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Sandwich studies: How Bagel & Deli employees memorize the menu

By Kelly Burns, Staff Writer

Bagel & Deli is a madhouse on Friday nights.

Dozens of college kids pack the small restaurant and yell their orders to the employees. The employees rush around behind the counter, slapping ingredients onto bagels and making multiple sandwiches at a time. They don't have time to stop and figure out what goes into which sandwich.

But they're still expected to know every recipe.

The small shop is covered in pictures, posters and descriptions of all of the bagels. The Pizza Bagel, Messy Katie, Jeopardy Bagel and Pig in the Mud are just some examples. Without looking at the description, no one would have a guess as to what is in most of them.

More than that, most of the recipes contain several ingredients and are completely different from the other bagels.

A Pizza Bagel is on a plain bun, with pizza sauce, provolone and pepperoni. Pretty simple.

A Crunch and Munch, on the other hand, isn't as easy to remember. It's an everything bagel with turkey, smoked cheddar, Parmesan peppercorn, honey mustard, lettuce and Doritos.

Even regular customers might look at the menu and find a new bagel they didn't know existed.

Junior Natalie Boyle doesn't think she could handle the variety.

"Oh God no, I could never work there," she said. "I would mess up all the details of the bagels."

Javier Salas and Adrian Kimmett, though, are veterans in the Bagel & Deli world.

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Salas has three years of experience behind the counter, and Kimmett has four.

Now, making the bagels is almost second nature to the pair, and they have no trouble putting together bagels even on the busiest of nights.

"Now it's like, people ask me what's in things, and I'm like, 'You know, I couldn't tell you. I just grab things at this point,'" Salas said.

That wasn't always the case.

The application process at Bagel & Deli is relatively laid back. Usually, an applicant comes in when one of the owners is around and is interviewed on the spot.

"I think most people know someone who works here," Kimmett said.

"It's basically a recommendation at that point," Salas added.

If the applicant is hired, they have only an hour-long training session before their first shift.

"We try to train people in the morning or afternoon when it's not as busy," Kimmett said, gesturing to the near empty room around her.

"I got thrown right in on a Friday night," she continued with a laugh.

At no point during this training, though, does the new employee learn about the bagels.

That's part of the reason that Bagel & Deli tries to work their new employees during slow hours instead of busy Friday nights like Kimmett's first shift.

They have time to look and see what goes into each unique bagel without a dozen drunken college kids yelling at them.

To help with the learning process, the employees use a technique that many college kids are familiar with.

"I was always taught, from the first shift, I had to just make flashcards," Salas said.

Kimmett and Salas agree that the more an employee studies and learns about what goes into the bagels, the easier their job gets.

"You just treat it like another class," Salas said. "So then on busy nights with 30 people screaming at you, you don't have to keep looking up what's in the bagels."

Many of the new employees quiz themselves in order to become as familiar with the bagels as veterans like Salas and Kimmett are. Even new bagels pose no problem to workers after they learn the menu.

The new bagels are few enough and are around for, generally, a short enough time that employees don't worry about memorizing them.

The easiest way to learn, Kimmett and Salas said, is simply through experience.

"It's easier once you start making them with your hands rather than just reading them off," Kimmett said. "It's a different kind of memory."

Even with the challenges of memorizing the dozens of bagels that Bagel & Deli sells, Salas and Kimmett truly enjoy where they work.

"I love this job," Salas said. "I don't think I would ever want another job."