The Food and Beverage Crew: “THE BEST NUMBER FOR A DINNER PARTY IS TWO; MYSELF AND A DAMN GOOD HEAD WAITER.” - NUBAR GULBENKIAN
Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Cat Photography
For most people who do not have the benefit of a trust fund or a winning lottery ticket in their back pocket, finding a career that meets both needs and wants can be tricky. Waiting tables and serving drinks are jobs often viewed as stepping stones to something else. Who hasn’t known an aspiring actor paying the rent with tips or college students putting themselves through school—or building a beer fund—with part-time restaurant gigs? The very reasons that these jobs attract people on their way to elsewhere are also the inherent benefits some say encourage them to embrace a full-time F&B lifestyle. Servers and bartenders who make a successful career of it have a heart for people, a work ethic like none other (it is not easy), and the gift of gab. With its large number of restaurants and tourists, the Lowcountry offers the opportunity to choose an F&B lifestyle; and the profiles of a few who have done just that give us a peek into how the industry can meet many needs and wants.
Smokehouse & Holy Tequila
After doing all the things he was supposed to do—go to college, get a degree, get a good job—Mike Rogan needed a change of venue. “I came here on a whim. I had never worked an F&B job before,” he said. Longhorn Steakhouse on Hilton Head gave him a chance. “I started from the bottom. I was hosting, cleaning tables, and running food,” he said. “Then they gave me a chance to wait tables. I was horrible at the beginning. I was nervous—didn’t know what to say or how to say it. But I’m a sales guy, so I used some of that. I watched really good waiters do their jobs, and I kind of mimicked what they did. I think I’ve refined my skills pretty well now.”
Rogan works seven days a week, splitting his time between Smokehouse, where he has worked for five years, and one of the island’s newest eateries, Holy Tequila. “It’s a great opportunity,” he said of spreading his work week between the two restaurants. “It’s a good change of pace. The restaurants are totally different. One is smaller; one is bigger; one is smoked food and one is all fresh Mexican. It’s fun for me.”
Rogan says his long hours are all for one very good reason, “I have a one-year-old son, Zackary. He’s why I work so hard right now. He’s my life. He is part of every decision I make. I think of him before I do anything.”
The F&B lifestyle is giving Rogan the opportunity to raise his son in exactly the place he wants to be. “I’m excited for him to be able to grow up on an island. I grew up in St. Louis—corn fields, big cities, highways. Now he gets to grow up on an island. How cool is that?”
Santa Fe Café
After college, Santa Fe Cafe bartender Scott Goldberg worked as a security guard at Shipyard Plantation. It was a job that allowed him to keep his distance from most of the people who crossed his path. Hoping to increase his income, he was given an opportunity to step out of his comfort zone and go to work at Sticky Fingers (now Smokehouse). “I was terrified to even wait tables at all. I wasn’t a people person. I didn’t like to talk to strangers. During the first two months, I think I was probably a disaster,” he said.
My how things have changed. “I realized I like to talk. I like to get to know people. I love making friends,” Goldberg said. “At about the age of 22, I realized that maybe I had been hiding from that. I like getting to know people’s stories; it makes the job easier.”
Goldberg has tended bar and waited tables at Santa Fe Cafe, his home-away-from home, for six-and-a-half years. Even when he is not on the schedule, he finds himself at the restaurant, putting together wine and liquor orders or cleaning. “I’ve met some great people working F&B,” he said—“people who I have come to know as my family. As a staff, we have celebrated holidays and kids’ birthdays together; we’ve had vacations together. We’re very close. With that, we also fight like any good family; but at the end of the day, it’s all fine.”
It’s hard for Goldberg to imagine what else he might be doing. “If I could, I would be a writer,” he said. “I’ve written my whole life, so my dream is to be a screenwriter or an author.” Sharing his Brighton Bay home is his 10-year-old Doberman/Labrador mix Bailey. Goldberg may have stumbled upon just the right F&B lifestyle balance, along with a bit of inspiration for his next novel. Write what you know Scott.
Lisa “Bernie” Bernstein
CQ’s & Baby Cakes
Lisa Bernstein came to Hilton Head Island to visit her brother for four days and never left. “I literally mailed my house key to the movers and told them to pack up my stuff and bring it,” said Bernie (her preferred and well-known nickname). Well, she almost never left. That was May 4, 1994 when she started waiting tables and working in the office at Old Fort Pub. Bernie then moved on to CQ’s until 1999 when she moved away for a short time to pursue a more traditional job. It wasn’t long before she heard the island calling her back.
Bernie’s typical day starts at 6 a.m., baking cheesecakes for her own company, Baby Cakes, in her brother’s restaurant kitchen at Fat Baby’s Pizza, and ends late in the evening after waiting tables at CQ’s and a post-work drink or two at Black Marlin. Then she gets up and does it all over again. Her penchant for chatting up customers and making memorable evenings has made her a patron favorite, all while her cheesecakes are making their own mark on the local food scene. “I now have them in 24 restaurants, and I’ve never asked anyone to sell my cheesecakes; they’ve all called me,” Bernie said.
Bernie’s mini cheesecakes are the result of a surgery that confined her to home for a couple of months and left her bored and looking for something to occupy her time. “If I could do anything, I would be doing Baby Cakes 100 percent of the time. My dream is to have a dessert bar.”
The F&B lifestyle isn’t always easy, but it has its rewards. “Even if you work 24 hours a day like I do,” Bernie said, “I still try to enjoy life as much as I can.” As a matter of fact, she’s going on her first vacation in six years—to Hawaii. Aloha, Bernie.
The food & beverage industry on Hilton Head Island provides bartender Shelly Siefert with the family lifestyle that suits her perfectly. With a husband and two sons, ages 12 and 9, the three double shifts she works at Frankie Bones every week give her four days a week to play mom and run her kids to baseball. After working there for almost seven years, the staff at Frankie Bones has become an extension of that. “It’s a great company to work for; it has become like a family,” she said.
Siefert knows a little something about family businesses, having grown up in the slaughterhouse business, started by her great-grandfather 75 years ago and handed down through the family. “Growing up, that’s what we did; we worked for the family,” she said. Prior to moving to the Lowcountry eight years ago, Seifert and her husband owned a banquet and catering hall with his family in Cincinnati. Mixing business and family is in her blood.
If she weren’t bartending, Seifert would be somewhere in a kitchen cooking. “I love to cook. It was one of my hobbies at home,” she said. She plans on sticking around, however. The pain in her feet being the only drawback she can see that comes with her job, she loves what she’s doing. “I feel like I’ve got everything here, and I really enjoy the customers and all the personalities.”
Now and then Siefert lets her creative cooking juices flow, concocting one-of-a-kind drinks that are added to the restaurant menu. It seems, for now, she’ll have to stick with making her sons’ favorite pasta dishes at home. The F&B lifestyle suits the Seifert family just fine.