Adam’s Mountain Cafe& Me: How I could not get hired
My serving “career” was never meant to be a career at all. In the sticky, hot Virginia summer of 1983 I got my first waitress job at Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville – mostly because my parents were members and they begged the manager at the 19th Hole to hire me. He did and I was bestowed a green plaid dress with a peter pan collar and a name tag. At Farmington, little seemed to have changed since the golden age of the Grand Old South. Lady members in tennis skirts and Lacoste sun visors wearing pink Tretorn tennis shoes dined in the front room eating chicken salad sandwiches and sipping sweet tea after a morning round robin while the gentlemen members filled the back room drinking bourbon and enjoying their privilege in an area of the club where women were not permitted. The sweet tea was made every day in a huge stock pot on the stove next to a smaller pot for unsweetened. It was hot and cramped in the little kitchen but it was dimly lit and perfectly chilled in the dining room where golfers, politicians and residents of Farmington frequented. From there and over the years I waited tables in a pizza place on the Charlottesville downtown mall, a little Cafe in Winston-Salem, a lunch hotspot in Greensboro NC. But none of these places really trained me in the art of customer service until I landed in Atlanta, Georgia living with a new roommate named Lala from Nashville, Tennessee and working at Vickery’s on Crescent Avenue.
This place was cool. Every year they would shut down a section of the street and transform the block into their version of Little Havana complete with a food truck, cigars for sale and salsa bands that played late into the night. It was owned by three guys named Chip, Jerry and Sam and they had a second restaurant in Buckhead but Vickery’s was the original concept. It was Cuban themed with a bar and a small bricked outdoor patio surrounded by an herb garden. Their signature dish was a Cuban style sandwich and a cup of Black Bean Soup topped with Sour Cream and Scallions (Adam’s Black Bean Soup is based on my fond memory of the Vickery’s BB Soup). Vickery’s was where I was taught service. I was forced to start as a busser and work my way up. The seasoned servers were constantly picking on me to pre-buss, refill before the customer even had to ask, never go in or out of the kitchen empty handed, don’t finish a sentence while you are walking away, make solid eye contact. Eventually I was trusted with a small station and felt instantly overwhelmed. This place was fast paced and filled with regulars and their high expectations. But I kept at it and eventually was given a spot during lunch on the coveted patio section. I was terrified. It was located far from the kitchen and came with its own set of challenges. Customers were always asking for more ice in the Atlanta heat; bees would cause them to flail without warning, the bricks were old and unstable, you couldn’t hear the bell when your food was up so you had to anticipate. If a server relegated to the indoor station had to run your food too often they would get downright nasty. But the money was guaranteed. And I did eventually improve. I was a little work in progress and I loved that job.
But life goes on and I eventually found myself working in a bar in the USVI where I met cute boyfriend and after three years and a short stint at an upscale hotel followed by Hurricane Hugo I found myself back in Virginia working at a very busy sports bar named Sloan’s. So when I applied at Adam’s in the fall of 1991, I confidently assumed I would be hired straight away due to my experience.
Wrong. So wrong.
The owner of Adam’s was a woman named Merry. I had never worked for a woman before. She agreed to meet me for an interview because she was possibly in need of a server but the hours would be limited. After having travelled cross country with my cat, Seymour, and cute boyfriend, my wardrobe was limited to jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. I was so certain that I belonged at Adam’s though, that it didn’t occur to me that I should dress for the interview. I believed my enthusiasm would shine through and I would be hired instantly. Wrong.
Merry was not easy to read. In fact she was downright intimidating. When I would laugh, she wouldn’t. If she smiled, I didn’t know why. I stuttered and skipped around with my answers. The interview was an utter failure. A few days later I went in to see if I could speak with her but she was too busy. Another few days went by and I went in again and asked to see her. I don’t know why but she offered to sit down with me and set a time for me to come back for a second interview. In those few days I readied myself and it occurred to me that I might have looked sloppy and unprofessional. So I went to the Goodwill on West Colorado Ave and started looking for clothes. I settled on a long skirt with a batik print and a loose fitted top and some ballerina slippers. Manitou was a hippy town so I thought I needed to look hippy to work in a vegetarian “granola” restaurant. Wrong again. Another bad interview down and I was completely flummoxed.
By now, cute boyfriend had been working at a pizza place in Old Colorado City while he interviewed for places in Manitou. The money was running out, rent was coming up and he was getting irritated with my insistence on working only at Adam’s. To this day I cannot tell you what was driving me to work at the little vegetarian place on the Avenue – I just knew I was supposed to be there. Desperate and without a plan I went back in to talk to Merry. I thought about how she dressed; sort of preppy with pastel polos, shirt tucked in with a belt, hair pulled back, light make up and tiny pearl earrings. I tried to mimic her style a bit and headed down to the Café. I had no idea what to say to her so I just asked the most honest question in my head, “why won’t you hire me? I really want to know what I am doing wrong because I really want to work here.” And she said, “there’s something about you. I just don’t think you are a good fit.” So I looked at her with pleading eyes . . . and then, without explanation, she hired me to bus tables – on a trial basis and only a few hours a week.
And so began my future with Adam’s Mountain Café.