Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. Today, we bring you a collection of the craziest restaurant stories I've ever heard, and I've been doing this column for nearly nine months now. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
I was working in a vegetarian cafe as a cook. On the day that our new baker was hired to craft tasty vegan desserts, she brought us all a treat. It also turned out to be the single most dangerous and horrible day of my entire cooking career.
It was a very busy Sunday morning — we were fully staffed and slammed. The new baker comes breezing into the kitchen with a tray of cookies for us, introduces herself, and proceeds to head up to the office to fill out paperwork. Three hungry cooks, a couple of waiters, and the cashier descend upon the cookies (which were delightful), and when our now-beloved dessert maker comes back down fifteen minutes later, the whole tray is long gone.
The look on her face when she informed us just how much marijuana we'd consumed in that few minutes was priceless. We'd each had three to five cookies. Something like ten times a normal get-you-really-baked dose. The rest of the day was chaos as the entire staff tried valiantly to make it through a very busy shift while mind-bogglingly stoned. It was not fun. It's amazing anyone got their food. It's amazing no one died.
We kept the baker on, though. Her desserts were phenomenal.
One summer during college, I moved back home to suburban Phoenix, which is the worst place, and worked at Subway for a few months. Other than literally zero customers (or coworkers) who knew how to correctly pronounce difficult words like "jalapeño," the job was pretty unremarkable.
One night, however, this middle aged guy comes in and asks for a soda. I tell him the total, and he just smiles and shrugs. I tell him that he needs money in order to buy things, and he says that he has none, but asks if I would trade with him. What did he want to trade for a 16 ounce cup of soda? A box of condoms. Coke is basically free, so there was really no reason for me to turn him down. He hands me the box, gets his soda and leaves. I go into the back and realize that it's open and there are only two left, so I give one to my coworker and keep the other as a souvenir (for the record, under no circumstances will I put that on my person).
The very next day, condom box guy comes back, and lo! He is wearing the most ornate pair of jeans that I've ever seen. Are they bedazzled? You know they are. This is during the lunch rush, which means there is a line to the door, and he walks right to the register, line be damned, and asks if I want to buy his pants. This wasn't even an "I'm desperate for money" kind of offer, he seemed legitimately interested in sharing his artwork/pants with me. To this day I regret A) not asking how much he wanted for them, and B) finding out what would have happened if I had bought his glorious jeans.
I worked in a restaurant buffet inside a mall, and it was family night. To give you some back story, I lived in a very small town that had one mall and one buffet restaurant and it was a new concept.
On family night, not only did we have family deals, the corporate office thought it would be great if we had a 7-foot-tall mascot dressed as a bee with a massive bulbous head that would frighten even the most horny furry convention attendee. They thought this would be fantastic for children, rather than nightmare fuel. We also had two managers who dressed in full blown clown attire, making balloon animals and giving out helium balloons (I assume they'd never seen Stephen King's It). Problem is, the place is packed on family night, so the whole thing was a shitshow.
As I am waiting on my section at the far end of the restaurant, I hear a large commotion. At first I don't think anything about it — it's loud and busy, these things happen in restaurants. I carry on taking plates away from a rather large table, when suddenly the weirdest dog I have ever seen in my life runs under my feet. It was small, really fat, and weird looking.
As it ran past I almost collide with my floor manager, chasing the thing. Almost dropping everything out of my hands, I stepped back to try to grasp what the hell was happening. I put the plates down in a tub near our waitress station and the little weird, fat dog came back through for lap two. This time hot on his tail were the manager, a cashier, and a waitress. At this point, I'm confused as hell, but the place is so chaotic that I kept working.
By the time we were on the third or fourth lap, we had two managers, a cashier, a clown, a line cook, and the Bee Mascot (who was bumbling around running into tables) chasing this thing. If this had been on TV, Yakety Sax would've been playing. By this time the restaurant was more hushed and watching what can only be described as a TLC show before reality TV.
The fifth lap, the clowns were in the lead, followed by the managers, and half the staff was running what seemed like single file after this weird little dog. Suddenly the thing stopped in my section and ran under a four-top, knocking the table toward the customers and spilling their food on them. Luckily, they were too stunned to care that they were just attacked by a rabid chinchilla dog and covered in macaroni and cheese. One of the clown managers was able to reach under the table and grab the dog.
At that moment the dog made a noise that sounded like the squeal of a thousand suns. As the manager gripped this alien baby tight, it bared its teeth and bit her. Reflexively, she threw the beast across the room,as it made god awful noises and ran in a zig zag formation for another lap. The way this little creature ran around and evaded capture would make you think Dr Moreau was doing weird cloning genetic experiments on Fraggles and Chris Bosh.
After witnessing the bizarre noise it made and when it opened it's mouth we realized it was, in fact, no dog. Turns out, someone had bought a pot-bellied pig, then decided they didn't want it and had just let it loose in the mall. As it ran squealing through the restaurant, the circus procession managed to chase it out and back into the mall. The amazing thing is, the other diners seemed completely unmoved and forgot about the whole thing ten minutes later.
Kinja user SrirachaChips:
The summer I turned 19, I worked in a small-town coffee shop. The place would get pretty dead in the afternoons, so I'd usually be working by myself. When I worked weekdays, every day, around 2 PM, a very tall man would come in, with his very tall bicycle, sweating profusely. He also looked exactly like Tobias from Arrested Development (Editor's Note: Uh oh). He would always order a large hot coffee and then stand around and talk to me for a while. He was weird, but I would just let him talk at me while I did dishes and texted my friends. He would always brag about how he had just finished a 20-mile bike ride, and he never had anything to drink besides a large, black, hot coffee.
He started mentioning to me that he was a musician and asking me if I wanted to hear his music. One day, he brought me an unlabeled CD of his songs. I told him I'd listen to it later and I threw it in a drawer and forgot about it. A few weeks later my manager found the CD, so I told him about the weird guy and we decided to put on it on after closing and listen to the weird guy's (presumably) bad music.
Well. The whole CD was him singing his own lyrics over tracks of popular Disney Channel show songs — not even the karaoke version, just the actual song played quietly — and the lyrics were all about him having sex with underage girls (Editor's Note: Aaaaand there it is). The first one was called "Sex with Teen Girls", sung over Hannah Montana's "Best of Both Worlds," and they just got worse from there. There was one about twins, one about Asian twelve-year-olds...I don't know how bad it got, because at this point my manager turned it off, told me not to come in the following afternoon, and I don't know what happened but I never saw weird bike guy again. (Editor's Note: Hopefully, that guy is now in a Federal prison somewhere)
Kinja user Llamanun:
I worked at a children-themed restaurant as a teenager — I got the job the day I turned sixteen. I had a friend who worked at this particular children-themed restaurant, hosting birthday parties — which, from my friend's description, mostly involved handing the kids tokens and letting them into the ball crawl while the parents drowned their sorrows in pitcher after pitcher of shit beer and then gave you big tips for taking the kids off their hands for two hours. I show up for the interview, thinking that I'll be put on birthday party duty also, so I'm surprised to have the manager ask me how tall I am as her very first question. I was only about 5'1" at the time (I had a two-inch growth spurt later in my teens, thank goodness), and I was ... well, let's say "busty", since that's polite. This point becomes important later.
I got hired as the mascot. Yes, I was Chuck E. Cheese. I had NO training, NO preparation, NOTHING. Just, "Here's your giant smelly suit, your comically oversized feet and hands, and a costume head that you can't see shit out of. Go."
It was horrible. To a two year old kid, even a five-foot-tall Chuck E. is still a giant rat, so half the time kids just started screaming at the top of their lungs when they saw you. Everyone else, for some reason, wanted to TALK to you, and Chuck E. isn't allowed to talk. You can nod your giant costume head yes or no, but that's it. Chuck E. is supposed to have a handler that stays with them at all times to assist in these situations, and also for when small children come up too close to you and you can't see them out of the shitty holes in the costume and you trip over them. But seriously, the most common question Chuck E. Cheese gets asked is, "Are you a boy or a girl?"
So for two or three months, I put up with screaming kids, drunk parents, sweaty costumes, shuffling around and tripping over my own feet. I did away events where I had to be outside in summer heat for three hours in costume, without a break. Then came the troop of Boy Scouts.
I'm not entirely sure how old they were, but I would classify them as pre-pubescent. They were obnoxious from the very beginning, jumping into the ball crawl with a ferocity that made the toddlers wet themselves (and cleaning a pee-soaked ball crawl after closing was everyone's least favorite job, except for mine, because at least I didn't have to wear the costume while doing it). So at one point a cabal of the Boy Scouts approached me and my handler, and started harassing both of us. The question they most wanted to know, of course, was, "Chuck E., are you a boy or a girl?" My handler tried all the normal deflections for that question, but they weren't having it — they wanted to know, even if they had to resort to experimental science to figure it out. So one enterprising young deviant ran up to me, hugged me VERY tightly — and simultaneously groped my chest through the costume.
He proudly returned to his fellow Lords of the Flies and proclaimed, "Chuck E.'s a girl! And she's got tits like THIS!" making the (in)appropriate gesture most commonly associated with such a statement.
I was immediately inundated with over-hormonal Boy Scouts, all trying to "hug me" — by which they meant, cop a feel through the sweaty, unwashed costume fur.
If it ended there that might have been bad enough, but it got worse. Later that evening, as the troop leaders no doubt were at the bottom of their pitchers, I was back out on the floor, but my handler had disappeared. This particular handler had a habit of doing that — it turned out that he was fooling around with the manager, so they were probably screwing in her office when this happened. Anyway, I was in a far room of the restaurant when the Boy Scouts returned. If it had been possible for them to have ominous music following them around, this would have been a situation where it would have been appropriate — they were standing between me and the only door to the room.
They cornered me, and then they did something I did not expect: they lifted the head off the costume. They weren't actually interested in what I looked like, though — their goal was the act of rat decapitation. They took the head, and they started running around the room, and then the entire restaurant, with the giant costume head, yelling, "We beheaded Chuck E. Cheese! We beheaded Chuck E. Cheese!"
I didn't know what to do, and I didn't want to walk through the restaurant with my head sticking out of the top of the costume, so I panicked and did what I thought was the right thing: I pulled the costume torso up as high as I could and ran back to the "backstage" area. I didn't stop to think that to small children, it would look like the Boy Scouts had just killed Chuck E., and that Chuck E. was now running around with his head literally cut off. I also didn't stop to think that without eye holes to see through, I wouldn't be able to avoid the small children who were so adept at being obstacles even when I COULD see them. So the restaurant was filled with the screams and wails of small children who were either traumatized by a headless Chuck E flinging himself through the restaurant OR by being kicked by Chuck E. Cheese inadvertently.
The denouement of the evening came when the manager called me into her office ... and fired me. Yes, I was the one that got fired — even though I was the one who was groped and beheaded, I got fired because, as the manager said, I "let them."
Do you have a crazy restaurant story you'd like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens? Please e-mail WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Behind Closed Ovens" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
Image via alejandro dans neergaard/Shutterstock.