a recent Sunday at a Surrey SkyTrain station in Whalley.
My very first paying job was as a dishwasher at Fresgo’s. I was 15, just like my eldest daughter.
It was fast paced and demanding work to keep up with the breakfast crowds. It wasn’t glamorous work by any stretch of the imagination but it was good basic stuff – get up early, be on time and work hard.
When there were not any dishes to wash, look for more – the bakery was always able to deliver a six-foot high rack of baking trays. Those were tough.
I was good at my job. I worked hard, did not complain and often found extra work in the kitchen that eventually lead to some prep cook work.
I learned a lot – how to quickly prepare fixings for omelets, crack hundreds of eggs, squeeze fresh orange juice, get a handle on large sharp kitchen knives without cutting myself, mop floors, keep things organized and keep things clean and keep the food fresh.
We got a discount on food and at the bakery. The bakery ladies were sweet and would often donate the spoils. I was also taught how to perfectly slice a cheesecake in equal proportions – not easy!
These were awesome life skills. I would start to cook at home for my parents once in a while, I had a sense of accomplishment and confidence well beyond the restaurant at this point.
I was only there for about a year and a half, maximum two, yet I had an incredible first job experience. I had some walking-around money to spend with my friends, save up for records, etc.
I learned what it was like to be accountable on the job, how to team with others in the kitchen.
I also learned respect for my boss, the business, the customers and for the expensive equipment.
Back to the other day with my family, when I was eating my burger and fries with my wife, I saw Walter in front of the grill and walking around the restaurant cleaning tables.
When I worked there, I never really knew Walter. I was terrified of him. The big boss, he always had a commanding presence. He always wore the signature chef’s hat and drove a big truck. He was an imposing figure and I respected him. In my little world, he was the leader of an empire! Dare not do any wrong by him!
So on Sunday, I walked up to him and introduced myself. I thanked him for giving me a shot with the restaurant and for the opportunity to learn and make some money as my first job as a dishwasher.
He was surprised and I shared several names of others I worked with
“That was a long time ago,” he said, also telling me that he helped a lot of others get their first starts.
“We need help back there now,” he said.
I laughed as did he and he thanked us for coming in.
Walter walked away, heading to the bakery. He was smaller than I remembered but was kind, active, sharp and yes, a few years older.
He circled back just before we were to leave and handed me some fresh baked goods to take home.
Walter also shared the challenge he was having in finding people to work there.
I hope that this letter of mine may inspire some youth to take a shot at an interview at Fresgo’s, learn how to make a mean omelette, get up early, work hard and make a few bucks.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity I was given, after 30-plus years it was a little emotional, yet so rewarding to take a walk through time.
Today, I run my own aviation business. I could not have made it here and weathered the ups and downs without a strong foundation.
Walter, if you are reading this, thank you again for helping to establish a young man’s work ethic and being part of my foundation, giving me the chance to earn that elusive Slurpee money on my own, and all the life skills in the kitchen that I have never forgotten.
Adam J. Wickstead, Surrey