Damon Howard is a dishwasher at Barony Tavern, one of many kitchen jobs he’s held in Charleston: His resume includes stints at Joe Pasta, Circa 1886, Jim ‘N Nicks, Embassy Suites, Eli’s Table and Toast. “The list can go on,” says Howard, who’s learned the following holds true about dishwashing work at almost every restaurant:
When guests come to Barony, “they see a great place because it’s always clean,” Howard says. That’s largely the doing of the dishwashers, who are responsible for wiping down the walls and mopping the floors. When Howard gets to work at 5 a.m., he first tends to any dirty dishes from the previous night’s service. “It can be kind of frustrating when people on second shift were not too tidy, and we got to go back over them.” Then he checks on the cleanliness of floor grates and drains, and makes sure cooks haven’t made a mess of the cooler.
Howard says he has the advantage at Barony of high-functioning sinks. “If pipes get clogged, the sinks be nasty, but here is OK; our pipes don’t get clogged,” he says. But the real secret to getting the better of every burnt-on bit of breading is patience. “With me personally, it’s never a problem, because I just make it happen,” Howard says. “Sometimes you have to set it off to the side and let it soak a minute. But if I have to run it two or three times, I’ll make it happen.”
“I have seen plenty of dishwashers become cooks. Dishwashers make great cooks.” While many restaurant workers with cooking experience are reluctant to take a dishwashing job, he says, “it’s acceptable to get your foot in the door.” Dishwashers are typically assigned prep work during the day, which provides an opportunity to show off knife skills. “If you want to move up, that’s the best way to show you want to work in another area,” says Howard, whose tasks at Barony have included trimming kale; dicing tomatoes; cutting potatoes and baking cookies.
“The restaurant business wouldn’t be where it’s at without the dishwasher,” Howard says.