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Restaurant dads serve up life lessons to their kids

Ethan Sanchez, left, 13, works with his father John at his restaurant Slice Deli and Cakery in Fountain Valley.

Ethan Sanchez, left, 13, works with his father John at his restaurant Slice Deli and Cakery in Fountain Valley.

(Scott Smeltzer / Weekend)

They wash and dry dishes, chop vegetables and serve food.

One boldly experiments with menu options, and another sells baguettes and pastries to customers.

When not in class, finishing homework or participating in extracurricular activities, these four Orange County teens are working entry-level restaurant jobs, gaining important lessons in food service and hospitality — as well as life.

And they have important bosses to report to — their dads.

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Ethan Sanchez is standing before a sink, filling it with hot water and a few drops of dish soap.

It’s a Thursday afternoon and the Tustin teen knows he has to wash and dry the dishes and put them away before the dinner rush at his father’s Fountain Valley restaurant, Slice Deli and Cakery.

“When we get busy, he knows to jump right in,” says his dad, John-Michael Sanchez. “He sees all the trials and tribulations and knows about the inner workings of how a restaurant works.”

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The newly opened Slice, which carries smoked meats and cakes handmade and decorated by John-Michael’s fiancee, Natalie, is after-school training in the restaurant industry for Ethan.

When he’s not scrubbing dishes, Ethan sits with his dad and learns about business operations like payroll, vendor payments and inventory management.

Ethan Sanchez, 13, works in his father's restaurant Slice Deli and Cakery in Fountain Valley.

Ethan Sanchez, 13, works in his father’s restaurant Slice Deli and Cakery in Fountain Valley.

(Scott Smeltzer / Weekend)

To share what he has learned working alongside his dad, Ethan presented a seven-minute lecture on entrepreneurship to his classmates, and he discussed with them the daily activities in a business where his father has to divide his time in among cooking, book-balancing and recruiting like-minded staff.

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“I’ve learned how he turned his hard work into a reality,” Ethan says. “Two years ago, this was just an idea. He made it happen.”

At a chop station in the Slice kitchen is Stephanie de Leon, who has tied her denim apron and is cutting Brussels sprouts while her father, Julio, sharpens kitchen knives.

Julio, Slice’s executive chef, got the restaurant industry bug when he would watch his father cooking in professional kitchens. Julio, who went on to hone his culinary skills at Solita, a Mexican restaurant in Huntington Beach, wanted Stephanie to get hands-on kitchen experience twice a week. When not running food to tables, Stephanie, 13, will help make bread or bake cakes.

She says she has learned the difference between baking and cooking and appreciates the creativity her father applies to dishes.

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“At her age, I was doing exactly what she is doing,” Julio says. “I started from the bottom and worked my way up. She’ll jump right in to learn.”

Julio De Leon, the executive chef at Slice Deli and Cakery, works with his daughter Stephanie at the restaurant in Fountain Valley.

Julio De Leon, the executive chef at Slice Deli and Cakery, works with his daughter Stephanie at the restaurant in Fountain Valley.

(Scott Smeltzer / Weekend)

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It is estimated that 500 to 1,000 people a day visit Moulin in Newport Beach for omelettes, quiche and crepes.

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The epicerie (grocery store) and cafe, which opened nearly two years ago, was founded by Laurent Vrignaud, a native of Montmartre, France, north of Paris.

When he was 12, Vrignaud was serving customers at his grandparents’ market.

Now, his daughter Kaya, 15, is working in the cafe’s boulangerie every Sunday.

Kaya, a freshman studying acting at the Orange County School of the Arts, in Santa Ana, is responsible for serving food, sweeping floors, packaging pastries and restocking shelves and refrigerators with French snacks and drinks.

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“I like serving people because they learn new things about French food and I get to teach them,” Kaya says. “I love that social aspect.”

Kaya says she also likes working with her father.

Julio De Leon, the executive chef at Slice Deli and Cakery, works with his daughter Stephanie at the restaurant in Fountain Valley.

Julio De Leon, the executive chef at Slice Deli and Cakery, works with his daughter Stephanie at the restaurant in Fountain Valley.

(Scott Smeltzer / Weekend)

“It’s special to me that she works here because she gets to know where I came from,” Vrignaud says. “This is the closest she can get to French culture, and it’s extremely important to get kids working young. Money or no money, she would be here, working.”

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Working in a restaurant offers lessons that can’t otherwise be taught, Vrignaud says.

The ability to handle people and problems improves daily when interacting with customers, Vrignaud says, noting that he relies on Kaya and the 40 employees to make decisions on their own when trying to satisfying customer requests.

Kaya will also work at the second Moulin, which will open off Forest Avenue in downtown Laguna Beach this summer.

“If things don’t work out at OCSA, she’ll be here full-time,” Vrignaud says with a smile. “But after this shift, we’re going to the movies.”

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Roman Jimenez has been cooking since he was a teenager, working in restaurants ranging from a neighborhood pizzeria to In-N-Out Burger.

Now the executive chef of Macallans Public House in downtown Brea, he is exposing his 16-year-old son, Roman Jr., to the lessons one learns when working at a restaurant.

“He would always come home and I’d want to see him, and he’d teach me new things that he came up with in the kitchen,” Roman Jr. says. “I was nervous at first but it was actually fun.”

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The younger Roman, who works in the kitchen, either developing twists to menu items or putting plates of food onto trays, remembers the toughest workday with his father.

It was the Brea Bonanza Days Country Music Festival, and visitors from all over were rushing to Macallans for a bite to eat. Roman Jr. worked for 12 hours, serving food, cleaning tables and dealing with customer requests.

“I have such respect for him,” Jimenez said of his son. “His multitasking is tremendous, and he’s learning so much about teamwork and team-building.”

For fun, father and son worked on developing a flatbread pizza. They mixed figs, cheese and prosciutto together and coined it The Fig and Pig.

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Despite his apparent ability to create clever culinary menu options, Roman Jr., a junior at Katella High School, says he’s interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement.

And that’s OK with dad.

“He’s a good kid,” Jimenez says. “I’ll be happy with him being a cop.”

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Kathleen Luppi, kathleen.luppi@latimes.com

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi

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