The following events may, or may not have taken place in this precise order.
My first real job ever was selling shoes on Saturday afternoons. I was probably 15, barely old enough to get a work permit. To this day, I distinctly remember what the owner of Whitehall Shoes looked – and sounded like. It wasn’t a bad job, but the truth was I was biding my time, hoping to get a call from the place just across the street – Rudi’s Subs. That’s where I really wanted to work – in a restaurant.
I didn’t get that call right away, and my hours dwindled as Whitehall shoes found itself competing with big box retailers who had begun their descent on the community. I soon replaced my lost income working at the theater next door to the shoe store.
One day, I walked over to Rudi’s between jobs to buy some lunch. While waiting for my order, I struck up a conversation with the owner about the application I submitted a few months back. We chatted for a few minutes.
“No sir, I am not old enough to drive yet, but my mom will be sure I arrive on time.”
“Yes sir, I can make change without using a register, would you like me to show you?”
I guess he was impressed with my answers, or maybe that I was working two jobs at my age. Regardless, he offered me the job right there, and then.
“Yes sir, I can start immediately.”
I really don’t remember much about the place except that I was just happy to be working at a restaurant. Then, I got the news Rudi was closing his doors. He had sold the business.
As it turned out, he sold the business to another, thriving entrepreneur with plans on expanding – and improving the menu. Goodbye canned mushrooms. Hello fresh-baked breads, quality meats and produce – and PIZZA!
Buddy, the new owner invited each of Rudi’s employees to re-interview for their job. Much to my excitement, he asked me to stay. When I asked why I got the job, I remember him saying he wanted employees who loved good food, not a job. I was just turning 16 and already had, for me at the time, my dream job.
Buddy took me, and a couple of others under his wing, and taught us everything he knew about pizza making. We made subs and salads too, but the pizza was the thing at Buddy’s. Not just any pizza either. Pizza made with his mom’s third-generation sauce recipe. Pizza made with his own secret blend of cheeses. Pizza made in such a way, there wasn’t another like it anywhere – a fact that stands true to this day. It was, and remains incomparable.
I was young, but under the stone-cold stare and iron fist of Buddy’s supervision, I learned that pizza making was it’s own culinary art. I took pride in making the best pie I could. He encouraged me to experiment with dough handling, stretching and throwing techniques, ingredients, cooking surfaces, oven temperatures – every aspect of the pizza. We made some improvements along the way, but mostly they were experiments in what not to do – and why.
It was my four year stint as a pizza maker that started my love affair with food. When I finally had to leave my job, my parting gift was his mom’s sauce recipe – with a promise to never share it with anyone.
I promised. And with that promise, Buddy had turned me into a food snob before I even graduated from high school.