"On my deathbed, if I haven't helped more restaurants go from individual to team-service tip pooling, I'll die unhappy," says Jennifer Moleski, the sommelier, front-of-house trainer and server behind iamwaitress.com.
Having worked seven years at the Blue Star, three at a fine Kansas City haunt called Bluestem, and currently turning tables at The Famous (which, for the record, hasn't adopted tip pooling), Moleski will set out June 10 on a one-year "national blogumentary tour" of at least 100 of America's top service restaurants (as ranked on sites like Zagat and OpenTable, which she meticulously researches).
"Three hundred is my goal," she says. "But I feel comfortable saying I'll hit 150," starting at the Pepper Tree and Over Easy. (The Broadmoor declined her request.)
And by "hit," she means shadow an eatery's floor staff for a shift or two, to "gain as much knowledge, vision and perspective as possible." She'll blog experiences and lessons learned, including whatever she picks up at Chicago's legendary molecular gastronomy/deconstructionist spot, Alinea, with an ultimate goal of publishing an informative, entertaining book.
Considering lost wages and travel expenses, she anticipates a project cost of at least $50,000, and will also leave her supportive husband behind.
"The whole point is to shine a light on really great service teams," she says. When people think of notable restaurants, they "automatically think of the chef, which is great, but there's an army of people that support that food."
As for her belief in tip pooling, she cites less hours worked, more money made, and a better experience for diners. Follow her journey to find out how and why.
In March, local roaster Firedance Coffee Company (2814 N. Prospect St., firedancecoffee.com) came into the hands of Craig Ganoe, who first "roasted with a friend who got me into it back in the '80s, before it became a hipster movement."
Firedance continues to sell a variety of drum-roasted beans by the pound out of its shop. But its labels may be more recognized from the many eateries to which it distributes, including Manitou Springs' Spice of Life and Peak Cafe (see Dine & Dash).
Among other offerings, Ganoe has introduced a Whisky River flavor, inspired by renditions elsewhere of "Highlander Grog," a rum, brandy or other-hooch-containing varietal. He won't give his recipe, but does share that after roasting, beans are soaked with whisky and two other ingredients for at least eight hours.
He says (and my tasting confirms) that the booze imparts a "distinct, noticeable flavor," with the scant amount of residual alcohol evaporating off at brew time. So don't forget your flask if you're seeking a true Irish coffee.