Everything You’ve Wanted to Ask a Tartine Worker (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Feb 04 at 6am

By Liv Combe

Even before I moved to San Francisco, I knew that a magazine intern’s wage wasn’t going to cut it in this beautiful, expensive city of ours. So I sent an email to that iconic Mission landmark for bread and pastries and soon found myself to be a Tartine Girl, shelling out butter croissants and country loaves to the masses along Guerrero Street. And it’s a funny thing, experiencing that certain amount of (extremely low level) celebrity that comes with being on a first-name basis with Chad Robertson. The Bold Italic collected a few questions about what it’s like to work at Tartine. So here’s a look into what we’re thinking on the other side of that pastry case.

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Are you sick of morning buns?

Psh. Are YOU sick of morning buns? Didn’t think so.

My cravings for different pastries go in phases. We have a lot of tasty things that are more seasonal items and aren’t always around – gingerbread tiles, fromage blanc Bavarians, ginger tea cakes – that I get pretty jazzed about. But classics like morning buns are the little black dress of pastries: they always look good and are appropriate for every occasion.

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What’s the most upset someone’s been when you’ve run out of bread?

Completely running out of bread is a rarity, but people can get pretty exasperated when they come in before 4:30 p.m., and the loaves haven’t even been shaped yet. I’ve never seen anyone get upset or mad – it’s more like they’re disappointed in us on a very personal level. There’s lots of deep sighing and eye rolling.

Far more than the few disappointed customers I’ve encountered, what stands out to me is how completely delighted people are when they do get bread. It’s like Christmas morning. This beaming grin just spreads over people’s faces when they’re handed a loaf that’s still warm from the oven. And being the one who gets to hand it over is pretty cool.

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What’s the biggest pet peeve/worst thing people do while waiting in line?

There are too many little things I could easily rattle off – for example, reaching over the glass partition, talking on the phone while making an order, interrupting with a question while I’m helping another customer. We all have our pet peeves. But if I had to name one thing, it would be just not treating me like we’re equals, which can mean everything from snapping your fingers to get my attention or talking to me like I’m a simpleminded six-year-old. Everyone at Tartine is incredibly intelligent and creative and artistic; the environment attracts those kinds of people. Just because I’m wearing an apron doesn’t mean you can get all high and mighty with me. Kindness, patience, and consideration mean a lot. Show us this, and we will always go as far out of our way as we can to make sure you get exactly what you want.

But again, I tend to block out the relatively few negative interactions I have with people and focus on the positive, real-interactions-with-humanity ones. Once a customer thanked me for smiling. “You don’t see that every day from most people,” he said. One day I wore a necklace that looked like a thimble, and at least 10 customers actually noticed it and complimented me on it. I love it when people ask me what my favorite pastries are and then actually buy them. Those kinds of interactions are what make working in the service industry ultimately worth it.

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How much weight have you gained since you started working at Tartine?

Word is that the average is 10 to 15 pounds. I’m lucky, in that I work only part time, so when I have a particularly butter-and-cream-heavy shift (hello, bread pudding!), I can take it easy the next few days. It more or less evens out. If I were at Tartine five or six days a week, I imagine you’d be rolling me out the doors at the end of my shifts, covered in powdered sugar.

But even with a weekly schedule of 17 or so hours, those chocolate salted rye cookies aren’t going to eat themselves, you know? I’ve probably got an extra pound or two of them glommed onto me. Totally worth it.

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Do you get hit on all the time?

I’d definitely draw a distinction between being full-on, aggressively hit on and being flirted with. Lots of customers are really flirtatious in line, and then the relationship abruptly ends once they’ve finished paying. Some people have gotten numbers while they’re working. There have been a few missed connections. Over time, the numbers add up, but it doesn’t constitute a major part of my days.

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Would you rather date a customer or a coworker?

For me, theoretically, it always depends on the person. But “don’t dip your pen in the company ink” is a phrase for a reason (or “don’t dip your spoon in the bakery’s chocolate ganache,” as the case may be). If things went wrong with an ex, it would be damn awkward to stand behind the counter for an eight-hour shift with them, but the same could be said for regularly fetching buttermilk currant scones for someone you used to date.

Tartine is a tribe within this big city; you make innate connections with your coworkers without even realizing it while you’re powering through the morning rushes or cleaning up the mess that results from your accidentally shattering a glass pastry case during a late-night closing shift (true story). It’s like being in a war zone. And those experiences can easily add up to something more. Especially when you’re all hopped up on sugar.

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