I don’t think some people understand or truly know what restaurants go through in the hours before opening. All the time it takes to get everything prepped and ready to serve the many people who walk through those doors. When someone leaves a bad review for such things like, “They don’t make enough food” or “They need to be open longer.”, do they think about everything involved?
Restaurants and all the people involved may be the most underappreciated industry. I had this idea to follow a restaurant in the morning to see first-hand all the hard work it takes to put food in peoples mouths. So, I reached out to a local restaurant in Wichita called Station 8 BBQ, located at 1100 E. 3rd St. It’s a place centrally located in town that’s open only four days a week for three hours each day. They’ve become one of the more popular restaurants in town, often times selling out of food in just a couple of hours.
They agreed to let me follow along and see the whole process of what they’ve been battling to perhaps give readers a better perspective on not just what they do, but so many other restaurants deal with. I’ll have a video coming out later that gives a much better visual, but until then, here’s the blog version.
While the BBQ restaurant closes at 2 p.m., they usually don’t get out for a couple of hours after that. Then the real fun starts at 3 a.m. when they load many of the meats people love into the smokers. From there, it’s monitoring everything, more so when the weather is cold. To my surprise, they are using the same smoker that Jet BBQ used when they were open in the late 90s.
The smoker fit roughly 20 slabs of ribs, 8 briskets and a handful of pork butts; all that was a tight fit. It’s all the food they could prepare for the day. And given the small kitchen size, there wasn’t much room for much else.
It was a two-man job for a few hours until the third employee came in at 6 a.m.
Things really picked up as they began to prep more of the meat. There wasn’t much, if any, downtime for everyone. It felt like every minute of every hour, someone was doing something.
A couple of hours went by before some other employees came in to handle more tasks.
Every Saturdays, the owner, Alex Eftekhar, purchases donuts from a local shop called The Donut Palace. I thought it was a cool gesture to go out of his way to support another local establishment.
Things kept getting busier as the hours went by. From getting the burnt ends ready, slicing the brisket, prepping the sides, cutting the bread, setting up the food stations, everybody had a job and they were getting it done. I enjoyed the friendly banter and chatter going on between the employees. You could really tell, there was a family vibe.
When 10 a.m. hit, things started to pick up yet again. You could get a sense of excitement within the building as the 11 a.m. opening time approached.
While all this was going on, a line was quickly forming around the building; a line of people willing to stand in freezing temperatures, which in itself is a testament not just to the food, but the people who work there.
Right before 11 a.m. hit, I asked the entire staff if they wanted to take a picture together. It was probably the only minute of calm they had the entire morning.
Right before the doors opened to the public, I thought to myself. “Dang, eight hours of work to prepare the maximum capacity of food possible. Eight hours of work to serve to people in three hours. Then another couple of hours to clean up, do inventory and prepare for the next day.”
For some of the staff, it was 12-14 hour days. Over 10 hours of work and customers only witness 3 hours of it, less if they sell out sooner. And for Eftekhar, it’s sometimes 16-20 hours when he’s having to place food orders, fix things at the restaurant, pick up supplies, and everything else needed to run a restaurant.
I was exhausted just hanging out and taking it all on. I could only imagine how exhausting it was to put in the actual work.
Could they make more food? I don’t believe so. Could they stay open longer? Well, if they could make more food, then they’d be working for 14-16 hours everyday they are open. Would you want to do that at your job? I’ve heard being a restaurant owner can age you quickly. Ask some owners to show you a picture of themselves 2, 5, 10 years before they got into the biz. Or perhaps try getting a part-time job as a server even for just 1 day a week to witness all of this for yourself. Just things to think about.
This may sound biased because I’ve been covering restaurants for a dozen years now. But the lack of respect the restaurant industry gets is crazy to me. They are the first ones to step in when a charity comes calling for donations. They put in possibly the most hours that go unnoticed. And they are the ones to get the most negative feedback for the smallest of reasons.
While I’ve worked in restaurants in the past, it’s been many years. This was an appreciated outing to witness firsthand again and not take for granted the food I’m eating, and the work required for these delicious meals. Huge thanks to Station 8 for allowing me to do this. Being around them all morning and made me almost want to apply for a job there.
Stay tuned for the video version, which I think may just paint the picture better than a blog. Until then, I need to take a shower and wash my clothes after standing around BBQ for almost 8 hours.
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