May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Slice of Life Behind the Counter

When my family and I visited my sister at Camp Shoshanim, we always took a trip to Como Pizza like almost every other family on visiting day. Seeing such a large rush for almost the entire day, I’ve always wondered what it was like to be behind the counter. For the first month of summer, I had the opportunity to experience life on the other side of the pizza counter.

I was happy to have the job. During the first week, my manager taught me and a few others how to assemble pizza ingredients: dough, cheese and sauce. Then we were taught how to construct the pizzas. At first I thought, “This is gonna be easy,” because it looked like there was nothing to it. How wrong I was.

The first arduous step to constructing a pie was making the dough. Although I knew there was flour involved, I was unaware of the 50-pound bag that needed to be lifted, carried and poured into a gigantic mixing bowl. I also had to make sure that the dough was good for spreading, which I’ll get to later on.

Tasks like making sauce, cutting up the blocks of cheese or frying up french fries are easy enough as long as you have the correct tools and ingredients, including graters and boiling-hot deep fryers.

Two of the most difficult skills for me to develop were creating good dough and spreading it after rising. The first step was mixing the ingredients well enough to create dough, because if the dough is too hard or too sticky, pizza problems arise, from large air bubbles to actual holes. It was not an easy task, but after a while I got the hang of it, so much so that I was able to construct multiple perfect batches, impressing my manager, who had been working there for a few years already. The next skill I needed to improve on was spreading the dough. To create the circular shape, one spreads the dough on a screen, but it’s difficult if the dough is not made properly or doesn’t rise well. But successful completion of those difficult tasks was just the beginning of the lessons learned.

After the pizzas were made, a coworker placed them in preheated ovens ranging from 550 to 650 degrees. Imagine working next to ovens that emit heat around the clock on a hot summer day. I had to drink constantly to avoid dehydration.

Now, understand all I’ve described so far is happening in the back of the shop. Let’s move a little closer to the customers, toward the register. When there are a few customers, it’s not so hard. But sometimes there’s a rush, and we found ourselves with over 20 hungry customers.

We always expected at least one rush and one large order every day. We just never knew when the herd would start stampeding toward the shop. When Como Pizza had enough employees, the man behind the register stayed at the register. But, when they couldn’t spare a man, the man behind the register became the man behind the counter. His multi-faceted job became one of the most important jobs. He had to keep track of all the orders, ensuring all of them were being made. He called them out, hopefully correctly, to his coworkers in the back, and when the order was ready, he had to make sure that everyone received what they ordered. This included cutting up the pies and handing out all the slices. There were always times when an order was missed or made incorrectly because it was misheard during a chaotic rush.

These rushes happened almost every day with around 15 to 35 customers in the shop alone, let alone phone orders from camps or hungry counselors, especially for pre-Shabbat pizza parties. Although we were tired at the end of the day, we worked as team to complete orders and generally felt great about how we handled rush times.

But those daily rushes certainly didn’t prepare me for Sunday, July 15. It was visiting day, the very day I had only ever known as a customer! On the other side of the counter, it was the craziest and most tiring work day of all. Even days later, my coworkers and I are not sure how many pies were made because there were just too many to count. We had so many customers over the entire day that the wait, at one point, was over 20 minutes just to order.

Our prep was different before visiting day as well. We stayed up late the night before folding dozens of boxes, filling cheese and sauce containers, and piling every single pan with rising dough, ready to be spread. Then, we woke up earlier then we usually did to start constructing the pizzas; we just didn’t start cooking them right away to keep them fresh. We had additional workers pitching in, like the manager’s parents working the register, so the rest of us could work on making the pizzas. We each had our own assignment, and I was given the difficult task of mass-producing the doughs.

The moment my coworkers started spreading, I started a new dough so the dough pans would never be empty.

At another point, I was taken off “dough duty” and assigned to directing traffic in the parking lot because there were so many cars pulling in and not enough of them pulling out. At the end of the day, we were all exhausted, but pleased with ourselves that we survived it.

Overall, it was an exhausting job that wasn’t easy at all. While we all got burns from the ovens and I hurt my shoulder carrying all those bags of flour, I enjoyed the experience and meeting new people, coworkers and customers alike. My former coworkers are great guys and they were fun to chill with when we had no customers.

Working at a pizza shop was a great experience because I finally got to see what goes on behind the counter. When I, like many teens, think of jobs, I think boredom, which I now realize shouldn’t be the case. Como Pizza was an exciting job and most importantly experiential. I learned how to professionally interact with customers, which is certainly not always easy. This is the kind of job experience that will certainly help me in the future.

Thanks to my coworkers for an awesome month, and I wish you all a great rest of the summer.

By Tzvi Sabo

Tzvi Sabo is 2017 MTA graduate and a summer intern for The Jewish Link as a writer and photographer.

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