. . . The Health-Food Fast Food Place

Author: Rachel O’Grady ’18

Everyone has a “hardest job ever.” It’s usually one you were wildly underpaid for, sometimes one that wore you out like no other. Mine was that one summer in college when I donned a nice brown shirt and matching hat to work at The Protein Bar & Kitchen in Chicago.

The best way to describe The Protein Bar is as a health food fast-food place, so think bowls with kale and tofu and smoothies in every shade of green. I rotated around the kitchen, from washing dishes to making the food to blending the smoothies to working the register, where I surely made up for how much money I cost the company in mistakes by consistently (and accidentally) shortchanging some very kind customers.

To say working there was fun is an overstatement; to say it was hard is an understatement. I’m certainly good at some things. Those things certainly do not include washing dishes, making salads, cutting fruit and vegetables without hurting myself or calculating the change for a $20 bill in my head. Making their signature “Bar-Ritos,” a healthy, quinoa-laden twist on a Chipotle burrito, I injured myself no fewer than five times with kitchen-grade knives. I hit the blend button without capping the smoothie maker a comical, cartoon-strip number of times. The slippery-when-wet signs failed to warn me. I slipped once a day. I locked myself out while taking out the trash. And every single day when I got home, I was boundlessly tired.

If all of this sounds whiny, it is. The purpose of my getting this summer job was to get some good retail experience and, more important from my standpoint, to toughen me up a bit. And that it did. I won’t wax poetic about the lessons I learned (for those, please see the earliest version of my resume, where I claim that this job taught me leadership skills), but it gave me new respect for the service industry. Obviously this is not a hot take, and the service industry deserves a tremendous amount of respect, but it’s hard to truly know that until you’re doing it.

I will share one industry-secret takeaway. Never buy a $10 smoothie. You can make those at home, and I promise: when you can add as much peanut butter as you want and not the corporate-mandated amount? It’s exponentially better.

Rachel O’Grady is a marketing analyst based in Atlanta.