Former Server Raves
An Open Letter to Tom Douglas (and a Farewell)
As I say goodbye to Seattle, I wanted to say thanks to a man who taught me a few things along the way.
Editor's note: Nosh Pit contributor Cassie Sawyer is leaving our midst to move to Portland. Here she says goodbye to us, to Seattle, and to a certain rosy-cheeked, F bomb-prone former employer.
Dear Tom Douglas,
I spent the majority of my 20s in your establishments. Working the floor, behind a bar, bellied up to one. It was life on the other side of the menu—the side where you take orders instead of give them—which my mom felt was the “wrong side” for a college graduate, for her daughter. But over time she came around to the idea. For about eight years, I was a part of your company, and a family.
A part of many a family meal: sometimes black cod with a celery root puree and crispy pancetta, other times soggy corn dogs and pickles, but every time a chance to talk with a co-worker, commiserate or congratulate, but most importantly a moment to sit.
I didn’t know sore feet, until I had my first solo shift at the Palace Kitchen. I was 22 with an English degree, and had just moved back to the city. My waiting experience was limited to serving burgers and beers at a casual pub.
My first table was a three top. I assumed it was a family, the man in a fedora with his wife and son. I approached, nervous to tell the special. The man looked up, said bonjour, and ordered—he'd have the trout. The kitchen line was quick to notify me that this was Thierry Rautureau, a James Beard Award–winning chef and the owner of Rover's. A particularly surly line cook said, "He's, like, Tom's best freind, so don't screw this up."
My first table ever and it was a super VIP ordering the one dish that a server fillets tableside. I imagined the fish massacre unfolding as Thierry drank his martini. I imagined the call he would make to you, Tom, ranting about his ruined dinner.
When I placed the silver platter with whole trout stuffed with lemon rounds and thyme in front of him. I cleared my throat "May I fillet this for you?" He laughed, “Fillet my trout? No one fillets my fish but me.” I’m sure he heard my sigh of relief. And then I realized the rest of my section was full.
I didn’t know what busy was—none of us did—until Serious Pie aired on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate. People were coming from all over the country to taste the mushroom and truffle cheese pizza. Some were super foodies, others needed an explanation that truffle wasn’t a type of chocolate. Our (we did feel like it was our place) tiny 48-seat space was packed from open to close and we ran ourselves ragged. A glass of wine never tasted as good as after that double, finishing up with sales at $4000 and rent in my pocket. We thanked and cursed Tyler Florence for the next year or so.
The first time I met you, Tom, was at the Palace Ballroom. It was your Iron Chef premiere and you were cooking the salmon dishes from the show as it played on the big screen. Everything was served family style; you handed me a platter of porcini-seared salmon for table 21. I hurried to leave and you yelled out to me, “How are people supposed to serve themselves?” I turned, “Sorry?” You said, with a smile: “Get some fucking utensils for that plate.” I blushed, “Yes, sir.” I grabbed a set of tongs.
I was scared of you at first, but I quickly realized that the F-word is one of your favorites.
So now that I’ve been out of the industry for almost a year—quitting my day job as they advise artists and writers not to do—I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for allowing me the time to learn to pay attention to the details, how to fillet a fish, to hold my liquor, and patience for people who just can’t understand why there isn’t pepperoni at a pizza place.
If I hadn’t worked for you as a bartender at the Paramount Theater, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be at the Seattle Metropolitan launch party. Sure, I was slinging drinks, but that’s when I decided for myself, among the rowdy crowd of writers and advertisers ten deep at my bar, that I would work for this magazine one day.
It took me six years, during of which I read all of James Ross Gardner’s articles I could get my hands on, and every restaurant review by critic Kathryn Robinson. (I always secretly hoped I’d waited on her at Serious Pie.) Then finally I applied to be an editorial intern and ultimately left the industry so I'd be able to write about it. Thankfully, Ariana Dawes, managing editor, was willing to give a creative writing major with almost zero editorial experience and nearing 30 (that’s like 50 in intern years) a chance. And because of that, Allecia Vermillion, food and drink editor—who I'm sure noticed my blatant name drop of the T-Doug at pretty much every editorial meeting—had the foresight to know that my restaurant experience might come in handy for contributing to Nosh Pit. And she may not know how much, but that changed the course of my life.
And here we are now. I’m wrapping up my time here at the magazine, and in this city, and moving down south to Portland. So far, I’ve accomplished quite a bit on the “right side” of the menu, but I truly enjoyed those years in your company on the other side, sore feet and all.
My sincerest thanks,