Deli Waitress Dawn
The joys and sorrows of a “Jill of all Trades.”
People often tell Dawn Marie Andrade she could do more than work in food service. But she has a simple answer: “I like cooking, I like food service, I like people. ”
Andrade works part-time at Milwaukee Waterfront Deli at 761 N. Water Street for just $9.50 per hour, with no benefits. She once had a full-time job there but left six years ago to pursue a degree in accounting. She completed roughly half the program. “I’ve been so close to so many college degrees,” Andrade says.
Her return to a relatively low-paying job, though, hasn’t left her feeling like a failure. On the contrary, Andrade is grateful that Jeremiah “Jere” Pandl, the owner of the deli, offered to let her come back this past summer. “This is a fun place to work,” Andrade says. “It just keeps getting better and better and better.”
Andrade had been in an abusive relationship for several years, one result of which was a stress fracture in her hip. After she went to court to get a restraining order against her abuser and began to pull her life back together, she came around to the deli last summer in the hopes of returning to work. Pandl immediately gave her a second chance, she says. “He saved my life.”
While she was unemployed and financially dependent on her ex-boyfriend, she missed the atmosphere at the deli. “I realized I really needed to be around people,” she says. Her co-workers were happy to see her again, telling Andrade they’d recognize her laugh anywhere. Her outgoing nature is genuine and never overbearing. Despite the energy-sapping drain of a domestic violence situation, she was able to begin moving in a positive direction.
It took some time for the stress fracture in her hip to heal, however. But Andrade was careful not to push herself on the job, while still being available as many hours as she was asked to work.
The Riverfront Deli is in a two-story, narrow building not far from City Hall. A long deli counter offers up the various salads, hot entrees and sandwiches made to order that day. A conveyor system is used to deliver orders to the second-floor seating area. A small outdoor balcony from the second floor overlooks Water Street while the rear of the first floor gives diners a view of the Milwaukee River.
Shelves and coolers on the wall opposite the deli counter hold beverages, chips and crackers, using pretty much all available space to offer customers a variety of tasty options for their meals, whether it’s dine-in or to-go. Andrade works as a “Jill of all trades,” behind the counter weighing out portions of meat for sandwiches, dishing up salads, ladling out the ever-popular soups (all made in-house), ringing up purchases, or out and about making deliveries.
Andrade was born and raised in New London, Wisconsin, but began exploring the U.S. as a young adult. She lived on Miami’s South Beach, in Athens, Georgia and Memphis, Tennessee, among other sites, before coming to Milwaukee to attend UW-Milwaukee. “I like the metropolitan feel of Milwaukee,” she says. “People here are so sincere and down-to-earth,” she says. “You rarely meet a snob.”
Andrade hasn’t entirely closed her mind to alternative jobs. She’s done a great deal of assessing, weighing the pluses and minuses of a variety of positions, including her current one. “At least when you’re feeding people, it’s mostly happy,” Andrade says. “When you’re nursing people, they can get sick and die.” There are down moments at the deli, too, of course, but, fortunately, they’re fairly rare.
If she’s making deliveries and a sandwich is late, causing the customer to snap, she tries to turn that around. In the event of that late sandwich, she might ask the customer: “Would you like a cookie? Or, do you think you might want a hug?” The highlight of her day can be when someone comes in with a grumpy face and she can turn that frown into a smile.
“I’m not some fake Pollyanna, though,” Andrade says. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, she wore one of her five colorful Christmas sweaters (“one for each day of the week”), though she did slip on an Aaron Rogers jersey and a Packers cap, on his special date, 12/12/12.
Andrade has worked in fast food restaurants, and says she’s grateful to work in a place where she is proud of everything she serves. And she likes the boss. “He takes all customer suggestions seriously,” Andrade says. “Jere takes it all in and processes it,” she says, “with an eye toward constant improvement.” Pandl experimented this past fall with a honey mustard dressing. Andrade quickly whipped up a sign for the dressing, proudly proclaiming it was made in-house.
When not at work, Andrade is devoted to her dog, Blue. And, she shares her great sense of humor via postings on Facebook. Cooking at home for friends and neighbors is another pastime, even if she’s already spent a full day behind the deli counter.
The future? Hopefully, a set, full-time schedule that includes benefits. Happily, just days after she sat for this interview, Andrade’s wage was increased to $10 an hour. It was just before Christmas, a nice gift indeed.
Waiter/Waitress Average Wage:
- Nationally $8.93