Alexis Vergara, 23, a server and bartender at Tacolicious, begins his workday with a temperature check.
Then, it’s time for the heavy lifting – tables and chairs come out to the sidewalk, where each day he and others remake the restaurant outdoors. A path is cleared for pedestrians, the furniture is sanitized and cleaned, plants are wheeled in.
From Monday to Wednesday, Tacolicious can accommodate up to 60 people if all tables are at maximum capacity; on the days when that block of the Valencia corridor goes car-free, the number can go up to 75. Lunchtime crowds vary, but evenings are busy, with a waitlist that’s sometimes hours long.
Still, customers and revenue aren’t back to where they used to be, and the restaurant is working with 40 to 50 percent of its previous staff. This means Vergara and the other servers are taking and bringing out orders, bussing, cleaning, and bagging online deliveries, often working their tables alone for hours at a time.
When they’re not on the move, they’re cleaning laminated menus and safety cards, that must be wiped down after each use. Vergara works four or five shifts a week, some as a server, and some behind the bar, where his favorite margarita to mix is the habanero-infused Pación.
“People like chatting to their bartenders, about drinks and other stuff. And that’s something that can’t happen these days. When I have a free minute at the bar now, I’m putting together chips and salsa orders.”
Vergara moved from Puerto Rico to San Francisco in 2016, and works at the restaurant and as a massage therapist. His focus, in both his careers, is hospitality.
“I want to create an experience; I care that someone is having a good time. Even with the mask, they can still see half my face, and I want to connect with them. When you come into the restaurant, you’re joining our circle. We want you to have fun. We respect you. But you have to respect us too” he explains.
Of course, people slip up with masks and social distancing. Occasionally, a customer can be defiant, deliberately trying to skirt the safety measures. But by and large, folks have been happy to stick by the rules, grateful to be out in the world. “Still, telling drunk people to wear their masks isn’t always easy,” Vergara adds.
Vergara also works as a massage therapist, using his flatmate’s car to take his massage table and healing skills to loyal customers. But even with two jobs and some savings kept away, the last few months haven’t been easy.
When the restaurant closed down in March, Vergara went on unemployment, which was delayed by three months – an issue that has impacted thousands of California residents.
“That was a stressful time. I was going through my savings, calling the unemployment office every day, twice a day.”
With no family in the city, he missed having a safety net he could rely on. He also misses his mother, who lives in Mexico, and is recovering from cancer. Because she’s immunocompromised, visiting her isn’t an option right now.
Still, he’s not one to let circumstances get him down. He hangs out with his three roommates at his house near 24th Street, plays bass and reads books on anatomy and health. And finally, there is his skateboard.
“It’s how I feel alive,” he says.
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