“You don’t know how to sweep,” Sam Rethmeier of République in Los Angeles recalls Bobby Stuckey telling him at Frasca. “How can you possibly expect to know how to take care of guests if you don’t know how to sweep?” Rethmeier was 26 at the time and, self-admittedly, cocky. “I said, ‘Oh yeah, well, show me how to sweep.’ And he started sweeping, in a full suit, and I thought, shit, he’s right. I had no idea.”
When Rethmeier and his wife were expecting their first child, he targeted Bobby Stuckey’s Frasca as the place he wanted to work. “I chose the best restaurant in Colorado, and once a week for three months, I would show up at Frasca and ask if there were any openings.
“I started as an expediter, and I trained seven people who then went on to get promoted faster than me. It was probably sixteen months in, that they finally said, Fine, would you like to be a server?” Stuckey was the first Master Sommelier Rethmeier had met. “He worked the floor six days a week—he was in the trenches with us. He would run food and clear plates. He became an MS to be a better hospitality professional and would say the title is useless without understanding the mechanics of hospitality— that empathy is, and should be, the leading tenet of how we deal with a guest.
“He also helped me appreciate that there’s something really magical about taking a step back and taking your time. You don’t have to be a Master Sommelier in two years. Who cares if it takes you a decade? Do ten thousand hours of this, and then become a sommelier. Why are you jumping ahead, man? Learn how to sweep. Learn how to clear a table.”
Stuckey himself recalls working as a busboy in the mid-1980s at C. Steele in Scottsdale, Arizona, for Tom Kaufman and Chrysa Robertson, later of Rancho Pinot fame. “Each time I was ready for a new career step,” Stuckey says, “I would reach out to Tom, years after I had left working for him, and he would tell me, ‘Yes, do this, think about this, go for that. Yes, take that leap.’ He was someone who I could keep bouncing ideas off of for years. That’s affected how I try to be a mentor. If my former employees want to reach out to me, one year, ten years, or twenty years later, I’m there for them.”
Stuckey also remembers a sign in the kitchen at The French Laundry in Yountville, California, where he worked with Thomas Keller and Laura Cunningham. Treat it as if it were your own, and one day it will be. “If you look at your job with the view of ownership while you’re still an employee, you will reach to greatness more often. I always recommend to people that if they can’t find a work environment that has a great mentorship, then they should leave.” He also suggests looking for mentorship outside the restaurant industry. “There’s a lot of great advice that you can get from so many other people, but you need to be receptive. To have a mentorship, you have to be comfortable hearing things that might not be part of your agenda at the moment.”
This story appears in the print issue of October 2021.
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