Weekend Work: The Agio Bistro

I’ve been settling into my new life here in the Chicago suburbs and really, have very little to complain about.  However, having tasked myself with making wise financial decisions, it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the high quality of life I had come to expect in Japan.  While I can accept that some of those expectations are unreasonable, and honestly, unnecessary, some others such as travel and progress on my financial goals will not be compromised.  I’m not big on toys, and I don’t need the newest version of anything – I’m still rocking a flip phone for 15 dollars a month, with no plans to drop it – but when I can’t afford to get out of the country a couple times a year, or take steps towards home ownership, then something’s gotta give.  Fortunately for me, I don’t place a high premium on my free time, making a part time job the obvious solution.

I swung by various local establishments and applied fruitlessly for different positions, but then on Craigslist weeded though the hoards of garbage and spam to find something that actually looked great.  It was for a bar back position at a swanky Italian restaurant just a few blocks from my home.  I inquired and was told to swing by, where a well dressed me was given the job almost immediately.  The restaurant is called the Agio Bistro, and would qualify as the nicest place I’ve eaten, that is, if I could afford it.  Here is the Google Maps shot of the interior.

agio

What I do there is pretty much everything not relating to the making of alcoholic drinks.  I specialize in filling glasses with water (with or without a citrus compliment), and also handling all the restaurant’s orders for cappuccino or espresso; I like being a baristo again.  I also act as a busser for anyone eating at the bar by setting up and clearing their places, and fetching warm bread.  There are a massive array of tasks that I need to be conscious of as well: stocking beers and wine, cleaning, slicing fruit, washing and drying glassware, packing bleu cheese into olives, etc.  Honestly, what I like about this sort of work is that it uses a completely different part of my brain than my career job – it’s more of a Wack-A-Mole type position, constantly firefighting whatever need pops up.  Here is a shot of my ‘office’.

agiobar

One of the other things I like about this position is my exposure to the clientele, which is generally comprised of people at middle age and up.  Many of them are regulars, and several made sure to learn my name the first time they noticed that someone new was working there, and I’ve done pretty well to reciprocate.  It can be really interesting just standing behind the bar and listening to the conversations and problems of older adults (“Bob got really drunk last Saturday, I guess that his ex-wife remarried…”).

With those that come in once or twice a week, I’ve started to develop a little bit of a relationship.  We continue different discussions and further inquests into the going ons in each other’s lives.  I think that I carry myself well in conversation and this is a great venue for it.  Often prompted by the sports on TV though, when chat shifts to the vapid subject of athletic endeavor, I nod, smile, and bail.  One of the things that I’ve noticed is that people assume me to be overwhelmingly younger than I am.  Not sure if it’s my genuinely youthful glow, or else just the expectation one has with someone working an unprofessional job.  I’m sure it’s the former.

“With all this practice, do you help your mom do the dishes?”  ‘Well, I’m 27….and she lives in Michigan, so…’

Me: What’s the policy with having a beer after my shift?  Coworker: It should be fine….but are you 21?

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As with all of the food service jobs I’ve worked (Big Apple Bagels, Jimmy Johns, Hungry Howies, Hope Dining Hall) each has helped me to further appreciate the industry, and this fine dining setting has taught me a great deal about all the work the happens in a real restaurant.  I have no idea how a mere three chefs can keep track of everything, and also keep consistently fantastic food coming out at the rate they do.  Most everyone in there is Spanish speaking, and it gives me plenty of opportunities to practice my fledgling language skills.  As a bonus, they run an artisan pizza shop called Slice of Chicago out of the other half of the kitchen, which sometimes produces ‘mistakes’ that everyone on staff devours.  As yet another bonus, my discount applies to both menus, although only during/following a shift.

The only chance I’ve had to actually sit down and eat there was for my recent birthday, where I treated May to dessert.  They sell a 13 dollar piece of carrot cake that I had been raving about ever since starting, causing her to asserted that ‘it had better be damn good cake’, and it was.  Paired with a nice glass of wine for her, and I some Sambuca, we could make it through only half of that fantastically rich slab.

S__2801961The work does conflict slightly with my social life, but what I’ve been finding so far is that it had caused me to prioritize that time.  They are great about giving me the time I want off, but it gives me incentive to make sure that I do in fact need the time off, undoubtedly saving me money on top of what I’m earning.  Overall though, I am happy and excited to stick around here for a while, and will keep an open mind to other Agio opportunities that come my way.

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