Chapter 3: Hunting in the East End
By Kayla Calder
Sometimes, I think it would be easier if I was referring to a hunting game. In reality, it’s the security of a well-paying job that I’ve been after since I signed my lease in August of last year. Despite having been raised in the restaurant industry and having worked part-time in that same industry for almost six years, I spent my first two months in Toronto learning how to deal with constant rejection (and slowly watching the contents of my bank account dwindle away).
I set my sights on a number of different areas in Toronto, but I primarily spent my time pounding the pavement of the Danforth, resumes and references in such abundance that my right shoulder has begun to permanently sag. I have never been a lazy person, and I know the importance of going into restaurants to apply. This led me to avoid the Internet when I first began my hunt for part-time employment.
This post, unlike my others, is not entirely boastful of the Danforth. I should perhaps offer some context: I am not a size two, and despite what my great-aunt referred to as “a personality that makes up for the rest,” (BURN!) my average looks seem to have turned Toronto employers in the restaurant industry away from my experience and genuine skill in the field.
I wish I could say that this was not the case on the Danforth, but that would be a lie. Excuse me while I take a brief step-up onto my soapbox, but – no matter how you shake it – the restaurant industry is an extremely shallow one. There are exceptions, yes. I have worked at a number of places that boast managerial teams much more focused on quality service, and less worried about cup size. That being said, these exceptions do not negate the fact that oftentimes a good-looking front-of-house staff will benefit the restaurant’s sales, as well as its reputation.
After a month and a half, over 20 resumes distributed and zero interest in employing me, I decided to look online for work in alternative industries. Lo and behold, a search of the Danforth area on Kijiji offered a posting for the service industry in one of the Danforth’s very own staple pubs. Despite having dropped off a resume, I decided to follow their instructions and apply online – something I never would have done had the posting asked for a photo; I know my restrictions.
I was emailed for an interview immediately. My experience and cover letter seemed to speak to my character much more than my “would a manager be available?” repertoire when I was out papering the city. I donned the nicest clothing I own, made sure to do my hair and makeup in a fashion that hid my late night Reddit cruising, and went to the interview.
Walking into the pub. I immediately noted how the service staff dressed. To put it in a word: scantily. My stomach sank, and I nervously twiddled my thumbs waiting for the manager to approach me. While trying to remind myself that I am phenomenal at my job, and employers in the past have mourned the loss of me when I’ve had to move on, my dreams of confidence were dashed the moment the manager saw me. His eyes scanned me from head to toe, and an expression of sheer annoyance crossed his face. How dare someone like me even bother sending in a resume?
Needless to say, the interview was a wash. He went through the motions, but his statements about “fitting in with the brand” and “looking as though a server belongs here” were saturated with subtext. I wasn’t hot enough to work there, and I knew it. I left feeling dejected and, quite frankly, pissed off.
This foray into the physical politics of wanting to work in a restaurant inspired me to give up on the job hunt for a week. I considered my options, researched café jobs, and asked my parents for a promise to help me with rent. I rued moving to Toronto, where no one seemed to want me. I did all of this while ignoring the voice telling me that I was wrong, and I do belong in that industry. Not only that, but it’s where I wanted to be: serving guests, pouring pints, and making dirty jokes with the regulars.
But then, something happened. A restaurant I had dropped a resume off at on the Danforth called me. As a very small pub with no need of extra staff, they were not calling me for an interview. The manager, whom I had met upon dropping my resume off, was instead taking a moment of his day to call me with a list of places in the city that were hiring. He stated his faith in my experience and personality, and wanted to be sure that if he couldn’t afford to have me on staff, someone could. One of his leads propelled me into a wonderful part-time restaurant job downtown, and I have rarely been more grateful for someone’s kindness.
Although the Danforth is not a neighbourhood entirely free of negatives or contentious issues, I believe the beauty of this area – nay, this community – is in its balance. For every person who bumps me on the street, and every car that sends puddle water up the entire right side of my body, there are people in this neighbourhood who are willing to put the time and effort into helping someone they don’t even know. I will forever be indebted to this manager, and this neighbourhood, for picking up the phone and making me feel like I might survive in Toronto after all.