“Did you ever hear about the restaurant on the moon?
Great food, no atmosphere
Do you want to hear a joke about paper?
Nevermind it’s tearable
Why couldn’t the bicycle stand up on its own?
It was two tired
Please laugh! Haha…”
This is the kind of witty banter you will hear coming from the dish-pit when Coleman and Sean are together. These two are arguably the best dishwashers in the city with a combined experience of 12 years at one very successful fine dining restaurant. A virtual goldmine, dishwashers are hard to come by, especially good ones that will stay for years. Dishwashing is no glamorous job, the dish-pit being a place where aspiring chefs will start to get their foot through the culinary door. This is what makes Sean and Coleman unique: they have no dreams of becoming chefs, seek no glory or acclaim, nor the desire to climb their way up through the hospitality industry.
Sean Orr is a columnist and singer in a punk band that tours across Canada and the US regularly. He is constantly up-to-date on the political climate, reading articles on the state of the world during his down time in the restaurant. “Dishwashing was 100% supposed to be a temporary job,” Sean explains. When he started out, he was just coming off from employment insurance after suffering a head injury and needing surgery. He applied first for front of house, but the restaurant could only offer positions in dishwashing. Agreeing to the position just until he figured things out, “it quickly turned into the most intense job I ever worked”.
Coleman Beebe is a leather worker specializing in boots, and currently working towards his high school diploma in his spare time. “I never went to school so right now I am just doing whatever jobs I can to make it work.” Two very different individuals, where dishwashing is very much just a job for them, the pair continue to bring the same attitude to the dish-pit as a chef would bring to their kitchen – and they are absolutely crushing it.
In a kitchen and in life, everything has its place. There are procedures for set up and tear down and if a server or cook puts something out of place or makes a mess when bringing dishes and equipment in to the dish area you are goddamn guaranteed to be called out. They don’t give a shit if you are a new cook, seasoned server, or head chef you do not disrespect their station. Everyone can agree that dishwashing is not the most ideal job and for the most part so the team tries to make their job as bearable as possible. My editor, a seasoned server, can confirm this, having been on the receiving end of a dishwasher’s anger more than once by putting a bowl on a stack of plates or something equally careless.
In the beginning Sean and Coleman could not have been prepared for what they were getting into. It was a sea of loud sounds and tight work areas and being careful not to break the expensive stem and plate wear for fear of the wrath of the head chef. “I am not trying to be dramatic but I did suffer from PTSD,” Sean reflects, thinking back to when he was first screamed at for a dish being chipped and the chef throwing it across the room. He now wants for servers and cooks to be more mindful of how they are stacking dishes so he can avoid damage in the kitchen, lowering his risk of trouble. “It was stressful at first, but eventually it just became familiar. Going into work I know exactly what I am doing and it is just familiarity.” Coleman goes on to to say that he is very rarely stressed out while at work, his body shifting into autopilot so his mind can be focused on the other important goals in his life like his education.
With so much going on in Sean and Coleman’s lives, coming to work is almost a break from it all, especially when life becomes all consuming. “I can come into work and fuck around, but also just kill it. It’s muscle memory so I don’t have to think about it”, Sean states, “but we also have a lot of fun. Coleman adds, “Yeah we definitely have some good times,” and that is what they say is the main reason for staying so long. Sean and Coleman agree that the hardest part about being a dishwasher is telling people that they are dishwashers. On hearing what they do for a living, people give them the sympathetic “It’s the most important job in the kitchen”, or the “Oh well you’re going to be cook some day?”. Coleman says “I think being a cook is an objectively worse job,” and there is a strong argument to be had for that.
Sean and Coleman have the utmost respect for each other, even when Sean is on his phone and gets the sense that Coleman is mad without the exchange of words – it’s that sixth sense that comes with working with anyone for as long as they have. Sean saying “He keeps my feet to the fire, we work together with complete admiration of each other.” Sometimes there is tension, with Coleman describing how people should work. “It’s two different kinds of personalities, I don’t like making judgements on myself but the way I want people to work is like mechanical efficiency, just totally focused, whereas Sean is a little more laidback.” Not something you think would hear from a dishwasher, “The way I see it any job you are working, work as hard as you can. Build your work ethic, make yourself the kind of person you want to be. The way I perform in this job is how I am going to perform in the next job and the rest of my life.” Sean is totally in agreement but also saying there is room for leeway. “When push comes to shove if we’re slammed there is no fucking around. We are both in it, we are both killing it. I don’t think I have ever worked with anyone that understood the flow of movement with ruthless efficiency. It’s a really cool thing. It’s a magical thing when I don’t need to explain what I need.”
It is rare that they need help while working, getting annoyed at the fact that just because they are dishwashers it is assumed that they need help all time. Cooks going over washing pots, doing it slow and doing it wrong. “‘Oh the poor dishwashers, they must need my help, they must need me to like fucking save them.’ No. I am fine. If I need help I will talk to one of the chefs, saying ‘I can’t do this by myself, I need someone to help me’.” Unless otherwise vocalized please for the love of God ask the dishwashers if they need help instead of just assuming and jumping in, just as they wouldn’t go in and start randomly making stocks or sauces. For Sean his pet peeve is servers or cooks just assuming how things are done. “We have to fight constantly for our space. It is refreshing when a new server comes in and they know exactly what to do and it’s fine. You tell them one thing and boom never again, you know? And there are certain servers and cooks you can say 20 times that, that doesn’t go there. Like how hard is it? Some people get it and some people don’t.”
Dishwashing is a humble job. Not many people make a career out of it but if you make the most out of any job in end the you will be rewarded. Approach your job with the mindset of Coleman and Sean. Use the mechanical efficiency to prove that you have the work ethic to accomplish tasks. Maintain the jovial nature to laugh and enjoy the people you work with, and look forward to coming into work. Even if the job you are currently in is not your dream, make it a memorable one.
So what’s the dream?
Coleman: “The dream is to start my own unionised boot factory. That’s the dream, don’t even have to think about it.” Clear and concise, classic.
Sean: “That is like literally probably the hardest possible question because I think I am living the dream. No honestly! I am fuck’n 40 years old, I’m fuck’n in a punk rock band that gets to tour around the world. I live in Gastown, like two blocks from where I work. I live in a beautiful fuck’n loft that I pay very little rent for that’s what it’s worth. I have a beautiful fiancé, I have a cat. Like I think I am living the dream honestly, I think this is it.”
And that is truly beautiful and amazing.
Thanks for reading!