This week we're talking to some men and women whose contributions to local restaurants happen largely behind the scenes.
For years, the door at the foot of the stairs in the Canlis basement had a mysterious sign that read, “Goh’s Office.” (It came down during a recent basement remodel, but a replacement is in the works). Some Canlis staffers have worked there for years and never seen Mr. Goh in the flesh. His first name is Roland, but Mr. Goh has worked at the restaurant since owners Mark and Brian were in elementary school. Their father, Chris Canlis, expected his sons to address an elder as Mister, and the habit that persisted, even after they grew up and took over the restaurant. Now he's Mr. Goh to the rest of the staff, too.
This mysterious man is the Canlis custodian, the person who returns the dining room to its pristine condition after a night of conviviality. And even he exudes the restaurant’s guestcentric teachings, offering me a glass of water when I arrive on a Sunday afternoon and explaining that he doesn’t really start working at a fixed time: “If one table is still here, I wait.” He goes home whenever the job is done. Or, to be more specific, “Done is easy; it has to be clean.”
If you don't see or think about Mr. Goh, that means he is doing his job. But night after night, after dinner service ends and diners depart restaurants full, happy, and maybe with a bit of a wine-addled glow, somebody comes in to vaccuum our crumbs and replenish the hand towels in the bathroom.
Since 1986, Mr. Goh has been that someone. Sometimes he arrives at the restaurant at midnight, sometimes at 6 in the morning. Midnight is better, says Mr. Goh, because the roads are quiet and there’s no traffic. First he cleans the restaurant’s office, and handles garbage, paper, and the big table in the executive room. Some days he mops. Others he focuses on the dining room.
The only thing he really doesn’t enjoy, says Mr. Goh, is cleaning up when people get sick. Though really, who does? And, on the bright side, far fewer overserved people have retreated to the Canlis restroom to ralph this year then last, according to Mr. Goh.
At 67 years old, he’s the same age as Chris Canlis. Back in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, Mr. Goh was an insurance broker. He moved to Seattle with his wife, who grew up here, and found the language barrier to be a challenge. He started at Canlis as a dishwasher, eventually taking on one day a week as the janitor, and then making that his full-time role. It works out, he says, because his wife works at a restaurant, so this way he has evenings free to spend with his son and daughter. Canlis family members have offered up their beach house when Mr. Goh’s son wants to go camping. And Mr. Goh shows his gratitude for such turns by declining to tell me any embarrassing stories about Mark and Brian’s awkward adolescent stages. And believe me, I asked.