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What it’s like to work at Buckeye Donuts for 24 hours straight

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It was late. I didn’t plan it. It just happened. It always just happens, right? I don’t recall many of the details, but I know I left happy and satisfied, with a big smile on my face. From that moment on, I was in love—with Buckeye Donut that is.

For the uninitiated (assuming there are any of you out there) Buckeye Donuts is a 24 hour restaurant located in the campus area, on High Street. It’s a place to grab a quick meal on the cheap. But for a Columbus girl like me, Buckeye Donuts is so much more than just a place to eat. It’s a local institution. Nothing says “home” to me more than driving down High Street and spotting its big, red sign with the picture of a giant donut on it.

Buckeye Donuts is a gathering place to sit and talk about the weather, politics, or just about anything else on your mind over a plate of some very satisfying, down home comfort food. Eat there often enough, and the staff will start treating you like family.

So, one day, when my editor magazine came up with the idea to write about some of Columbus’ finest round the clock institutions, I shared my idea: I would try my hand at working there—for 24 hours straight! “Go for it,” he said. Somehow, the good folks at Buckeye Donut agreed, and before I knew it, I was there, ready to make it happen.

First Shift
“Go wash up or put some gloves on,” says Jimmy, the owner of my new place of employment for the next 24 hours. I chose the first option and headed off to the bathroom at the back of the kitchen, where I scrubbed like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator. Beats a pair of latex gloves, two sizes too big for my hands.

7:00am
1970’s disco pours out of the sound system. The percolator pops in time to the beat as coffee bubbles out onto the burner. Bacon and eggs hiss and sizzle on the grill. Cookware clatters. Above the chaos, Jimmy’s mom Tula shouts out orders in Greek. It’s busy and the breakfast crowd is full of regulars. Jimmy introduces me to one named Johnny Boy. Johnny Boy has eaten there every day—sometimes twice a day—since the place opened in the 1970’s. He drinks ten coffees a day and eats four donuts.

7:30am
I meet Yanni, the head baker. He has been working here since 1977. He holds out a floury hand for me to shake. He is a master donut maker and
the backbone of the operation. I also meet Victor and Miguel, the first shift cooks. They are master chefs in their own right and their grill game shows it. I can already tell they will be great teachers.

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8:00am
Jimmy asks me if I am ready to try my hand at preparing a couple of orders. Um, no. He convinces me to frost some freshly baked Buckeye Donuts instead. The iconic item is a crowd favorite, along with newer offerings like the maple bacon cream filled variety. Beside me, dough is being rolled out in giant sheets and glazes of all sorts are being prepared in vats. Frosting donuts seems simple enough: fill a spoon and spread. It melts on contact and oozes down the sides and onto the countertop, leaving me with a chocolate mess. Yanni comes to my rescue.

8:30am
I switch to the grill and squirt a generous amount of liquid butter (literally the grease that keeps the wheels of Buckeye Donut spinning) onto the surface. My first hash browns look decent but I flub the omelet flip, so into the trash can it goes. Victor nudges me aside and prepares a textbook version.

10:30am
The restaurant slows down enough for Jimmy to give me a crash course on sandwich prep. I do my best to turn out gyros, Philly steak and Greek sausage. After rolling five or six, I feel like I’ve got the hang of it. At least, if I’m making one order at a time.

11:00am
Lunch break. I have the falafel wrap—a pita filled with grilled veggies, onion, lettuce, tomato and tahini sauce. It’s pretty good, but the falafel is overcooked and the wrap comes undone, causing some to land in my lap. I’ve got no one to blame but myself—I made it.

12:30pm
The lunch rush is in full swing. Johnny boy is back, along with another regular, known as Yanni the Maintenance Guy. He got this name because he fixes things at the restaurant as often as he eats there. Jimmy pauses from his orders long enough to tell me the story about the time Andy, a nightshift manager who happens to live upstairs, passed out drunk with his shower running. Water came pouring through the kitchen ceiling right in the middle of donut production. It was Yanni who came and saved the day.

Second Shift
16 hours to go! My feet hurt and my face is greasy but thanks to all the donuts I’ve sampled, my blood sugar is soaring and I’m feeling pretty damn good.

5:00pm
The dinner crowd has begun to arrive and Dave and Gary, the second shift cooks are getting ready for action. “Want to clean the grill” Dave asks? Ugh. I roll up my sleeves and do it. Shower please!

6:00pm
Some other important customers have arrived. My kids. One laughs. The other two look shocked. Do I look that bad? I serve them perfectly formed glazed donuts and milk – no doubt the best ones I have made all day.

6:30pm
The dinner rush is still going strong. The next order is mine and I’m shaking. Seating is limited, so the goal is always to get people in and out quick. I give it my best shot.

7:30pm
My best friend shows up and I fix her a perfect veggie wrap and fries. She is impressed. Thank goodness somebody is!

Third Shift
It’s getting late and I’m getting nervous. Not too much longer before the crazies start coming. During a brief lull, the night crew takes a moment to tell me about the time a baller limo pulled up at 2am and Prince got out. “He spent half an hour in the bathroom and then ordered donuts for his entire entourage,” they explained.

11pm
The calm before the storm. As I brace myself for the bar rush, I remember that today just happens to be Friday the 13th. I start thinking about every horrible thing my friends and I did to restaurant employees back when we were teenagers. My karma is coming for me. I can feel it. I pray silently that Curtis, Bunny and the rest of the late crew will have my back.

Midnight
I dare not sit down for fear of falling asleep. I start to open my heart and mind to the coming chaos. I need it. It’s my only hope of staying awake.

2am
The witching hour is well in the rearview. And just like that, they start to come. The talk is louder and orders crazier than during the day. There are tables full of booze soaked college students. Laughter rings out and F-bombs fly. The place is packed and I help out in the kitchen. My wraps are Instagram-worthy! Bring it on!

3am
An OSU t-shirt wearing kid orders and a few minutes later, his food is in his lap He is hunched over. I have come to call this the Buckeye Donut lean. He’s pale and in bad shape. Gary, the late cook fixes him a new plate, on the house. Once he gets some of it in his stomach, his color improves and smiles woozily at his friends. Thankfully, it all stays in his belly and he and his wasted buddies hit the door. All hail Gary, the savior of the night shift.

4 am
The late rush is over and the staff receives deliveries. Yanni is back and donut production is in full swing again. Overall, it was a pretty tame night. No fights or thrown food. Everyone who works at Buckeye Donuts has stories. “Back in the old days, the cops would typically come rolling in around midnight, and the ambulance would get here by two,” Gary explains. But for now, all is well.

5-6am
This period is little more in my memory now than a distant and faded spell of delirium punctuated by black coffee. I recall my ramblings on a litany of subjects ranging from the bizarre to the intellectual only because I’ve recorded them in voice memo.

7am
I made it! 24 hours at Buckeye Donut! Jimmy is back and he slaps me a high five. I stumble to the bathroom sink where I had scrubbed in the morning before, splash water on my grease soaked face and somehow manage to drive home.

After 24 hours on the inside, I can still say that Buckeye Donut is one of my favorite places to eat. Why? Because its more than just a place to grab food. It’s an experience. It’s filled with people from all walks of life, all looking for a little bit of happiness and community—like a microcosm of the city itself. And although its not always perfect, it’s a beautiful thing. Just ask Jimmy.

Oh, and if you have never been there, get going! Trust me, you will never forget your first time.

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Food & Drink

Last Call For Alcohol: A look at how COVID-19 is impacting the bar industry

Mitch Hooper

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It's Friday night and Eight & Sand Tavern is empty. There’s not a pint being poured, a March Madness game on the televisions, or a song playing on the speakers. Saint Patrick’s Day? That came and went weeks ago. A month that was supposed to be primed for making cash has turned into quite the opposite.

This is life for Brody Wakefield, owner of Eight & Sand Tavern, and many others involved in the bar industry. Life has come to a screeching halt amid the COVID-19 outbreak. This situation has evolved quickly and the impacts have been sweeping, leaving little time for many of these folks to prepare for the unknown in the upcoming months. Combine an international pandemic with the slow financial months for bars in winter and you are left with a tough situation.

Illustration by Sarah Moore

“We’ve just come out of our two slowest months of the year—where we actually lose money—and we [were] hoping March is the month where we turn a corner,” Wakefield said. “St. Patrick’s Day, patio weather, and March Madness often make March the best month of the year. Now it’s gone.”

Columbus has welcomed many new bars to its city within the last few years and Eight & Sand fits the bill as a newly opened spot. It requires a great deal of overhead and risk to open a bar, and hitting goals and projections are crucial for long-term survival. Though Wakefield said the tavern was on track in many ways, it was still two years out from hitting those projections that can provide regular profits. Given past viruses and diseases that garnered media attention, he said COVID-19 wasn’t something that was initially concerning him. It was business as usual until simply it wasn’t.

“This is unprecedented territory. Like most folks, I underestimated the results early on, citing the many outbreaks we’ve had over the last few decades and thinking our exposure would be minimal. I thought about SARS, H1N1, Zika, Ebola and others that certainly had a global impact, but locally we came out relatively unscathed,” he said. “That thought process didn’t age very well.”

Quickly, what looked like something that would blow over became chaos. Now, with business closed indefinitely, he’s looking into coronavirus-related small business loans with lowered interest rates and extended payment periods, but like many things during a pandemic, there are caveats.

“We are still a young business. We only have one year of tax filings available right now, and we don’t show a regular history of profitability, so those may be barriers we’re not able to overcome,” he explained. “The SBA Disaster Relief portal also crashed [on March 23], so we’re in an additional level of purgatory.”

In a press release, the Columbus Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild said that industry experts predict 25 percent of Ohio’s 22,000 bars and restaurants will close business permanently due to the outbreak. While the Guild is in agreement with the calls for social distancing, it has left more than half a million Ohioans without a job seemingly overnight. In collaboration with the Cincinnati and Cleveland chapters, the USBG has sent letters to more than 200 public officials outlining the struggles the industry is facing and the kind of relief they will need to survive this.

“The state has laid us off, not our employers,” the press release stated. “The state bears responsibility for providing us with full, livable incomes while we serve through our duty of preventing the spread of COVID-19. We are Ohioans who love to help and serve, but in this time of turmoil, we must ask the public for help.”

This pandemic has exposed some of the problems that are inherent in the service industry. Variables such as low hourly wages have led to servers receiving unemployment checks that are well below 50 percent of their typical income, or simply struggling to even get unemployment. It’s also shown the need for these employees to have benefits in place such as health care, retirement, and paid time off. This, combined with the fact that many places aren’t hiring in the midst of an international pandemic, and you can start to get a clearer picture of the magnitude of this situation for many folks.

Wakefield takes these sentiments to heart. While he attempts to navigate the waters of receiving a loan, his staff lives unemployed and unsure how they will meet their basic needs like rent, utilities and food. However, through all this adversity, he and his staff are banding together.

“Our staff has been incredibly gracious and understanding. We have a group of all-stars that I’d put up against anybody,” he explained. “We opened a GoFundMe to try to ease the burden, and we’ve had some really generous friends and regulars donate.” Still, the unpredictability of this crisis adds challenges. “I’m hoping we can meet that goal but the reality is, we don’t know what to ask for because we have no idea what the timeline will be. There’s so much uncertainty right now, which is perhaps the hardest piece.”

As Wakefield said, it’s time for leaders to lead, and much like other bar owners in the city, he’s doing his best to lead his team. Plus, he’s leading in other ways, too.

“I’ve been turning myself inside out for the past two years trying to get Eight & Sand off the ground. Long days, late nights, and very little time with my wife and three young girls. So now I have been able to really dig in as a father again, which is amazing,” Wakefield said. “Bike rides, our daily viewing of Frozen II, and having family meals again is a recharge I wasn’t aware I needed.”

These impacts on the economy aren’t exclusive to the bar scene, and Wakefield is concerned for those within the restaurant scene, too. He thinks of some of his favorite spots around town like Ambrose & Eve, Skillet, Barcelona, and Red Brick Tavern and knows—much like his own tavern—they will need assistance to survive all this.

“The community is doing what it can to support small businesses, but we’ll need politicians on both sides of the line to work together to help them survive,” he said.

Of course, there are ways we, the community, can support our favorite establishments. Similarly to Eight & Sand, many places have started a GoFundMe to support non-hourly waged employees. There’s also take-out from many spots as well as delivery options with reduced fees on apps such as UberEats, PostMates, and GrubHub. Those are some “easier” ways to support the food and drink scene in the city. But if you want to truly help out, pick up a phone; Wakefield encourages you to make a call to a local representative.

“We also are asking people to reach out to their representatives to press for sales tax relief for the months of February and March,” he explained. “Ask them to loosen SBA stipulations so newer businesses aren’t being left out. Ask them to provide real relief for restaurants.”

And above all else, show some kindness to your fellow community members.

“We just need to be patient and have some empathy for each other. I’ve seen a lot of folks using this situation to lob political spears at their perceived opponents. We don’t have the luxury of division right now. Let’s understand that yes, the service industry is in peril right now, but there will be other industries that follow quickly and they also will need help. The economy could be in real trouble right now. We’ll need real action from our elected officials to solve these problems in the short term.”

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Food & Drink

Food Fight: With festivals postponed, food trucks are coming to a neighborhood near you

Wayne T. Lewis, Publisher

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Columbus has a certain love affair with food trucks. We must, since there are over 200 of them in the metro area. Ranging from international flavors to local staples, these mobile kitchens bring slices of diverse cuisine to our parks, favorite bars and sidewalks.

It’s a challenging business in good times, with most trucks having just a few hours each day to log a success. Of course this is Ohio, so weather brings its own challenges to the table. While the entire restaurant industry has been hit hard by closures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, food trucks are now facing an economic snowstorm. 

“It’s devastating. Some are making 10 percent of what they did. The spots they have on a daily basis, 90 percent cancelled,” said Nik Gandhy, founder of Streetfoodfinder.com, a website that helps the public locate their favorite food trucks.

On top of their daily walk-up business, a significant portion of business is catering parties and events. Those too, have been virtually
all cancelled.

“Here at Pitabilities, we are working hard to keep our staff employed as much as possible. Our sales have dropped nearly 90 percent, with some new opportunities coming up that may help us save a few jobs. As of today, we are making some really hard decisions as to who and how many of our staff to lay off. This has been the most difficult decision of my entire life, I have never laid off anyone in over 35 years of having employees,” Jim Pashovich, founder of Pitabilities trucks, said.

Despite these hardships, there is a certain resilience and scrappiness that makes up the food truck community. Leading the charge is the Central Ohio Food Truck Association (COFTA). 

Last week, COFTA introduced its Neighborhood Pickup program. This program is offering the opportunity for local food trucks to continue to serve their community, while practicing appropriate social
distancing measures. 

In the coming weeks, food trucks are scheduled to serve at designated locations around Greater Columbus. These locations have been selected with ample parking and immediate access to residential neighborhoods. Residents can view live, updated truck schedules online and place their order in advance. A designated pickup time will be provided, eliminating the need to wait in line to order. Payment can also be made online, so cash and cards do not need to be exchanged at the order window.

“We have transitioned from serving our guests at their place of employment and now going to the neighborhoods where they live. Our lunch service is nearly nonexistent and we hope that we can build a dinner service in the neighborhoods,” Pashovish said.

Gandhy added there are also efforts to use Nextdoor.com to identify neighborhoods that would like to see a food truck stop by.

“It’s hard, but we’re trying to get better finding new spots. We’re actually trying to go to apartment complexes instead of the streets, so we can get some business,” Abimael Ruiz, owner of two Taquitos food
trucks, said.

Food safety has always been a high priority for the food truck industry, and with the new social distancing measures in place, they are working on methods to serve carry-out while keeping customers safe.

“A lot of the trucks have signs out that say “please respect social distancing.” So customers can still walk up to order. But other trucks are requiring all orders be placed online,” Gandhy said.

Gandhy has been working day and night to get as many food trucks as possible set up with online ordering so they can better compete in the new reality. Customers can find a truck, place an order, and pay on the site, and walk-up to the truck when it’s ready for pick-up.

Despite the massive challenges facing these small business owners, many of whom toil in their trucks day-in, day-out, the guy who builds many of the trucks thinks the industry will survive, and perhaps even grow as a result of this economic storm.

Michael Gallichio is the owner of Titan Trucks—a Central Ohio custom food truck builder and founder of the annual Food Truck Fest.

Gallichio says the latest food truck boom was created in the wake of the last economic collapse when everyone lost their jobs. “People figured, hey I don’t have a job, and for a relatively small investment I can be in business for myself.” 

Starting a truck can be done for as little as $75,000, according to Gallichio. For now though, those dreaming of a new mobile business will need to wait, as the current food truck operators figure out ways to navigate a world with far less demand and virtually no access to crowds.

“Some of the food trucks are shutting down and hoping to ride it out. But these guys are innovators. They’re gonna find a way. That’s what’s so cool about this industry. They’re constantly evolving,” Gallichio said.

As for the Food Truck Festival, it’s still scheduled for early August, but like many things these days, that’s subject to change as the state and nation combat the coronavirus threat. Until then, we can all daydream of being next in line, wearing our flip-flops, hot sun on our back, cold beer in our hand, waiting to experience something special.

Find food trucks headed to your neighborhood on streetfoodfinder.com

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Food & Drink

Get your Fox in the Snow fix with this step-by-step recipe video

Mitch Hooper

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If social distancing and working from home has made your days of going to your favorite coffeeshop and café something of the past, Lauren Culley of Fox in the Snow wants to bring the café to your kitchen.

Culley, co-owner of Fox in the Snow, has put together this step-by-step recipe for the biscuits the café uses in many of its popular sandwiches and pastry items. As this recipe doesn't require many fancy ingredients, she said this should be an easy recipe for folks at home to make during shelter-in-place.

In the video below, Culley shows how to she creates the menu item buttermilk biscuits with house made jam.

https://vimeo.com/402332940/5229743f01
Video provided by Fox in the Snow.
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