Accomplish January 23, 2017
I remember standing on a Johnson & Gunstone clam box at age five so my hands could reach the sink to wash the dirty dishes at Swan Oyster Depot, my father’s seafood market on Polk Street in San Francisco.
This was my first “job” working with all the guys at my family’s shop.
This work taught me the value of a dollar along with many other life lessons that helped turn me into the person that I am today.
Here are the five skills I gained as the only millennial female working behind Swan Oyster Depot’s counter:
As I grew a little taller, I graduated to serving customers and making delicious plates of crab and combination salads. I’m a natural at cooking and meal prepping, but I also had very shy tendencies growing up, which made talking to customer a bit of a challenge. I would step out of my comfort zone every time I had to speak with customer, but I was quick to learn that a simple, “Hello, how are you?” and a smile go a very long way. Communicating with foreigners traveling across the world to experience Swan still gives me a sense a pride, that I helped make their day in my own little way by serving up an ice cold Anchor Steam with a hot cup of clam chowder.
Every order, delivery, and every dish is done by hand, the old-fashioned way, without computers or technology interfering. “That’s the way we’ve been doing it for a hundred years,” as Dad like to say. And to no one’s surprise, he posses the same old school mentality passed down from his father— part of what gives Swan Oyster Depot it’s charm in a city that’s now swarming with drones and Google buses.
I also never had an allowance in high school, but I did always have the option to go to work to earn extra spending money. On some Saturdays, while my friends were sleeping in, I would be rolling up my sleeves to slice up lemons for the counter by 6:30 AM. The long hours on my feet helped me gain a strong appreciation for hard work and the value of a dollar.
I must’ve been fourteen years old when someone asked me for a plastic fork to-go. Sounds easy enough. Although I dreaded this request because it meant having to bend down in a very tight counter space to reach the plastic utensils that were stored on the bottom shelf.
I took a deep breath and held my shoulders back with my feet planted firmly on the floor. My dance lessons came in very handy as I lowered to the ground in a plié, keeping my eyes at an even keel. With male eyes inappropriately peering down upon me, I kept my composure and completed the task with my self-esteem intact.
Even though the smaller tasks sometimes felt like a thankless job, there was little time to doubt your self-worth or abilities.
Humor can be found in almost anything. It’s in the runny half-cooked eggs my entertaining cousin, Brian cooks in the back kitchen every morning (downs syndrome doesn’t stop this kid from being arguably the most popular local in the neighborhood). And it’s all over the walls covered with everything from family photographs, sports paraphernalia, a hand-written thank you letter from Margaret Thatcher, and especially in the sarcasm of a sign that states, “Be careful of what you eat, because it may be eating you.”
There’s never a dull moment when you walk through Swan’s doors.
I take a bit of pride knowing the difference between a Kumamoto oyster and a Drake’s Bay Miyagi. And not only that but I can shuck them as well. I’m also probably the only person out of my group of girlfriends who can properly clean and chop up a squid (not that it’s earning me any points on the friendship scale, but it totally could if I whipped up a batch of fresh homemade calamari salad for one of our girl’s dinner nights).
I began building a strong work ethic from a young age, already learning how to talk to customers, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and finding my own identity in a traditional and (somewhat) organized work environment. I have pledged that my children will follow this family tradition.
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