Most food and restaurant podcasts are told from the perspective of customers and self-proclaimed foodies. But do you ever wonder what the staff behind the counter or the bar or in the kitchen have to say? In March, Brooke Van Poppelen and Andrea Wallace launched One Star Network, the first podcast network devoted exclusively to shows hosted by service industry employees. They are wise about the ups and sometimes gross and unsanitary lows of the service industry, but they also humanize the waiters and waitresses who take your order, take your shit, and take lousy payment home with them.
So far, the network’s podcasts include Marlon Joseph and Danny Davila’s The Modern Waiter Podcast; Qualin Harris’ Confessions of a Server; Michael Munoz is at Yo Mouth; Danny Palumbo and James Austin Johnson’s The Macaroni Zone; and James Beard’s award-winning podcaster Katy Osunas Copper & Heat. Together, the hosts represent women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.
“Instead of just liking each other on Instagram, we wanted to amplify each other’s voices by becoming a team,” says Van Poppelen. “We’re trying to shape the narrative of the service industry. This is just the starting grid. We want more diversity and more votes. “
Logo design by Patrick Hosmer
Van Poppelen, who lives in Glassell Park, and Wallace, who lives in North Hollywood, have been servers together for nearly 30 years. Van Poppelen is from Rochester, Michigan. He has worked in around two dozen restaurants in Detroit, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Chicago, and LA. Her last job before the pandemic was waiting for guerrilla tacos, including at the Modern Family cast wrap party. Wallace was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and worked at Buca di Beppo, the old-school Italian restaurant chain, in not one but two cities. She is now a full-time esthetician at Being in LA, a skin care boutique in Silver Lake.
While they waited for tables, Van Poppelen and Wallace both watched improvisation and sketch comedy. The couple met in 2002 in an improvisation class in Chicago at what was then the ImprovOlympic (later iO Theater). They even started their own live comedy night at a local restaurant. On the way there, Van Poppelen co-hosted truTV’s Hack My Life and wrote for and produced several MTV shows.
In 2018 they created a podcast together, Side Work Podcast.
“We’re a very comedic show,” says Wallace.
Art by Tom Mike Hill
In each episode, the two headlines discuss groceries and interview other waiters, bartenders and chefs, as well as comics like Matt Braunger, Dave Holmes, Sasheer Zamata, Jen Kirkman and Beth Stelling, all of whom have restaurant experience. They talk about good food, fast food, and every place in between, from Hollywood Boulevard to Times Square. They cover topics such as 24-hour restaurants, airport restaurants, haunted restaurants, restaurant baths, restaurant injuries, sports bars, cruise ships, buffets, cat cafes, the popularity of cheese wheels and dreaded vacation shifts.
Van Poppelen and Wallace agree that the worst holidays for servers are Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Worst customers? Bachelorette parties. Worst food? Brunch.
“Brunch is awful across the board,” says Wallace. “There are just too many moving parts. Everyone wants ten extra things. Everyone wants five drinks on their face. “
“You meet people at their most vulnerable and worst,” adds Van Poppelen. “You haven’t had any coffee. You are hungover. You are with her family. We had a lot of setback against the crowd after church. They are the rudest people to wait for, weird enough. “
The two also read emails sent by servers that range from heartwarming to worthy to criminal. Like when a customer dyed her hair in the bathroom of a seafood restaurant on the Jersey Shore. Or the time when an Applebee, North Carolina waitress stabbed a customer who she suspected was sleeping with her boyfriend with a fork. The customer did not charge any fees.
During the quarantine, Van Poppelen and Wallace gave laid-off servers advice on pandemic relief and unemployment. But even as restaurants gradually reopen and COVID-19 restrictions persist, staff are facing a number of new challenges, including an increase in sexual harassment of waitresses, according to Van Poppelen and Wallace.
“It plays a big part,” says Wallace. “We’ve heard beautiful stories about loyal customers going way beyond what they should and about communities banding together to keep restaurants alive. Then we hear the other side. During the pandemic, there has been an increase in sexual harassment, especially among women. Their faces are covered. You will be verbally and physically harassed. People think that waiters are now faceless drones just bringing your food. So why should we tip you? Whoever you were before COVID is only getting amplified now. So if you were a kind hearted, loyal, giant dump truck, you were ten times that high during COVID. If you’ve been a shitty customer who was a bad dump truck, you are probably worse than you were before. “
“Entitlement is one thing,” says Van Poppelen. “But now it’s a claim that goes with a bit of ‘I don’t worry about rules during a pandemic and I don’t worry about you.’ Servers are being treated like expendable robots more than ever. We’re dehumanized in many ways, but now you add a mask and people have been cooped up … there’s a total lack of empathy. People pretend the server is the government that made the COVID laws. They are furious about it and take it out on servers. “
Van Poppelen and Wallace say their podcast is more than just a platform for making complaints about restaurant culture. Proud to have worked in the service industry, they say the wait for tables has shaped who they are as both performers and people.
“It broadened my knowledge of food and wine,” says Van Poppelen. “It gives you the opportunity to multitask at such a high level. We’re perfectly fine if we wear a couple of hats. It’s a job that you can absolutely fall back on as long as you know what you’re doing. Your skills are still there. “
“Any night you could be in the weeds and let your ass reach you,” adds Wallace. “Customers might hate your courage. You could injure yourself at work. But I scratched my ass off. Working in the restaurant business informed me as a professional in every respect. I work hard. I care about the people I work with. It never leaves you. That’s why we love our show. We never run out of things to talk about. Once you’ve done it and you’re in, you know. “
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