Dishwasher at Water Street Inn
Allan Ekholm has been working in the restaurant industry for 18 years. Although he is legally blind, he usually found his own positions as a dishwasher with some help from Minnesota State Services for the Blind. Then the recession hit, and for the first time Ekholm had difficulty finding a new position.
Ekholm was referred to Midwest Special Services, Inc., a nonprofit that offers work assessment, work adjustment and job placement services. Ekholm took training in light assembly and janitorial work, then brushed up on his interviewing skills. Ultimately, Jolynn Brand, Job Placement Specialist, advised him to stay in the restaurant industry, where he not only has extensive work experience but also a certificate as a food service aide. "Allen's résumé shows such great experience," she said. "In this economy, that's what matters."
Brand helped Ekholm produce a "master application," which many employers will accept, since Ekholm would otherwise need help filling out a form. Once the job hunt was under way, Brand said, "I had trouble keeping up with him. He would do 10 applications a week, every week, and he kept checking in with employers, saying, 'Have you hired yet?' "
In May, Ekholm accepted a position as dishwasher at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater, where he has lived since 1981. Brand continued to serve as a liaison during his three-month probationary period. Some Midwest clients request ongoing support, but Ekholm is happy to be independent once again.
"I strive to be orderly and organized," Ekholm said. The main accommodation he needs is non-slip mats in his workspace. In his food service training, he learned to carry knives with the blade facing down. In addition, he said, "I carry nothing else in my hands along with the knives."
Executive Chef Isaac Jones, Ekholm's supervisor, said, "Allan keeps pumping. He stays on task. He holds it down back there when we get busy."
What does your current job involve?
My responsibilities are not only to wash silverware, dishes, glassware and pots and pans, and put everything back in its place, but also to mop the floors and wash the floor mats and garbage cans when I'm finished with my job.
What is your work schedule?
In the wintertime, my shifts are four to six hours. In the summer and fall, Stillwater is much busier. Once, we had a wedding reception for 300 people. That day, I came to work for my shift at 3 p.m. and didn't leave until 3:30 a.m. I drank a lot of water that day. The next Sunday, I worked from 3:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. Then I had a couple of days off to get caught up on my sleep.
What is a typical shift like?
Sometimes there are highs and lows. Other times, there's constant work. Like that aforementioned weekend -- I was bombarded with dishes and glassware.
Are restaurant kitchens as stressful as the reality TV shows make them look?
Pretty much everybody knows their job. People do talk to each other. But in high-stress situations, there is a little bit of tit-for-tat ranting and raving. I just ignore it and stay out of it. I'd rather just do my job.
Does it feel good to be back at work?
Yes. I don't want to be among those people sitting around being a burden. Nor do I want to just sit around doing nothing, like a bump, and letting my skills atrophy.
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