First Watch Cafe: Rockville, Maryland

I was on the road this week, yet another of my family’s frequent trips to Washington D.C, and I figured there was no reason to cease and desist the great blog progress. Manifest destiny, etc. (Disclaimer: this blog does not support the views of Andrew Jackson and his cronies.)  Hence, my first solo review.

A quick Google search led our family to the First Watch Cafe in Rockville, Maryland. This is a chain, which your reviewers generally steer clear of, but I had little choice in the matter. Near as I can tell, the place focuses on breakfast, giant pots of coffee for the table, and a lack of brand consistency (you can take the girl out of graphic design…)

When we arrived, the place was already crackling with the raw terrifying energy of a breakfast rush. No host or “seat yourself” sign greeted us at the door, which has nearly the same effect on a restaurant patron as a concussion. Our internal GPS recalculated several times before the kindly manager came to rescue us. He quickly soothed my bristling server fur with a couple of jokes and a willingness to help us situate ourselves in a way that suited us and our resident four year old.

He left us with a smile and some menus, and that was our last instance of human contact for a good five minutes (i.e. an eternity). When someone finally showed up, it was a frazzled trainee with half a pot of coffee. He mumbled his name, fumbled for his book, and bumbled taking our order. His ignorance of the menu sank my heart into the depths of the Atlantic, and his lack of focus would surely have redirected a ship on auto-pilot into a cliff.

We weren’t off to a good start. A fresh pot of coffee and our other drinks not only took overly long to show up, our server delivered them with all the grace of an untrained beluga. I love being proven wrong, however, and I was not disappointed. Shortly thereafter, our server quickly dropped off a fresh pitcher of water and pre-meditated syrup.

There was a lull in action afterwards, which gave me an opportunity to observe the rest of the restaurant. The place was obviously going through a round of training, I noticed several servers giving pro tips to their trainees regarding pre-bussing and such. As previously mentioned, the place was hopping, but from what I could see not a single server was in the weeds and there were no dissatisfied customers.

Our food arrived within fifteen to twenty minutes, which is  an understandable ticket-time based on the number of people filling the relatively small space. Our server had not yet mastered the art of balancing several plates in his hands, but placed the correct food in front of the correct person. My breakfast took longer to show itself, but was hand-delivered by the manager, with a reassurance that my request to add mushrooms had been fulfilled. He also noticed our empty coffee pot (which I’d strategically moved to the edge of the table) and must have passed on the information to our server, for we received fresh coffee soon thereafter.

The rest of the meal passed relatively uneventfully, with a reasonably timed check-in from our server. He was obviously busy elsewhere, though, for although he grabbed one of the empty plates on our table he ceased showing his face until everyone had been finished for several minutes. He delivered our check promptly upon request, but I’d advise him to keep his checks better organized to avoid rifling through a mess of wrinkled papers for a good minute. A check drop-off must be like our favorite kind of flatulence, silent but deadly. Once again, the manager proved himself my favorite employee, for he was pleasant and humorous while cashing me out at the register.

The experience was not mind-blowing but fairly pleasant. With a little bit of confidence, our frazzled trainee has the makings of a fine server. The management and senior employees obviously care about the comfort of their customers, which is always nice to see. I’d love to see how everyone functions at a slower pace, but there’s no better time to judge a staff than in the middle of a rush.

If you’re ever in Rockville and looking for a good breakfast, First Watch wouldn’t be the worst choice you could make.

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Arbor Brewing Company

Around the time we went into hiatus, I began work at Arbor Brewing Company. ABC just celebrated it’s 20-year anniversary in downtown Ann Arbor, and rightfully so.

For our first ‘endorsement’ post, I’m going to be shameless and promote my workplace.

The brewpub has been a huge deal in the Michigan beer scene, not just for it’s amazing beer (I didn’t even drink beer prior to working here) but for it’s amazing work being eco-friendly and locally supportive. The owners are probably the kindest, most dedicated people I’ve worked for in the restaurant industry. Their hearts are just as invested in the business as their finances, and I’ve found that to be a rare occurrence in this line of work. They are constantly looking for ways to innovate and expand their reach, and they do it all with their many workers at the forefront of their minds. Their most recent announcement to renovate the restaurant came with a full-staff meeting and an open door for ideas and opinions, which was met with a more positive response than I’ve seen from any staff I’ve worked with when such an announcement was made.

The management team that has been chosen to lead the staff is just as amazing. The group of women that run the day-to-day functioning of the brewpub are all huge-hearted and just as dedicated to the cause as the owners. Seeing a functioning management staff is just as surprising to me as the owners are, and I can’t express how refreshing it is to work with competent individuals that actually take the time to interact with their customers – whether it’s a complaint or just a curiosity, there is no doubt that a manager will take time out of their day to ensure your needs are met. And beyond the actual managing duties, they shine in their capacity for compassion. I’ve witnessed more hugs and one-on-one chats between managers and staffers than I can count, and the follow-ups that display the true depth of their love for their workers. I’m so used to taking care of myself – on the floor and off – that I’ve had a hard time accepting the managers for what they are, and have only recently opened up to their support, but it’s been an eye-opening experience. Is this what good management really looks like? Can’t say I’m disappointed.

As for the servers and hosts I work with, I don’t have a single negative thing to say. Though it’s a bit difficult to establish yourself among them, once they befriend you they take care of you. I’ve been shown so much support and kindness by my colleagues…it’s outrageous. And every single one of them takes their job seriously. So many beer experts in the ranks, it’s crazy. Everyone is so eager to learn more, too. I can’t even tell you how many questions are asked when a new beer comes up, or how many opinions are offered when we update menus. The way they handle customers is just as passionate – the beer savants can recommend a brew to a new guest that will almost always be exactly what they want, and they’ll have no problem explaining it to them in depth. And the pride everyone shows for Arbor Brewing is wonderful – everyone really does their best to represent it, from staying up to date on the goings on to making sure that everyone is recycling properly.

Honestly, before working here I had no idea just how wonderful of a place it was – I knew the food was good, I knew the servers seemed like ‘alternative’ people, but I just couldn’t know the depth of passion behind that. I really do recommend everyone give it a try, whether you’re a beer snob or just have weird dietary requirements (we accommodate vegan and gluten-free like no other) you’ll find something to make you smile, from a staff that strives for that smile. Employed or not, I support Arbor Brewing Company from their rooftop solar panels to their soon-to-be renovated basement bathrooms.

Shamelessly Yours,
Tucker

Full Disclosure – A NCOD Special

It’s National Coming Out Day today and while I’ve been ‘out’ about my sexuality and gender identity for quite some time now, there’s something that I’ve still yet to reveal about myself. There’s a piece of me that I have struggled to find the courage to be open about, even with myself.

I am HIV positive.

It’s a hard thing to type, harder to say out loud. The reason that I’ve decided to write this is to, if anything, help myself come to terms with it. It isn’t a new thing, I’ve known for a little while now, but it’s not something I’m fully comfortable talking about yet. It’s only recently sunk in enough for me to have full conversations about it with the people that know. Unfortunately, it isn’t a topic I can avoid forever, and I’ve realized that if I ever want to be fully happy, I need to stop letting myself hide from this.

When I first was diagnosed, my initial reaction was that I did not want to continue living with the disease, that I’d rather kill myself than let it kill me. I felt dirty, ashamed of myself and disgusted by my body. I hated myself.

Somewhere between then and now, I realized that I want to live, with or without the disease. I’ve been on medication and I’ve gotten my numbers down in the undetectable range, which is as close to being cured as those in my predicament can hope to get currently. I’ve made strides in therapy to manage the emotional problems that coincide with the diagnosis, and it’s been a process, learning not to let it define my life.

Despite the work that I’ve been doing to keep myself both physically and mentally healthy, I still find myself with this need to be able to come clean about it publicly. It’s strange, because I know that there’s no real reason to tell anyone outside of the support system I’ve confided in, but I feel like ‘coming out’ will make it easier to handle the part I still have a hard time with – disclosure.

People living with HIV are legally obligated to tell their sexual partners about the disease, which isn’t at all a bad thing. In my case, I was never made aware that I was having sex with an HIV positive person, and if I had been more inclined to practice safe sex, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would love to know where I contracted it, it would’ve made coping a bit easier, having someone to point a finger at and blame. Or at least I like to think it would’ve been helpful. When I found out, I immediately made a point to let anyone know that could’ve been affected, it was the right thing to do. And safe sex made a whole lot more sense to me. Prior to finding out, I’d lived in the mindset that unwanted pregnancy was the worst case scenario in sex, and being a homosexual male negated that. Health classes don’t cover gay sex like they should. Regardless, it took me a long time to find the courage to disclose my status to possible sex partners. I would avoid actual sex, get away with what I knew wouldn’t transmit and then find an excuse to end it there. That happened until the guilt started eating at me. I’d been being as careful as possible, but I came to the realization that any risk of exposure was still a risk, no matter how small the percentage, and I couldn’t be the person that changed someone’s life in that way. Someone else had put me through the same thing, whether they were aware of their status or not, and I couldn’t do that to someone else. I withdrew myself from any chance of meeting someone that might lead to a sexual encounter. I tried dating without sex and made a point to build a relationship before revealing my secret, but I always found a way to ‘lose interest’ before it could get to that point.

The first time I openly told a potential partner about my status was on my last birthday. It was hard, I cried after I told him and cried more when he didn’t look past the disease and continue to want me anyways. And since then, I’ve done my best to avoid situations where I’d risk being rejected.

I still haven’t fully come to terms with it. But I need to. I need to get this obstacle out of my way so that I can move on with my life, be happy. And I know that I’ll never be able to be one hundred percent honest about this if I don’t take a first step, do something to force myself to open up about it to people that aren’t my best friends or close family. So, National Coming Out Day is the perfect time to do this. It’s a day that has been a way for people all over to finally come clean about the parts of themselves that they’ve been afraid to expose, a day to find acceptance and support.

I’d really like this to spark some conversations, with me or just in general, about the reality of HIV and living with it in a world that looks at it through the eyes of a stigma. I’d like to post this and maybe show someone else that’s suffering with the same self-loathing that I’ve suffered through that they don’t need to hate themselves, that this isn’t all that they are. Mostly, I’d like to stress the necessity of safe sex and keeping yourself healthy.

I’d like to thank the people in my life that have been in the know and have shown me support – they know who they are, but what they don’t know is that without them I never would have been able to find the strength to fight this.

If anyone has questions, or needs someone to talk to for any reason at all, please feel free to reach out to me.

Happy National Coming Out Day, everyone.

Positively Yours,

Tucker

AutoGrat 2 : This Time It’s Personal

Guess who’s back…….back again…..Shady isn’t back, but your two favorite service industry bloggers are!
That’s right, folks, we’ve decided it’s time to bring AutoGrat out of hiatus. Not only that, but we’ve brainstormed and come up with all new ways to bring you your weekly dose of server antics.
What does this mean for the future of AutoGrat? Well, for starters, we’re going to be more consistent with output, as well as expanding the scope of our blog.
To get a little more specific, we will be continuing our service reviews, but we’re going to be placing a little less emphasis on those – they get expensive and our schedules don’t always allow for a night out together. To fill the space, we’re going to be offering an inside view into establishments in the area with management and owners that we think are worthy of your financial support. We’ll be gathering information from fellow workers to get the scoop on the best and worst bosses around, as well as businesses that are supportive of both the environment and the local economy. On a similar note, we’ve decided it would be fun to take a deeper look into some of Ann Arbor’s ‘staples’ and explore their stories from past to present.
Among these new ventures we’re exploring, we plan to pepper our blog with content aimed directly at our fellow servers – from job listings in the area to our picks of the best server-related articles and posts we’ve stumbled across. In addition, we’re looking for guest writers to feature on our blog, so if you’re interested get in touch with us about getting involved. Our contact information is available below (as well as on the ‘Contact Us’ page), so feel free to use it to submit your ideas or any opinions, suggestions, etc.
Along with the new service industry related content, we both feel that this blog is an excellent outlet for getting a little more personal with our writing, so look forward to really getting to know your servers!
We hope our return post has whet your appetite, because the meal before you promises to be a filling one.
Recrudescently yours,
Arina & Tucker
autogratblog@gmail.com