GAINESVILLE, FL—Gordon Polone, 49, a dishwasher at Smitty's Family Restaurant since 1991, has taken new hire Craig Garrick, 19, under his wing, patiently mentoring him in the ways of washing dishes.
"I've been washing dishes at one restaurant or another for half my life," Polone said Tuesday. "If anyone is qualified to show Craig the ropes, it'd be me."
"I know this dish station inside and out, that's for sure," Polone continued. "When I started here, we didn't even have this fancy new Hobart [industrial dishwashing machine]. We had an earlier-model Hobart. That was way the hell back when Dale was manager."
Polone, who has trained an estimated 30 dishwashers during his 11 years at Smitty's, said he is more than happy to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of plate-scrubbers.
"It's not too much extra work training a new guy, and Craig seems pretty on the ball about the whole thing," Polone said. "I only had to show him how to load the racks the one time, and after that, he had it down like he'd been doing it for weeks."
Though he has only been working with Garrick for three days, Polone has already begun the long process of passing along the many secrets he has absorbed in his years of washing dishes.
"A roasting pan that they cooked meatloaf in is about as tough as they get, especially since [Smitty's lead cook] Perry [Tuscan] likes it with a crispy bottom," Polone explained to his trainee. "Those pans, you want to soak them for half an hour minimum, in really hot water with lots of soap, before you get to the scraping, or else you're just wasting elbow grease. You could soak it overnight to loosen things up, but I honestly wouldn't recommend that unless you're opening the next day, because you don't want to get on some other dishwasher's shit list."
Polone said that, while seemingly simple, the dishwashing trade is fraught with hazards and hurdles.
"I've got some stories that would curl your hair, believe me," Polone told Garrick, who half-listened while twirling his apron strings. "One time at this place in Orlando, we were short-staffed, and I had to do all the dishes myself. Just as we were closing, this party of 15 comes in. Now, you'd think I'd be screwed, but about half an hour earlier, I'd overheard the host confirming their reservation over the phone, so I had a bit of lead time. The lesson there is, always stay on top of what's going on out front. Awareness is key."
Though Garrick has shown himself to be bright and a quick study, Polone stressed to his disciple that he faces a long road to mastery of his craft.
"Even after you get the nuts and bolts down, there's little things you have to pick up to get through the busy shifts," Polone told him. "Sunday dinner rush is the real trial by fire. That's, maybe, six hours of bus tubs coming in non-stop. You have to learn to time everything so you can start the machine, load up another rack while it's running, and then have the new rack all ready to load after you take out the clean rack."
Added Polone, "You're not supposed to use the dirty rack to push the clean rack out, because of health codes."
According to Polone, once Garrick can handle the rigors of a Sunday second shift on his own, he will be well on his way.
"If Craig gets Sundays down, he can pretty much run the dish station on his own," Polone said. "Still, there's always going to be new stuff for him to learn. Like how to refill the soap and sanitizer reservoirs and prime the lines. Then there's all the politics, like getting along well with the chefs so they'll bring you their dirty pots right away, before all that stuff gets dried up and has to be scraped. There's always something new."
Reflecting on the vast body of dishwashing knowledge he has accumulated over the years, Polone expressed a strong sense of pride.
"I suppose I could write a whole big book on dishwashing," Polone said, "except I don't have a computer or anything, and it's not the kind of thing you can pick up from just reading about it."
"Hey, I teach 'em so good, maybe I should open some big dishwashing school and get rich," Polone added. "Nah, I'm just kidding."
Asked for comment on his experience training under Polone, Garrick said, "Whatever."