Las Vegas Sun

November 27, 2014

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Columnist Tom Gorman: On meeting the folks who prepare your restaurant meals.

Tom Gorman's column runs Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (702) 259-2310.

I stereotype way too much. For instance, I assume that folks who work in the trenches of restaurant kitchens, outside of public view, are in their 20s and don't speak English at home.

And then I met Christel Albrechts. Christel loves her job at Roxy's Diner, the fun 50s coffee shop with the singing food servers at the Stratosphere.

Christel is a prep cook there. She cleans and prepares the lettuce before the salads are made. She slices the meats before the sandwiches are made. She sticks chickens on the rotisseries before the chicken-noodle soup is made.

Christel is 75 and speaks with a lovely Canadian accent.

She's worked at Stratosphere restaurants for 11 years, including about five at Roxy's. She's on her feet eight hours a day, four days a week.

I asked her why she still works there.

"I need the health benefits," she said. "My right knee is getting old. I'm getting a knee replacement in January. I'll be out for about six weeks, then I'll go back to work."

Vicious circle.

She also works so her husband can piggyback on her health insurance. Ray is 68 and installs floor coverings. It can't be easy, even as a young man, to work on your knees all day long laying carpet or tile.

"He works his little buns off," she said. Her words, not mine.

Christel worries because Ray has a heart condition. Christel's first husband, Eric, died of a heart problem 17 years ago.

She also works because she loves it and is proud of the job she does. "Darn tootin' I do," she said. "I love my job and the people I work with."

There's Laura, the dishwasher, and Salvador and Alein, the pot washers, and Tio, the other prep cook. She talks of them as family.

"Nobody is superior over the other," she said, explaining the proper dynamics of an efficient kitchen crew. "We get the job done because we're all equal. A good kitchen works together."

You probably won't be surprised to learn that the people at Stratosphere have given Christel some awards. In 2002, it was for "providing exemplary service for guests and fellow associates" and for being "a team player who exceeds expectations in every endeavor." In 2003, she won the motivation award.

She has hung both plaques in her living room.

For a big night out, she and Ray will leave their mobile home and go to Sam's Town for dinner and a movie. After the knee surgery, she said, "I'd like to go out and dance with my husband, even if it's just a slow waltz."

At home, he loves his comics, she watches the Discovery Channel on TV.

Christel called me after I wrote about e-mail scams. She got an e-mail that said she won about $9 million in a lottery. She pursued the issue until she was told she first had to wire $850 of her own money to some strange address.

She suggested they simply withhold $850 from her winnings and they said it didn't work that way. At that point she told them where to go, and it wasn't Roxy's.

I asked her what she would have done with the money if it had been legit. "I'd help the homeless," she said, "and I'd help the Red Cross, and give some to my three daughters."

She wouldn't take some off the top for herself? "I've learned to appreciate what I've got," she said. "I've learned to be satisfied with little. I don't dream of big things."

Let's all hope her knee surgery goes well. The lady deserves her waltz.

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