Melissa Elsmo

Hecho en Oak Park has the best tortillas in town in my opinion;” said Darien Marion-Burton over lunch at the Lake Street taqueria, “this place reminds me of The Buzz Café in a lot of ways because its friendly and laid back.”

And he should know–Marion-Burton eats at the Buzz Café three times a week and has been working at the south Oak Park coffee shop for 13 years.

Marion-Burton, who possesses a gregarious nature and easy charm, also had an eye for wealth accumulation at young age. As a high school student, he was no stranger to the dearth of jobs for teenagers in the area. When he overheard a fellow OPRF student chatting about jobs at the Buzz Café, however, Marion-Burton boldly sent an email inquiring about potential employment opportunities.

“I am a pretty good at reading people;” said Buzz Cafe owner, Laura Maychruk, “and some applicants are more earnest than others.”

The aspiring restaurant worker assumed he would need to wait before being considered for a job, but an interview came almost immediately. Marion-Burton blames his sister’s hair appointment for being late to his interview, but despite his tardiness Maychruk hired the 14-year-old on the spot.

 “I was the worst dishwasher;” laughs Marion-Burton, “I think that was because I just liked talking to people too much.”

Once Marion-Burton focused on becoming an exceptional dishwasher he picked up speed and embraced the importance of attention to detail. Before long he was clearing tables and being encouraged by management to take customer orders.

During his junior year a spring break scheduling snafu put Marion-Burton in the position to take over a full shift waiting tables. He was self-critical and felt like he could have done a better job, but tips and compliments started rolling in and the next week he was promoted to server.

To this day Marion-Burton, now 27, works Saturday and Sunday mornings at the Buzz Café.

“My customers watched me grow up at the Buzz Café;” says Marion-Burton, “the relationships I have built there are valuable beyond money.”

His work at the cafe helped cultivate valuable soft skills like adaptability, reliability, and timeliness. Those skills transferred to other aspects of his life–Marion-Burton is a graduate of Augustana College and has a career in business and marketing. He is currently rebuilding the Buzz Cafe’s website. He credits his restaurant work with teaching him to be a good and ethical person with a strong work ethic.

I owe everything to Laura,” said Marion-Burton of his boss, “she took a risk on me at a critical time in my life and the Buzz became like home to me.”

Maychruk’s ability to see potential in Marion-Burton when he was a high school student ushered him into a secure environment where he could grow up while becoming more accepting of himself and others.

“If you can believe it there was a time I worked at the Buzz when I was straight and wore baggy clothes,” laughs a sharply dressed Marion-Burton, “and now I am gay, well-dressed, and looking for a husband; the Buzz helped me through all that.”

Maychruk is committed to providing first employment opportunities within the community and has offered more than a few second chances over the years, too. Creating an environment where young people can grow and develop is core to her personality.

“At heart I am a mother,” said Buzz owner Laura Maychruk, “It’s a family set up at the Buzz and I am the mom; that’s what makes it work.”

When it comes to waiting tables Marion-Burton says folks fall into two camps.

“Either you’ve done it before and know how hard it is or you haven’t and you should,” says Marion-Burton, “I think everyone needs to work a service level job at some point.”

Marion-Burton, who also owns his own brand marketing and design firm, admits that some customers express surprise that he “still” works at the Buzz Café after all these years, but he thinks that attitude comes as a result of long-standing assumptions people make about restaurant servers in general.

Burton notes people often look at servers and see individuals trying to make a quick buck or facing life challenges. They often assume servers are in a bad spot or lack motivation, but he knows restaurant employees are complex individuals who have diverse passions and considerable ambition.

“The truth is servers are business owners, artists, students, activists and so much more,” says Marion-Burton, “everyone has something unique going on in their lives and that makes restaurants magical places to work.”

As we savored our shrimp and steak taco lunch at Hecho en Oak Park Marion-Burton shared his thoughts on what servers expect from customers.

Darien Marion-Burton’s Customer Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO voice your opinion. Special requests are not a nuisance. We really want you to be happy so if you want something cooked crispy or want an ingredient substitution–speak up!
  • DON’T lose track of your kids. Restaurants are busy places and kids shouldn’t be roaming freely in that sort of environment. It’s a safety thing.
  • DO tell us if you have a food allergy. We’re not looking to add medical emergencies to our agenda any more than you are.
  • DON’T move the tables. We know its hard to resist, but restaurants are laid out for proper flow and ease of movement. Let us move things around for you.
  • DO make a personal connection. Servers are people lovers and regulars are a real thing. We remember positive interactions far longer than negative ones.
  • DON’T go in the kitchen. It seems silly, but it happens all the time.
  • DO order the BLT at the Buzz. Or anything with bacon on it. Buzz bacon is the best!

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