Restaurant workers who keep it all running

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(Continued from Page 3)

Romano Castillo’s name immediately comes to mind when Paul Grunberg is asked to single out a stellar employee. The co-owner and general manager of L’Abattoir (217 Carrall Street) doesn’t hold back his praise for this front-of-house worker. “He’s a superstar. He’s what the industry needs,” Grunberg says before adding, “He’s a young kid with so much weight on his shoulders.”

By phone, Grunberg recounts how he met Castillo at MARKET by Jean-Georges (1115 Alberni Street) when he worked there as general manager. Castillo was working there as a server assistant, later assuming the roles of bartender and server. At the time, Castillo was that frenzied person moving from table to table picking up dirty dishes, refilling water glasses, and arranging cutlery while diners were busy making chitchat, engrossed in their meal.

Immediately, Grunberg could tell there was something special about Castillo.

He uses words like honesty, sincerity, generosity, and kindness in connection with his protégé, whom he recruited over to L’Abattoir as a server when it opened in July. Grunberg is now training Castillo as a host, bartender, and manager, and sees him as someone who might eventually run the restaurant.

Castillo continues to work bartending shifts at MARKET, where general manager Bruno Valentino raves that he’s a dream employee who’s always ready to grow and never complains about the tasks he’s given.

The subject of all this praise is so modest that it’s easy to see why everyone is rooting for him. Twenty-three-year-old Castillo tells his story simply. He had a dream to be a cook but had to drop out of the Vancouver Community College culinary program in order to support his daughter, whom he coparents with an ex. When MARKET opened in January 2009, he landed a job there. Since then, he has blossomed under the mentorship of people like Valentino and Grunberg.

Castillo helps his toddler put on her jacket as he speculates over the phone about what makes him unique. “I think it’s my dedication,” he says. “I’m passionate about the work that I do.” And with the grandmother who raised him sick in hospital right now, Castillo is glad to have a job that provides much-needed stability. “It’s a tough life. Work has been keeping me happy and on the go.”

Grunberg has some final thoughts on why under-the-radar champs like Castillo deserve a standing ovation: “Kids like this are the frontline employees that are taking the biggest hits.” After all, it’s these individuals who are working their tails off dealing with customers, keeping orders moving along smoothly, and making sure everything stays afloat. “They’re more important than me in day-to-day operations,” he says. The work they do isn’t usually glamorous enough for front-page news, but it’s solid and deeply important.

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Tony Fox
Great article - we often see a restaurant as being inextricably linked to that chef's name on the menu, but forget there's a whole cadre of people who help make that chef's vision appear on the table. Thanks for sharing these stories, and I hope we see more of them!
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