Feels like yesterday that I came home from work and my mother laughed saying I was making her crave donuts. Fried oil and powdered sugar clung to my hair, uniform, and shoes. It was the summer of 1985, a teen at my first job and after so many rejections I was just glad to be working. I earned minimum wage, $3.35 an hour, and worked the 6 a.m. to noon shift at a donut shop in Poughkeepsie, New York.
The mandatory dress code was a company-issued brown dress and an apron decorated with pink, brown, and orange donut trees tied at my waist. The brand’s colors were on full display on my body. The two middle-aged men who co-owned this franchise and took turns as bakers did not allow us to wear pants and all their employees were women during my time there.
Here are the highlights of what I learned working at a donut shop.
How the Donuts are Made
The 1980s had lots of commercials about Fred the Baker making donuts twice a day. I imagined him getting out all the ingredients and hand-mixing them in a bowl.
In reality, the bakers made the donuts once a day, at about 3 a.m. in the kitchen in the back of the shop. They took 50-pound bags that were labeled as the brand’s donut mix or muffin mix and added water. This shop had two industrial-sized mixing bowls and it was fascinating to see huge quantities of dry mix and water being slowly churned.
Seeing the large, open vats of hot oil and the donuts being fried in them was a little repulsive. The oil crackled and bubbled around the floating raw lumps of dough. Never a big donut or fried food eater, I didn’t know they were made this way.
Each day a different color of wax paper was used to line the tray of freshly made donuts. This was how we knew which donuts were fresh and each mid-morning the shift supervisor threw out all the left-over donuts made the previous day.
How to Make Coffee and Change
Making coffee from bean to brew was simpler in the days of only two coffee choices – with or without caffeine.
It was more challenging to add cream to customers’ coffee based on verbal descriptions of shades of brown. With no to-go sugar and creamers, employees had to modify the coffee behind the prep area wall that was too high for customers to see over.
Making change required the ability to count backward since the cash register could only add totals and we didn’t accept any other forms of payment. We were required to keep the customer’s money on top of the register while we counted back the change to them, so they couldn’t argue that we short-changed them or gave us a larger bill than they did.
How to Mop
During a slow time, the shift supervisor told me to mop the customer areas out front using the commercial mop with the bucket and wringer. I had only used sponge mops at home. My inability to mop properly caused one customer to laugh so hard that he got up and stood behind me to demonstrate how to mop “the army way” despite my saying I didn’t want hands-on help.
Perhaps, I’ll do a future post on all that I learned from customers.
For now, let the guy wearing a baseball hat in this video below give you insights into one type of regular customer at the donut shop in 1985.
How to Take a Break
The co-owners required that I take my 15-minute break in a designated chair in the kitchen that faced away from them. The chair was in front of a television hanging on the wall with a clock above it. I was allowed one small, free beverage and one donut or muffin. The sounds of the kitchen equipment drowned out the TV audio, so I kept turning around to watch how the donuts were made.
How to Remove Donuts from Long Trays
Doesn’t seem like you would have to teach a new employee this. But I once took so many donuts off the front of a tray (when boxing them for customers) that the back end of the tray lifted its front end out of the angled shelving and slid onto the floor.
The crashing of the metal tray on the hard floor turned heads. I was stunned looking at 30 powdered jelly donuts squashed and oozing on the floor and clueless at how it happened.
The older woman in charge of filling and powdering the donuts ran from the kitchen to look. She and I quickly put all the donuts back on the tray and brought them into the kitchen.
The co-owner told her to powder and refill the jelly donuts again and put them out.
I mopped away as the shift supervisor lectured me about always taking donuts from the back of the tray so that it doesn’t get “back-heavy,” a new concept for me. I had expected my pay to be docked and the donuts to be tossed, but neither happened.
How to Turn When Holding a Coffee Pot
When a customer yells for a refill, move slowly when holding glass. One time I did a quick marching band pivot while holding a coffee pot, and it shattered against the counter. My dress got even browner, glass scattered in our aisle behind the counter and customers laughed.
After sweeping and mopping, I was ordered to the customer’s bathroom (the only bathroom) to clean my dress. This created even larger wet spots that entertained the customers.
This is a beautiful, artistic representation of a smaller quantity of coffee spilling with no glass breakage. The reality was uglier.
To read more about my clumsiness which includes these donut shop incidents, see my post on National Kitchen Klutzes of American Day.
Wrapping It Up – Lessons Learned from this 1985 Job that Still Hold True for Me Today
Sometimes you learn best by breaking pots and spilling an avalanche of donuts. Having witnesses to your failures has a way of cementing them in your mind so you don’t repeat your mistakes.
The food service industry requires a level of spatial awareness and dexterity that I do not have.
Only two types of coffee are all you will ever want or need – Regular and Decaf.
And what about your earliest jobs? Do you have any teenage work-related memories that refuse to leave you?