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From the Frontlines: 86 Employees Share Their Food Service Stories
For National Food Service Employee Day, we’re sharing our team’s experiences in the restaurant industry and how they inspire us to support our customers.
At 86 Repairs, we always say that restaurants can’t run without working equipment. But they can’t run without the staff to work that equipment, either.
Our solution was built specifically for the restaurant industry so food service employees can get repairs off their plate and spend more of their valuable time focusing on customers. A large chunk of our team is well-versed in repairs and maintenance (R&M) and have industry experience themselves. In short? We’re passionate about helping industry folx because we’ve been in their shoes.
And that’s why we’re excited to celebrate National Food Service Employee Day, happening on September 25! To show our appreciation for food service employees across the country, we’re sharing a small sampling of our team’s experiences in and with the industry.
—Travis Bennett, Central Region Account Executive
“I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for over 13 years in total, between high school, college, and my career. One of the companies I worked for required all corporate employees to volunteer the week before our biggest sales holiday, Thanksgiving, to help with the extra labor needed to make all the catering sales happen for the individual restaurants. I say it was required, but everyone was motivated to help this week because it brought so much joy and relief to already stressed-out teams. It allowed us to not lose focus on our mission as we sat behind a computer at the corporate office.
This experience entailed showing up to an assigned restaurant around 6-7 am for multiple days to help unload delivery trucks packed with cases of food. Each case had to be opened in a rented reefer truck to be assembled into catering boxes for customers. The weather was cold, and the work was exhausting and backbreaking.
But these holiday meals for families were one less thing our customers had to worry about during the sometimes-stressful process of hosting. And the experience all-around was memorable and rewarding. We brought breakfast and lunch during the shifts to make a stressful time of year more fun and show the service employees we are there as their support staff.
After my years in the restaurant industry, it was hard to stay away from it. So as a facility manager on the customer side, stumbling on the job description at 86 Repairs felt like a light at the end of the tunnel. I finally found a place where I could use my love for facilities management—especially preventative maintenance—to help bridge the gap between customers and vendors.
It’s said that facilities managers solve problems you didn't know you had in ways you didn't know were possible. 86 Repairs embodies this mantra as well, and I am beyond grateful to be part of a company challenging industry norms with new ways to help food service employees.”
—Margaret Candela, Preventative Maintenance Manager
“As an urban gay person with learning disabilities, I was most apprehensive about handling repairs & maintenance when I was a new Shake Shack manager in 2013. I never learned how to change the oil of a car and was afraid of getting zapped, burnt, or even blowing something up. And these fears were grounded in experience—I had poured auto oil into the wrong opening of my dad’s car before and nearly blew up a microwave, gas grill…and my little brother. To come into a new restaurant company at 26 and be the person with all the answers about fryers, griddles, and soft-serve ice cream machines was intimidating.
My General Manager, Alex, a Cuban-American from Miami Beach (whose nails were always perfect—toddlers and vinyl gloves be damned!) set the tone for my success. When Alex came into the restaurants from advertising in the mid-2000’s, she said she didn’t know a thermocouple from a thermostat. But necessity is mother of learning, so I followed her lead.
I learned how to disassemble, clean, sanitize, and reassemble a Stoelting soft serve ice cream maker. I learned how to filter and drain fryer oil, scrub out a fry pot, and clean filter screens. And I made plenty of messes along the way as I learned. I delayed closes by fumbling through reassembling cheese warmers or when an “extra” part was found in the dish machine grate at the end of the night. It sucked, but I got better.
By the time the pandemic hit, I knew that finding black specks in the fountain Sprite meant there was buildup in the syrup valves. I could disassemble, clean, and reassemble the fountain soda components and avoid a service call for something I could do on my own. I was no Bob Villa, but I’d come a long way.
When a friend introduced me to 86 Repairs, I knew I had the opportunity to be an Alex for the next generation of restaurant managers. I could be the person they depended on for help with three screens open, looking for the right equipment manual and offering advice to get them through the tough times.
I truly enjoy the side of the restaurant industry I got to take with me after leaving my apron, non-slip shoes, and keychain for the next manager. And I get to share it every day with the manager who calls in for a conversation with me.”
—Ace Karchem, Customer Service Manager
“I started working in the hospitality industry when I was 16 as a Boston Market drive-thru attendant. I stayed in the industry during and after college where I found a passion for event planning. That led to a career in hotel corporate sales that spanned 10 years and included opening a property in Chicago.
I consider working in hospitality formative in my career. Sometimes I wish it would be a requirement for everyone in the country to take a service job at least once in their life. Hospitality folks are a rare breed. The work is back-breaking, never-ending, and off-hours. What kept me going back was the people; I've made some of my best friends working in the industry. The bonds you build are like none other.
That's what drew me to 86. To quote our Head of Marketing, Ariel, I could tell this team “gives a shit” and really cares about the customers we're serving. Folks will burn themselves to the ground to help a fellow 86er or a customer who has an emergency. Drive and work ethic is not lacking on this team, and I love that.”
—Erin McCann, Head of People
“As a former restaurant manager, I would have LOVED to have a resource like 86 Repairs to reach out to! I know how poorly the general public sometimes treats food service employees. By working at 86 Repairs, I can be a ray of sunshine in their day—even if they have broken equipment. I really wanted the opportunity to provide great customer service for folx in the restaurant industry.
Friendships forged while working in restaurants don't typically have a whole lot of staying power. Within a year of leaving a restaurant, you likely don't talk to the people that you previously spent 40+ hours a week with at work—not to mention the hours after work getting drinks and hanging out.
Lucky for me, 86 Repairs gave me the opportunity to reunite with one of those friends and work in the trenches with them again. Katie (Kammes, Senior Lead, Learning & Development) and I worked at three restaurants together, and after several years of not working together, we’re both now loving our teams at 86 Repairs!”
—Nikki Frank, Manager of Customer Service
“I used to do catering and work at the cheese counter for a local shop that specialized in cheese, accouterments, and wine. It was a really popular shop, but it had a small budget due to its size and location.
Our meat slicer had some “quirks” that caused it not to run properly and shut off in the middle of slicing prosciutto. My manager had to show up at the shop at 3:30 am one morning because the walk-in was temping high, and he needed to relocate all the product—lest we lose thousands of dollars in goods. Our meat cooler went down one day and it was, without being overdramatic, a catastrophe. When you’re at a shop that small, specialized, and fast-paced, equipment breaking is not something you want to add to the list.
To put it kindly, none of us were equipment experts. We knew the fans in the walk-in shouldn’t be blocked, and we knew the coils sometimes had to be cleaned on the coolers, but beyond that? SOL. At 86 Repairs, I get to make up for my lack of knowledge during my time working at the cheese counter—and teach others the tricks and trades that weren’t accessible to me when I was in their shoes.
It can be intimidating trying to address a problem with equipment that you have no clue how to solve. And it just gets more intimidating, stressful, and scary when you know the success of a business is reliant on that equipment working properly. Removing that stress and fear for others is the best part of my job."
—Sarah Beth McLellan, Sr. Customer Service Specialist
"My son Beckett is now 14 years old. When he was five, we had the privilege of embarking on Disney Cruise Lines. A bit tired one evening, the crew asked what he would like for dessert. They made sure he got exactly what he asked for, delivering a memorable moment that will last a lifetime!"