When I was 16 I got a job at Schlotzsky’s. Their slogan was and still is: Funny Name, Serious Sandwich. A more apt slogan would be: Stupid Name No One Can Spell, Average Sandwich on Vaguely Compelling Bread but I guess it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
I worked there during my sophomore year of high school with two other guys from my school, Brian Pinnick and Jeff Stewart. I didn’t know either of them that well but I was friends with Brian until I moved away. I think Donnie Tuffley also made the bread in the morning. I lived with Brian and Donnie until an event more suited to a different blog took place. There were two managers, a day and a night. I’ll call the day manager Short Fat One With Poor Haircut, not because I don’t remember her name but because that’s what her name was. By the same line of reasoning the night manager was named Taller Ugly One Who Had Poor Taste In Men. Or just Short Fat and Tall Ugly. There were only a handful of us that worked there, in addition to Brian Jeff, Donnie, and I there was a dude named Mike who went on a Mormon mission to Africa and came back town a few years later addicted to meth. It was also at Schlotzsky’s that I was introduced to the Vest family.
Sean Vest was the oldest of the Vest kids, of which there were four. Sean was the least popular, least interesting, and least appealing to any group in any way. He was the oldest person who worked there aside from Short Fat and Tall Ugly but he was still only in his early twenties. He was a sad sack completely devoid of any joy except some kind of weird roll playing game he would sometimes talk about. I at least gathered that there was a loose confederacy of losers that he tagged along with or after so I wasn’t completely worried that he was going to hang himself in the walk in, just fairly worried. The Vests were half Vietnamese and one of his younger brothers told me once that Sean was always telling people that he wasn’t Asian at all. You might think that all this adds up to someone I wouldn’t bother remembering but I do. For one reason. Sean Vest was the first person I ever saw put ranch dressing on Pizza.
Was this the culinary impetus to which I trace my love of food experimentation? No, probably not, once as a child I put cake frosting on a Lender’s egg bagel (not as bad as it sounds). After inquiring about what the hell he was doing, Sean said, “You know who does this right? Gumby’s Pizza in Lawrence.” Gumby’s Pizza? I’d never heard of it. I spent a lot of time in Lawrence visiting relatives and what not at that point but we’d never had Gumby’s and my grandfather is a pizza aficionado. We always went to the Pizza Shoppe with its Andy Capp cartoons festooned all over the place. Sadly, Gumby’s, I later learned in great detail, is one step above Black Jack or maybe one below, hard to say. But they did give you a little packet of ranch dressing every time. I think that what Sean’s dalliance with ranch dressing that day in the prep area at Scholtzsky’s ignited in me was the idea that there were these restaurants out there that did things differently. That I needed to try. That I had to try.