They Come And They Go

For BeerNexus.com


I’m one of the craft beer folks who loves having a “go to” craft beer bar. I’m there
once or twice a week, although there are some regulars who are much more regular
than that, but I also go to other places for a touch of variety and hopefully great craft
beers. Having a “go to” place can make things easier; you know where you’re going,
you know where to park, you’ve learned many different alternative routes home when
there’s something causing traffic; like an accident, a snowstorm, a broken water main
or any one of those other crazy things that blesses us with an infinite number of
frustrated drivers trying to get where they’re going and ruining your ride home after
enjoying a few.

The other interesting aspect of being a regular is getting to know the bartenders/
servers and managers. They become acquaintances who you see on a semi-regular
basis and learn more about the longer you know them, basically like you would
anyone else. The slower times are those where you get to exchange info and learn
about their kids, their car, their college courses, their other jobs, their goals, their
vacations, etc. There are some that aren’t as friendly as others and then you don’t
exchange much with them or get to know them as well.

But here’s the problem; you create a semi business/personal relationship with
someone and then it’s time for them to go. Being a bartender or server is usually
something a younger person is going to do and it’s because the hours are flexible,
they need a job/money and it’s a stop along their journey. So that means getting to
know someone and then having to say goodbye, depending upon where they’re
headed or “I’ll see you next time you’re in” as some of them do come back to have a
beer and a bite to eat and catch up with their fellow workers and us patrons.

When I first started going to the Leaf (a/k/a Cloverleaf), Matt was the primary
bartender. Matt knew beer and since we came in the afternoon there were many
times it would be slower and we’d get a chance to talk to him. Unfortunately Matt had
a problem with his feet where he could no longer handle standing behind a bar every
day and left. Luckily Matt comes in a couple of times a year to have a drink and to
catch up with Ryan Dorchak, the general manager and founder’s grandson, to talk
about the beer/restaurant business. It’s great to be able to spend time over a beer,
talking about craft beer, hearing about the new craft beer restaurant/bar he opened
and then his new challenges as he moved on to work with a management group. We
get to hear about things going on behind the scenes that we probably wouldn’t have
and there are times when he asks for our opinion as he knows we’re more than just
casual drinkers, we’re craft beer aficionados.

Our group considers Colleen to be the best server we’ve had and it’s going to take
someone special to take the top spot from her. What made her receive our undying
praise you ask? Colleen was the most aware/observant/attentive/cognizant server
we’ve ever had. I take the last sip of my beer begin to look at the menu to decide
what’s next and nine out of ten times Colleen would appear at my side asking if I were
ready for another one. And that wasn’t just me or our table (not that we’re not special
and don’t deserve that…), that was all her tables; she paid attention, she watched
and we didn’t have to sit at the table hoping someone would come out or trying to
flag someone down when we needed another beer. And yes we usually go in
Tuesdays about 3:00 so it’s not crowded yet. None of us expect immediate service
when the place is crowded; they’re doing their best to keep everyone served and as
long as they get around to us we’re fine. Colleen was a student and wanted to go to
med school. She had a car but it didn’t run so she got rides to work and took the bus.
Unfortunately she dated another bartender and when that went array, she really
wasn’t all that interested in staying at the Leaf; we haven’t seen her since and she is
still missed.

Lori was probably our next regular. Again very friendly and personable, she’s married
with two kids so we always spoke about them; catching up on her daughter’s latest
dance class and what her younger son was getting into. And at some point the day
hours didn’t fit into her family’s schedule so she moved to Sundays and occasional
nights so we’d get to say a quick “hi, how are you” every once in a while. My inside
source, ah yes one of our group who also goes on Sundays, tells me she recently
left.  I wish I would have known so I could have done one last catchup and wish her
well.

Angelica was a staple behind the bar for quite a while. She also knew her beer and
one of our group REALLY loved to chat with her. Angelica was definitely more of a
free spirit and at some point there was an issue, where she acted up so she was
abruptly gone. She hasn’t been back that I know of and last I heard she moved away
so don’t expect we will.

Then there’s Ryan (not the GM, but one of the many Ryans that work there), with the
big smile and the beard; hey the guy was and is always happy which always bodes
much better for a customer oriented job than being grumpy does. Ryan decided to
leave and take a sales position at Alementary, a Hackensack brewery opened in
2016. He has a good relationship with Ryan Dorchak and Alementary makes good
beer, so he has been able to cultivate that relationship; in fact Alementary made
three beers for the Cloverleaf’s 85th anniversary; named after Ryan Dorchak, his
father, Rich, and grandfather and founder, George! Alementary usually has
something on tap and Ryan is in often with a big smile, ready to tell you about how
well Alementary is doing and how he’s really glad he made the move as he loves
what he’s doing. It also doesn’t hurt that his wife now works there as a manager so
we constantly need to remind him not to fraternize with the help.

AJ was the bar manager so he took care of all the ordering. There were days we
didn’t see him for hours as he was working on orders, relationships with distributors,
the next tap takeover or the next quarters PhD list and then bingo he’d be behind the
bar helping out when it got busy. In the slower times he’d come over and chat, give
us a taste of a beer someone brought in to see if Cloverleaf would put them on and
ask for our opinion (that happened often as it’s a coup for a relatively new brewer to
get a line at the bar that’s consistently voted #1 in Northern NJ), ask for our input or
just talk beer. AJ and his wife had their first baby boy during that time. It was fun
talking to him about it, see how excited he was and look at his pictures.

AJ moved on and is now working for Carton handling three hundred accounts, so yes
we get to see him as (surprise, surprise) he works with Ryan Dorchak to get Carton
beers at the Leaf and hopefully on the PhD list. It’s fun catching up with him, hearing
how he’s doing and talking craft beer of course. He started out part time at a Bottle
King during college and credits his manager at the time for encouraging him to taste
better beers, which he obviously liked and became a career path. Goes to show you
never know what circumstances or events or places or people you meet may have an
impact on your life and can change it.

I’m sure you remember George from an article I wrote about three and a half years
ago titled “The Other Side of the Bar.” What; you don’t remember that article; I’m
shocked; although I did have to go back and see when I wrote it. George was
bartending when AJ left and basically he was at the right place at the right time as
there were a few candidates that either didn’t want to change jobs or weren’t
acceptable, so Ryan took a chance on him and moved him up to bar manager.

George was definitely looking to move up in the field so this was a great opportunity.
He got a chance to work on things he hadn’t before and learn from Ryan. He
definitely worked hard, but wanted to make more money so less than a year later he
moved on to another place. It was a place that was opened by Pete, another former
Cloverleaf bartender that had thirty two taps where we would go to for Friday happy
hour. When Pete left the new guy changed things and we stopped going. This was
really a good opportunity for George to show what he’s learned along with his
creativity and try to pull the craft beer crowd back in, but interestingly enough they
didn’t let him; sometimes you wonder what the thought process is. It had to be
frustrating and George wasn’t there all that long and is now at a country club.

I should point out it is interesting to see how many former Cloverleaf staff are still in
the industry, at other good beverage or brewery related positions. The Leaf has a
training program to make sure their servers, bartenders and managers do things The
Cloverleaf way, aka the right way, and that good training along with a good work ethic
and some smarts does make them desirable to others in the industry.

Another of our semi regulars was Andra. Yes a college student (how did you know??)
studying jewelry making. Andra had all the qualities of a good bartender/server;
pleasant, soft spoken, friendly and a good knowledge and taste for craft beer. While
looking for a job after graduating she continued working on an unpaid basis at the
place she had interned at as she knew they didn’t have the means to pay her but she
was still learning and practicing. Of course that meant commuting to Brooklyn, so yes
she needed to continue on at the Leaf to earn some money! We were happy for her
a few months later when they agreed to pay for her transportation and lunch
expenses; obviously they valued her contribution. Then another big day when she
landed a great job, so yes will be leaving us, but she will be back as a patron.

And then there’s Morgan; always a big smile for us and a warm greeting; just a very
friendly person. And yes she’s a student taking classes and wants to go to med
school. She’s been our primary bartender on Tuesdays for a while now. We were in
last month and Morgan mentions its Andra’s last day. We all lament we’ll miss Andra
and Morgan says “I have to tell you something…I’m leaving next month.” Ah yes the
proverbial double whammy! We obviously want to know what’s going on! She’s going
to move with a friend to Virginia Beach. She wants to continue her studies and
basically it’s so much cheaper to live down there than here in NJ and it should be
easy to find a server or bartender job there also. It makes sense and you can’t blame
her for doing that; in fact we should be complementing her as it’s not always easy to
survive as a college student and she has a goal. We’ll be wishing her well in a few
days and we have no concerns about her making friends in her new home.

And yes there have been others that have come and gone, but obviously I’m
highlighting the ones that we spent the most time with, shared our love of craft beer
and shared a little bit of their lives with us.

So don’t be afraid to get to know your bartender/server, when it’s slow of course; we
create all kinds of friendships; it’s all part of the craft beer and life journey .




Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
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