Deep down inside I knew, I always knew, even as I jested with my co-worker, D Fish, about this being ‘the best restaurant I’ll ever work in,’ that my words would prove to be true. Three years removed and those words still ring factual. St. James Gate is the best restaurant I’ll ever work in.
St. James Gate Irish Pub and Carvery (the official name) located in Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA will be officially closing its doors this Sunday, November 29 for good. The Gate, as all of us current and former employees call it, is one of the few restaurants that embody everything glorious about the service industry.
The good nights, the horrendous holiday shifts, the crazy rushes, the memorable moments in and outside of work that make this industry an addictive roller-coaster ride of a profession; they all flowed through The Gate with unrefined vitality.
For me, The Gate will always be a place I hold close to my heart. It was where my culinary career blossomed. I came in as a green cook and left a well-versed, capable chef in large part to the patience and guidance of my sous chefs at the time, Willie Romero (currently the Chef de Cusine at St. James Gate) and Mark Yundt (currently the Chef at The Bookstore Speakeasy in Bethlehem). Both Willie and Mark took the time to let me grow as chef. They would intentionally challenge me, push me, force me to experiment with new styles and levels of cooking all the while helping me grow not just a chef, but as a person.
Albeit, it wasn’t just my sous chefs that offered a helping hand. The entire back-of-house (BOH) helped each other. Veteran chefs like the legendary Andres, his compadre, Dan and the firecracker JB they all jumped in and offered advice. The egos that can often plague a kitchen were always kept in check at The Gate. No one person was better than the other regardless of their position or experience. Even the stewards were treated as equals with us chefs – we were one cohesive team.
More impressive was the fact that all of us in the BOH still kept a close relationship with all the members of the front-of-house (FOH); the servers, the bartenders, the hostesses, the managers – it didn’t matter – everyone managed to get along in one way or another. There was no BOH and FOH separation. That camaraderie between both facets of the industry is what truly made The Gate so special.
That unity helped create our work family. It helped create bonds both inside and outside of work that would last long after any of our tenures at The Gate. Perhaps, it was the comedic harmony of Dan’s infamous ‘Dolphin Story’ that helped bridge the gap between FOH and BOH. Maybe, it was humility of the managers and chefs that helped erase the usual tension between the houses. Or, perchance it was the many Sunday Fundays at McGrady’s or Woody’s that made the transition and communication easier. Regardless of the source, none of us can deny the fact that there was something special about The Gate.
It was a place where friendships formed, relationships emerged, and careers took off. The memorable Sunday Funday’s helped all of us let off steam, vent about the night’s stress, and more importantly allowed everyone in the restaurant a congruous spot to bond outside of work.
Most restaurant staffs go out after work, but very few of them go out as a whole. The BOH staff will have their after-work spot and the FOH will have theirs. That wasn’t the case for us Gators (a moniker for us St. James Gate employees). No, instead, we all shared in the post-work festivities as a group, as a family.
Naturally, from there friendships and bonds were formed. There’s been a plethora of relationships to burgeon out of The Gate from the routine co-worker sex stories to dating to full-fledged marriages. It’s what helped make the place so damn fun. There’s never a boring moment in the service industry, nonetheless us Gators never provided a dull moment outside of work either.
Yet, more importantly than the post-work rendezvous is the fact that dozens of us former Gators have been able to use The Gate as a launching pad for ourselves, our careers, and our lives. A number of former staff members have improved upon their professional standing from the time they entered the restaurant to the time they parted from it.
I’ve seen stewards become chefs. I’ve seen hostesses become casino/department managers. I’ve seen chefs leave and go onto to operate in bigger and more prestigious restaurants. I’ve seen bartenders and servers finally finish their degrees and graduate out of the service industry finally landing themselves one of those so-called ‘real, adult jobs.’
Consequentially, it can be safe to say that St. James Gate proved to be the catalyst for many of these cases, myself included. Without The Gate, without the positive support from everyone that came through there, I never would have learned the true nature of this business and what it means to be a chef. Nor would I have ever met so many great individuals many of which I still consider some of my closest friends. I cannot speak on every Gator’s behalf, but I’d reckon most of us would look back at our time at The Gate and remember the positive impact it had on us, our careers, and our lives.
This Sunday, will mark the final day for the Sands’ first restaurant. But for us Gators, this Sunday marks the end of an era. The Gate and the monumental influence it had on so many of us will never be forgotten.