Tales from the Diner

I have a secret. I have kept it for years. It is the kind of secret that you don’t dare tell, if not for fear of the possible consequences, for fear that no one will listen. Both outcomes are unwelcome and damaging in their own right.

My friends and I have shared this secret and all its grisly details over eager sips of coffee after long overnight shifts, our voices heightened in our rage and our exhaustion. I had hurriedly whispered conversations with my coworkers during hasty smoke breaks and bathroom trips. These were girls with whom I had nothing in common – save our employment and our secret. Sometimes we exploded. Sometimes we wept.

It is not that I am weary from this business of silence; I have not broken. But I realize now that I have no reason to let my anger lie dormant. The injustice has become unpalatable.

For five years I worked at a popular all-night diner in Hadley, Massachusetts. For five years I was sexually harassed on a near-daily basis.

My introduction to this behavior was almost immediate. Within my first month, I found myself being yanked to the back room of the kitchen, towards the walk-in cooler. After a week of my soft-spoken refusals, Emilio, a cook nearly twice my 18 years, intensified his efforts. Like a predator, he waited until the midpoint of my overnight shift, when everybody else had gone home and my manager’s attention was held rapt by the late night tv reruns.

He strode out from behind the line, blocking the narrow path between the dishwasher and the refrigerator, “C’mon, baby. Let me give you a kiss.” It was not a suggestion.

His hand, which he had reached out in some semblance of an invitation, closed around my wrist. His grip tightened with every step I dragged my feet. His fingers were snakes: coiled and unyielding. I tried hurriedly to regain my strength and my voice as we neared the walk-in cooler.

Finally, with the space between me and the cooler reduced to only two feet, I found myself: “Fuck off!” I pulled away and raced out the backdoor of the kitchen where I was met with the few lingering tables in the dining room. I searched their faces, wondering if they had heard my shout. Their expressions remained unconcerned as they giggled drunkenly over their milkshakes. I am not sure if I was relieved.

I crossed the dining room towards the front of the restaurant, my hands still shaking behind my back. I found my manager’s body draped across the counter, her unwavering stare focused on the years-old show that filled the unpopular 3 am television slot. Her laughter came out in harsh cigarette-stained breaths.

“Emilio’s such an asshole,” I tried to sound casual, “he just dragged me to the walk-in to try to kiss me.”

“What a pig,”  Jessi scowled before turning her attention back to the tv.

I was relieved to find that the incident was passed on to the senior manager, Nikos. When I came into work the next evening he sat me down in the furthest booth and asked me to recount what happened. His brown eyes wandered as I repeated my story. When I was finished, he looked back to me and said, “Well, I really do apologize for that.” It was the same practiced line he used with unhappy customers. Still, I was grateful for the acknowledgement.

The owners never spoke to me regarding this, although I presume they witnessed everything when they checked the cameras’ footage from that night. Emilio continued working his shifts.

The truth is that there was such consistent harassment from the cooks that in the next few months it became background noise. I grew accustomed to being greeted by a chorus of “mmmmmmmmm” when I entered the kitchen, complete with licked lips and hungry stares. There were days that it was more bothersome than others. Some days the cooks would be angry and tell me, “no tienes tetas,” when I asked for my tables’ food. My days were so commonly punctuated by stares and sexual comments that I wrote it off as part of my job; it was just another bad tip or difficult customer. I spent shifts coaching a coworker on the many reasons she should leave her abusive boyfriend. I told her to stand up for herself and that there was no reason for her to endure the things she had. Then I walked over to the window to pick up my food, narrowly avoiding having my hand licked. There wasn’t so much as a flicker of awareness of my hypocrisy.

After a year of working there, I found myself in another precarious situation. I had graduated to daytime shifts and worked with many of the diner’s veterans. Carlos, who was at least 40, had taken an instant liking to me. “Hey precious…” he cooed when I arrived in the morning. “For you? Oh yes, anything!” he simpered when I asked him a question. I told myself that if I regarded his flirting as being harmless, it could only be harmless. I was too new to the shift to realize that he was purposely doing this in front of the waitress he was sleeping with.

One day, Carlos followed me into the walk-in cooler and set his gaze firmly on my lips as he approached me. I could hear the prep cooks snickering outside as they turned the lights off.

Then on.

Then off.

Carlos stood between me and the door. “Can I bite your dimples? I love your dimples, Maria.

I declined nervously, his pockmarked face only inches from me.

I didn’t tell anybody immediately. Part of my assimilation into life at the diner had been realizing and accepting that things like being trapped in the walk-in sometimes just happen. When I mentioned it to Jessi and Nikos they seemed unfazed. At the moment it seemed that anything regarding Carlos was deemed as part of his relationship drama, of which I had unwittingly become a part. Days later I was asked, “If you don’t like Carlos, why did you grab his dick?” I had no idea where that rumor started. No one was interested in what happened to me. Carlos was not punished.

Eventually in my tenure I became less complacent.

On my 21st birthday I reluctantly agreed to work the 6am shift for Yael, the head waitress and my neighbor. I was greeted warmly by Marcos, Yael’s husband, who was cooking that morning. He congratulated me as his arm found its way around my shoulder, pulling me in for a hug. I reciprocated unenthusiastically. As I tried to release the embrace he pulled me closer. He relinquished his hold only when his lips had found my neck, leaving a trace of saliva that I could not unfeel.

“Elias, can I talk to you?”

The owner looked up from his paperwork expectantly.

“It’s about Marcos.”

He furrowed his brow as he agreed to speak to me in the office – a rare occurrence for the waitresses.

After listening to what had happened, he sighed. “This isn’t the first complaint I’ve had about him.”

“I know.”

“What do you want me to do?”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. “Elias, that’s Yael’s husband. They have three children. Yael is my friend. Don’t ask me to make the decision about what happens to her family.”

He nodded gravely and agreed.

Nothing changed. Nothing, unless you count the small addition to the lightswitch by the walk-in cooler, that now prevented the light from being turned off. But when had anybody at the diner ever been afraid to harass us outside of the dark?

It has been nearly two years since I left that job, and there is hardly a week that has gone by that I did not consider writing this. As I became more serious in the endeavour, I began to consult friends and other former coworkers. Together, we unearthed a mountain of experiences that were both horrendous and routine:

“One time Nikos made a joke about raping me.”

“One time Carlos oinked at me for an entire eight hours.”

“The other manager, Bobby, used to constantly text me, ‘show me your tits.’ He even wrote it on my facebook wall. When I told him to stop he told me I probably had gross elephantitis tits.”

“The cooks used to refuse to give me my food unless I showed them my tongue.”

“Marcos used to massage Emma even though she told him to stop multiple times and one time he bit her neck.”

“Carlos kissed my neck.”

“One of the cooks cornered me in the walk-in and when Bobby found out he told me to get over it.”

“Both the owners, Elias and Andreas, used to laugh at the comments the cooks would make about the waitresses’ bodies after they left the kitchen.”

I have always known that this behavior was unacceptable. I have understood that it’s unfair that it happened and I have wished that something had been done about it. However, I was also a young adult with no support from my family, and I prided myself on my grit. I was grateful for my reasonably-lucrative job, where I had become a shift staple, in a difficult economy. I naively accepted the entire package.

Recently, though, I’ve realized that I don’t actually owe my previous employers anything. After five years of good, full time work, they were not doing me a favor by continuing to employ me; it was only a natural business relationship. I believed that because they liked me, I must not betray them. But now I ask myself: how much could they have really liked me if they allowed their staff to repeatedly sexually assault me?

I can aver that the environment at the diner is no different today than it was when I left. My silence will achieve nothing except to protect and perpetuate the things that are allowed to happen there. I refuse to participate any longer.

Some days I am ashamed that I did not stand up for myself. It is difficult to forgive that weakness. But I am doing my best to make up for it. I am shouting now that I have the strength to shout. I am encouraging everyone else to share their stories. I have a beautiful, impressionable 16 year old sister. And for god’s sake, the lesson I teach her is not going to be one of silence.

Note: all names have been changed as a super nice favor, but if you’re interested, I’d be happy to disclose the information privately.

UPDATE 10/29: My amazing friend Jaime Young has written an account of her own experiences, which I highly recommend you read. Check it out. This girl is my sounding board and plays a very central role in encouraging others to find their voice.

UPDATE 10/30: Another waitress has bravely shared her story.  Also, I find this one particularly hard-hitting, as she explores not only the sexual harassment, but the really awful way the owners treated the waitresses. Oh, and yet another waitress has spoken out.

UPDATE 10/31: Another account has come to light, this one also exploring the verbal abuse and poor food safety. 

UPDATE 11/1: For everybody following these updates, this is a must-read account by a former manager. And this one is an account of a waitress who started working there in 2007. This is not a new issue.

UPDATE 11/2: The accounts of the terrible working conditions just keep coming.

UPDATE 11/3: And yet one more  former coworker has added her voice.

UPDATE 11/4: After an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, another waitress has stepped forward.

UPDATE 11/6: Another former waitress has written her account, trying hard to emphasize that nothing ever changed.

Thank you to everyone for the support. It is so appreciated.

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92 thoughts on “Tales from the Diner

  1. yourenotalone

    I live in the same area and know exactly what place you are talking about. You are not alone. Speaking up about this just saved other people from this happening to them. I’ve seen the ads for jobs there and having worked at another overnight diner. I have considering applying. Thank you for speaking up. Thank you for sharing your secret. Owners shouldn’t allow this to happen. The neglect of them not doing anything to protect you, in my opinion, is worse than the harrassment itself. It is their duty to make sure all employees are safe and they are not doing that. I feel for you. I’m so sorry for everything you had to go through.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Maegan

    Thank you so much for writing this. The last restraunt I worked at made me swear off waitressing for life. I’ve been bar tending and waitressing since sophomore year of highschool. 10 years ago. I made awesome money and had the best shifts, but the harassment in the kitchen was out of control. We would get cornered by the dumpsters taking out the trash, and they wouldn’t let us pass while coming closer and saying, give me a kiss baby, one kiss no one will know. In the kitchen, I’d reach for food and get my hand grabbed or pet, we’d also get trapped in the cooler, if there were two people in the cooler they would talk about it and catcall about the girls in the cooler, who just hadd to be kissing. They were disgusting. When the chef would go too far, grab our butts, talk about our chests, or make disgusting comments (he was 30 years older than us at 18 and 20) when we told managers, they would find reasons to fire the waitresses. After being cornered and groped by the chef, I went to my bosses boss. And was told, I’ve known him for years, I doubt that would happen. I went to the owner with 4 other waitresses. They asked him. He denied it. We all magically got fired one after another. Never again. I’d been harassed at every restraunt I’d ever worked at. But there was the worst. Thank you for posting. Something HAS to be done.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Bryan Moser

    I know what you are talking about… I used to work as a cook for a diner in Philadelphia, PA… to many types I saw managers with other cooks or even or dishwashers talking and pointing at woman and how they wished they could have a “motor boat”… you are not alone and more people should speak up. I reported it and a manager ended up firing me 3 weeks later all because I asked them to back off cause I felt they crossed a line. They said “I didn’t know how things worked there” that the girls were “used to it” I even had one female manager tell me “if I don’t get harassed at least once a day I feel off”… peach on and make sure your sister does not know silence

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I am sorry to read this, its not something that anyone should go through but please tell me this blog is not the only way you have shared this information? Your inaction with regards to this could result in an escalation and the next girl may not escape from some of the circumstances you described above. Please report it to the proper authorities or this behavior will not stop as its not be challenged.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jude

      What proper authorities? The ones who are just as likely to laugh and tell her she must have deserved it as to do something halfhearted (or to sexually harass her themselves)? No cop is going to do ANYTHING for these women. The only way to affect these sexist assholes is to drive them out of business by withholding your money.

      Like

  5. DinerProblems

    I waitressed there and reading this, even with the fake names, i got chills because I know exactly who is responsible for what. It’s sickening and at the end, when you write of staying because you felt like you “couldn’t betray them”, I am right there with you! Those managers do nothing to help their staff and that place is run like a zoo and the waitstaff is the attraction; Whether it be about cooks “cooing” at them or managers laughing about people’s weight. That place made me sick to my stomach every time I had to go in for a shift. The day I didn’t work there anymore, the biggest smile crossed my face and I started chuckling to myself. Even though I was looking at two weeks afterward I was unemployed with no idea what was to come, I couldn’t have been happier. Good for you for finally speaking out!

    All it takes is a voice.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Melissa

    You are a brave woman to break your silence and speak about this. It will make a difference and help other girls and women. I’m sorry this happened to you. Unfortunately this is all too common in the workplace, walking down the street, in women’s daily routine. It’s not okay and don’t feel bad for not speaking about it earlier, you were surrounded by the diner’s unhealthy abusive culture and that is where you got your paycheck. Good for you for leaving that place and sharing your story and letting others know they should not have to put up with those behaviors! That is not an easy thing to do. It’s courageous and thank you!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Christine Peace

    Thank you for sharing, so sad there are so many of us that can relate to this kind of harassment in the service industry. How do we stop it, how do we stop these bullying, controlling owners & managers?

    Liked by 2 people

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  13. Anonymous

    So, all y’all have written about this incredibly well, and it makes me want to DO something about it. I’m thinking either a letter to the editor of the local paper (I’m a resident of one of the surrounding towns), or, printing copies of these (with permission) and passing them out at the entrance to the parking lot of the diner.

    I know you and the other writers still probably have people there that you don’t want hurt. I get that. It would make sense if you said no please don’t retaliate or use my writing as part of a direct action, and I would respect it.

    But seriously, there’s got to be something for us type-a-with-burning-rage types. What do you think?

    Liked by 2 people

  14. All respect is self-respect. How much respect someone shows for you is how much respect they have for themselves.

    You were able to leave that place, and those people. They have to live with themselves.

    Yours are the better shoes to be in.

    Keep writing!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  15. dylan

    No wonder I never like Emilio. An old housemate of mine had the exact same problem when she was working at Maple Farms. She’d come home every night and vent to me for a good half hour about it. Told her she should probably leave since it was making her miserable, but she’d just get high and say she was miserable for other reasons. It’s something we as humans do all too often: when we’re feeling isolated or vulnerable, we hide from it and pretend it’s alright. Even if forced to admit it, we make an excuse for our pain and avoid dealing with the real problem.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Good for you. I was in HR. A woman came to me about sexual harassment. She accused a very important manager in the business. I ordered an investigation. That day she quit out of embarassment and four months later I lost my job. There’s a reason managers dont act.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Miguel.

    Thank you or sharing this and I hope that with your step out of silence will continue to motivate other people who have worked there to speak out as well.

    Best wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. It certainly looks like your speaking out is helping many, many others! Good for you, good for all of you. It looks as though the diner is getting some backlash from you all sharing your stories – GOOD! It seems as though they had more than enough opportunities to correct the problems.

    Liked by 1 person

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  20. Denise [But First, Live!]

    I hate this. I hate this so much… I hate that women have to put up with stuff like this everywhere and that our voices are continuously shut down.

    I am very happy you decided to move on from this. Nobody should have to deal with this crap. 😦

    And I hope more women (and men) who’ve experienced this can also speak up.

    Well wishes to you! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I live no where near your place. Infact not even the same country. But all that you have experienced, I have observed almost everywhere around me. At times it’s subtle. At times it is downright shameless. Being a student, I have seen more of the subtle side which ultimately will take extreme forms like rape. The most disconcerting of these is the way boys in relationships treat their girlfriends. Respect? Absent. Independence? Absent. Care? It is more of control than care. And the worst thing about it is the nonchalant attitude. But the way you are standing up is something that makes me hopeful. I really hope that there people like you on the opposite side too, on my side, on the masculine side. Because this is fight against ignorance of and compromise with sexual harassment.

    Liked by 2 people

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  24. This is my favorite part: “Note: all names have been changed as a super nice favor, but if you’re interested, I’d be happy to disclose the information privately.”

    As someone who worked in the hospitality industry in her youth, I’d say that some type of sexism/harassment was the norm, and because of that we accepted it or tolerated it or ignored it or protected ourselves.

    In my mind, even the smallest hint of sexism/harassment is the seed to all of it; so thank you for giving voice. I see the ripple effect has already found you and will outlast any negativity that comes from speaking out.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. rebecca

    Your speaking out is powerful. I was harrassed by a high school math teacher almost thirty years ago and many of the feelings are the same. At the time, I was told by police and school officials that I’d be put on the stand and asked if I ever “partied with boys.” They made me feel worse, the harassment felt wider ranging. How sadly eye opening for a young woman. Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree that a big ripple effect follows!

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Elizabeth

    Thank you for sharing your incredibly personal story! It’s not easy to share such deep and emotional experiences and you did it with style and grace! As a survivor of sexual assault I know how easy it is to blame yourself and turn your pain and feelings into self inflicting wounds, instead of placing blame on those that deserve it. I live very, very close to this diner and although I’ve only eaten there once or twice, it will be my last! I will spread the word and raise awareness to this incredibly disgusting and painful issue!! I hope that you find a way to heal and appreciate your courage more than I could express!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Nancy

    Someone should contact The Daily Collegian about this. UMass students are the bread and butter of this establishment. The owners of the diner deserve to lose their business over this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Over what? Innocent until proven guilty. This has NOTHING to do with the owners. They can’t fucking watch everything. And they weren’t told when things were going bad. When they were told, they fixed it. Then weren’t told if the fix worked or not. So who is to blame? The owners for not doing anything wrong or the lying blogger who wrote more than one blog acting as a different waitress and her few friends that wrote blogs too? They won’t press charges because what they’re doing is a felony. Prove me wrong. Stop believing everyone who cries victim. Especially women. It’s sexist and ignorant. Women are always crying victim. And are instantly believed. The men cry victim and you call them bad names. It’s disgusting. Find out your facts before you take a side based solely on gender.

      Like

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  31. Catherine

    Being from Leverett and attending high school in Amherst I am very familiar with this. It’s a very rare occasion when I eat there. The staff makes me uncomfortable, the restaurant is dirty, and overall the food sucks. I am appalled to read about what’s been happening behind the scenes.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Melissa

    I can’t thank you enough for posting this and for all of you sharing your stories. I grew up in the South Shore of Massachusetts and have many friends who attended UMass. My sister attended Smith. I work in a restaurant in New York now and also deal with sexual harassment almost daily. Reading all of your posts, I feel lucky that what I experience at work isn’t this bad, though I have left work in tears due to sexual harassment. Before my restaurant job, I worked on and off at my dad’s law office in Boston for 12 years. He represents many survivors of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, including against employers. If any or all of you would be interested in getting some legal advice, feel free to contact him:
    Mark F. Itzkowitz
    (617) 695-1848
    mfitzkowitz@hotmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

  33. lissamass

    This has been my experience in almost every place I have worked. Including being told I was hired because I’m pretty and to expect the boys to “be a little flirty”. Like I should be flattered for being assaulted every time I walked into to kitchen.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. jcr

    Thought on “Tales from a Diner”
    I am so saddened to read about the incedence that you were victum to at the Route 9 Diner. I hope you were able to get the support needed by friends and family to overcome this challenging ordeal. I would also like to extend support through a program called Community Crisis Responce Team. We provide support for those affected by trauma, crime and criminal behavior. You can read more at http://www.takingtimetoheal.org. You can also give this information to any others that may have been affected by similar occurences for support.
    Thank You

    Liked by 1 person

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  37. GO FOR TWO SPORTS

    so it was so bad you stayed for 5 years! There was no other place you could possibly work at??? I think all of you are lying, if it did happen you obviously liked it in some way or else you would of took another job somewhere else.. You were a waitress, there are thousands of waitress jobs in Western Ma.. Plus you stayed for 5 YEARS! Now of course “everyone comes out with their own story” Just looking for a pay day.. It’s a little dinner not IHOP ur not going to get that much money

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well that’s a pretty offensive comment. But let me make this clear: if I were looking for a payday, then I would have filed a damn long time ago and wouldn’t have used fake names in this post. This post was written explicitly for my blog. My only intention was to try to encourage and support girls (my sister, specifically) who have or who may encounter these sort of situations to speak up. There are plenty of reasons I didn’t speak sooner, and plenty that may keep other girls from doing so and I want them to know that people WILL hear them and support them.

      So save your conspiracy theories and sit down.

      Like

    2. Sports Retorts

      Dear Go for Two Sports,

      Your Gravatar profile says you are the most interactive sports website in the world, but when I googled your name there was nothing in the first 50 hits. Are you sure you’re not just a conceited internet loser who likes making male privileged remarks with his failed website as a nickname? You aren’t really in good enough shape to play sports, are you?

      Like

    3. I saw a comment from marie on Facebook specifically asking if anyone supporting her was going to try to legally punish the owners. She she is lying when she says she’s only doing this to help support girls. It’s a revenge scheme. And they are all lying. Every blogger. They did want it. If they didn’t want it, then they made it seem like they did and so it is THEIR fault it happened. They will not press charges because what they’re doing is a felony. False accusations about sexual assault.. Smh.

      Like

  38. Kudos to the author for her bravery in opening up.
    Not that it makes any difference or needs any validation, but I can confirm that the author was indeed both a student at UMass Amherst and an employee at the diner; I met her at school and saw her waitressing. I am not currently affiliated with UMass Amherst nor the Route 9 Diner. I don’t know if the statute of limitations has expired, but if the author seeks damages or anything and needs a character witness, I can validate this story 100%.

    Like

  39. Amanda Drane

    Marie – my name is Amanda Drane and I’m doing a story for the Valley Advocate on sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. I’ve been interviewing local servers and restaurant workers and am hoping to ask you a few questions. Is there an email address you can share? Mine is adrane@valleyadvocate.com and my phone number is (413) 464 2859.

    Like

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  41. Shout it sister. I too worked at a local bar in the kitchen and the men felt like I owed my body to them. One cook unzipped his jeans trying to sex me because I looked like I was a”freaky type” another tried several times to kiss me and give me shoulder massages. Taking random pictures of me. Another patron asked for a hug. He was an older gentleman (I use that term loosely) do I thought “why not?” Well he went in for a kiss and despite my head turns and attempts at shoving him away the bastard was pretty strong. His tongue tried to caress mine. Eww. I’m so glad that part of my life is over.

    Like

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