When I was trying to think of people to interview, I decided to head over to Bellingham Retirement Community, located in West Chester, Pennsylvania. While walking into the main doors, I literally ran into an employee. We made small talk and she introduced herself as Michelle Cellini. She told me how she worked in the kitchen and also served in the dining room. I thought she would be perfect to interview so I asked her if she would mind meeting with me so I could interview and she had no problem. The main reason why I thought she would be perfect to interview is because she sees and experiences everything that goes on in the kitchen and dining hall. Since, she’s not an owner, I thought her answers would be more truthful because she’s not trying to convince people to come to, or advertise, Bellingham, she’s just simply answering my questions.
Bellingham Retirement Community is one of West Chester’s popular living places for men and women who have retired. It is pretty secluded, and located on East Boot Road. It is a place for people who have retired to live, and be taken care of. What I’ve decided to focus on for this interview is its dining experience, and what goes on behind the scenes. Michelle Cellini works as a server and is in and out of the kitchen so I thought interviewing her would be interesting since she knows both sides of the restaurant industry.
I met Michelle Cellini at a Starbucks close by, and decided to get to know her a little better in order to fully understand her way of thinking. After ordering an iced coffee I asked, “So, Ms. Cellini, how old are you?” She replied, “You can just call me Michelle, and I am 20 years old. Yeah, I know I’m pretty short for my age. Always have been and unfortunately I’m only going to shrink.” I had to laugh at her good natured joke about being so short. “How long have you lived in West Chester?” I asked. “All my life. I was born here and I don’t plan to live anywhere else. I love it here” she say’s with a warm smile.
“What made you decide to work at Bellingham?” I asked. She shrugs and answers with, “it just kind of happened. My friends worked there, I needed a job and they got back to me immediately saying I was hired.” I smile at her reply, understanding exactly what she means. “How long have you been working there?” Michelle’s eyes become unfocused while she thinks about her answer then says “I’ve been working at Bellingham for about four years. Yeah, four years, almost five.” I asked her how long she plans on staying there and if she has any other jobs. “I don’t plan on staying there for much longer. Only, because I do have another job at a salon and I graduated from beauty school two years ago and am working more and more at the salon building customers. Bellingham was really just a high school part time job for me, and it‘s starting to get overwhelming working two jobs when I‘m now a full time hair dresser.”
I decided to start off with asking her what basically her job is and what is expected of her. “Well, I’m a server. I have to wear a uniform which is just black pants, black t-shirt, sneakers, and my hair has to be up in a pony tail. When I come into work I have to clock in to a machine, then depending on what time I’m coming in, I go into the kitchen and learn the lunch and dinner specials from the cooks. After that I wipe off the tables, fold silverware, change the menu’s to either the lunch menu or dinner menu, again depending on what time is it. I fill up the cups with water and wait for the dining hall to open for customers. After that I get the orders from the customers and then bring them to the cooks just like any normal server. When the meal at that time is closed for the day, I clean up, eat leftovers, and go on my way. Nothing too different than any other restaurant I would guess. The only thing expected of me besides doing what I‘m supposed to do, is being respectful to the customers. Bellingham takes great care of its residents, so it‘s expected that we do the same which, isn‘t hard because we really like the residents here.”
Michelle’s response made me wonder what, she considered, perks of working at Bellingham were. “In my opinion, the perks of working there is getting to eat the food. Since I’ve worked there so long I’ve become good friends with the cooks and so when they have time, they will cook me something small when I’m hungry. Also, if we have leftovers I get to take some home. The cooks that work here are very good at what they do. It‘s way better than cooking my own meals.”
Before, the interview started Michelle took me to Bellingham and into the kitchen where the cooks made me something to eat for lunch. The cooks asked me what I wanted to eat, and I told them just a chicken ceaser wrap, and they made it right in front of me. Having never seen a cook in action, I was amazed by the process. First they took out a medium size piece of chicken and placed it on the grill. Then, they quickly chopped it up and started to flip them, while looking at me and joking around with me. I was shocked that Mike, the cook, was flipping the pieces so fast, yet he didn’t even have to look down to see what he was doing. When the chicken was done he slid the pieces from the grill to a plate then placed a white wrap down on the grill. He told me that if you placed each side of the wrap on the grill for 30 seconds, that the wrap would taste better than if you didn’t heat it up at all. When he was done heating the wrap, he placed it on another plate and quickly sprinkled parmesan cheese on it.
He told me that it was important for the servers to ask the customers whether they were lactose and tolerant before placing any orders because most of their foods contain some sort of milk products. However, if the customer was lactose and tolerant, they had different kinds of soy products they could use instead, depending on what the customer wanted to do.
Next he took out a head of lettuce and ripped off a piece and cleaned it off before placing it on the wrap. After sprinkling a little more cheese on top of the lettuce, he placed the still hot chicken pieces on it, and rolled it up perfectly. My mouth was watering from the amazing aroma of the wrap, and when I took my first bite I decided then and there that it was the best wrap I have ever had. It was so good I practically inhaled it. I really enjoyed watching Mike create this simple yet tasty wrap. I thought that the only place I could get something to eat that fast and good was at a fast food place, however Mike showed me that, that is not the case at Bellingham.
So, since I’ve had a small taste of what the quality of the food was like, I couldn’t blame her for saying that the food was her biggest perk of working there. Wraps are pretty simple to make and Mike made it so fast for me that it made me wonder how long it took for a full meal to be prepared. “Well, it depends on what is being made. Usually the dinner meal takes the longest. I can’t give you an exact time because it really just depends on what’s being prepared.” Her answer, brought another question to mind, so I asked her what she thinks is usually her customers favorite food was, and what her favorite food is. “Hmm. That’s a tough one. Well, we are considered ‘seasonal dining.’ So, it’s hard to answer. However, if I had to pick, we usually get more complements on our food during Thanksgiving. It’s also one of my favorite diners too. It is our most important meal of the year, so it‘s important that we get it perfectly right.”
Since, she said it was so important I asked her how long it takes to prepare for dinner and basically what the day is like. “Thanksgiving day makes every other day seem like nothing, even our most hectic days can’t compare to Thanksgiving day. So much detail goes into every aspect. There are more people working as servers and more cooks that are needed for that day. Usually there are three meals a day, but since Thanksgiving dinner is so big, we only serve breakfast that day. Which helps us as servers and the cooks a lot. My job that day is to wipe down the tables, put on new table clothes, wrap more silverware, place them on the tables, bring out the Thanksgiving themed center pieces, vacuum the floor, clean the plates and cups, and whatever else the managers want us to do. While were doing this, the cooks are already starting to prepare the food. They have multiple turkeys that have been slowly cooking since breakfast along with the gravy and mashed potatoes. When it’s about and hour and half before dinner is to be served, they cook the green beans, carrots, and other fast side dishes. Also, at this time most of the deserts are starting to be made. It’s pretty organized, the cooks are separated into ‘teams’ so the food is made on time.”
I told her that I thought that it sounded very intense, she laughed and said “ it really is. That’s why the manager only schedules people who have worked there for more than a year, unless some of our more experienced workers can’t work that night.” When I asked why, she said, “simply because the newer people get in our way. They need to be able to work quickly and yet stay calm and careful, and most people just can’t do that after only working here for a few months. Everything just works much smoother when your working with the people who have been here for a while. I‘m definitely exhausted by the end of the night, but it‘s so worth it because we get extra pay for working on holidays.”
I noticed that she brought up having “hectic days” so I wondered what a normal hectic day would be like and what she meant by it. “Everything about my job is hectic. I don’t think it’s possible to work in a food business and have it be calm. There’s so much to do, so many people to feed, so many people to dodge,” she clarified she has to dodge the other servers while rushing to bring good out, “so much to remember, and more. Yet, that’s why I love working at Bellingham so much.”
Having previous knowledge that not all food businesses order their food from the same company, if they order it at all, I asked her where her food comes from and how fresh it is. “The food is imported by the company Sysco. They deliver to us whenever we place an order.” I questioned, to myself, whether the food could be fresh that way. I must have made a faced because she laughed and said, “Don’t worry, the food is fresh. We have three meals a day for those living there. So the cooks prepare fresh food before every meal. The food that is leftover is either taken home by an employee or thrown away. We might not have a garden or animals that we can walk to and get the food, but it’s still technically fresh in terms that we don’t order food and use it months later. We typically place an order twice a week or sometimes more.”
“What are your co-workers like?” I asked. “Well, it changes depending on the day you ask me and if they got on my nerves that day or not,” she laughs,” just kidding. It’s a restaurant, we can all get on each others nerves a lot, but at the end of the day we are a family. Just because we work at a retirement place doesn’t mean its easy. A lot is expected of us, and we work well together. We help each other out when its needed and we respect each other.”
I decided to end the interview with asking Michelle what her favorite part of working at Bellingham is. She tilted her head in thought and said “Hmm. I would say working with my friends is my most favorite part. However, my close second is my customers. Since I work in at a retirement place, I see the same people everyday. I’ve become extremely fond of my customers. They are so nice and caring. They ask questions about your life, and they try to get to know you, and in turn you get to know them. It’s almost like a separate family. I have learned so much from the people I serve. They are older, so they have gone through a lot in life and have learned a lot of life lessons I haven’t had the chance to yet. They tell me about their experiences and it’s always so interesting.” When she was telling me this, you could see the passion in her eyes. You could see how much she actually cares about her customers.
I really liked interviewing Michelle. She was very polite, funny at times, and intelligent. I, also, enjoyed the fact that she was just a server. I thought her answers were very truthful and correct. She showed me that there are different sides of working in the food business, and I believe that interviewing her, I learned a lot about the food and what goes on behind the scene’s. She taught me that working in the food business is hard and that you need to have patience, trust in your fellow workers, honesty, a hard work ethic and most of all, you need to care about what you do. There are a lot of up’s and down’s working at Bellingham but to her, it’s worth it. She loves working with her fellow servers, and learning how to cook from the cook’s. Leaving this interview I now have a new respect and better knowledge on what goes on in the food business, and I thank Michelle Cellini for giving me the opportunity to learn about her and Bellingham’s dining experience.