Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! Part 1

Posted on January 27, 2012


One of the goals that I wanted to set for myself and monitor with this blog was my progression up the ranks in my original job- as an Associate at Panera Bread. Panera Bread is a now nation-wide chain of Christian-owned bakery-cafés that serves sandwiches, soups, salads, and pastries. What it all boils down to is that it is fast food, but it’s certainly much healthier than picking up a Big Mac or Jumbo Jack. I could go into my personal favorites on their menu, but it’s always changing anyway and I already post too often about stuffing my gullet on this blog.

Panera was the first actual job that I ever worked. I joined up at the Costa Mesa location on 17th Street, just a short bike ride down the street from my house on 18th Street. I started working there just before the 4th of July in the summer of 2007, as I was going into my senior year of high school. My best friend had gotten hired there as well, though it was a rare day when we got shifted together. I mainly worked in the dining room, asking guests (not customers, says Panera, “guests”) if they needed anything else or if I could take their trays, wiping off tables once they had departed and dropping off things in the kitchen for washing. Occasionally I was put on the cash register to ring up guests’ orders. We had regulars that were always there- two I remember well were Loy, an old man who rode his bike everywhere and smoked a tobacco pipe, and Paris, a young Newport mom who always brought her toddler daughter in.

I made $7.50/hr until California bumped up minimum wage to $8.00. I only worked two or three days a week, generally whenever I didn’t have marching band practice or performances. I don’t think my paychecks ever broke the $300 mark. In any case, I did a terrible job of saving them in a time when I didn’t have to pay for anything at all. I blew almost every single one on my then-girlfriend or video games or iTunes. Only as I was graduating high school did I start saving up, anticipating I’d need some funds when I got to college.

I quit in August 2008, a few weeks before I moved to San Diego. I came back again the summer of 2009, after my first year at SDSU, and worked for a summer. This time I was working to pay rent for a house I wasn’t even living in yet, and everything I made went into that. I resumed being an associate from May 2009 to August 2009, and left making $8.50/hr.

Initially, I held off on getting a job, but I eventually drifted back to Panera once I realized that there was one not terribly far from SDSU. Grossmont Center in La Mesa is home to the busiest Panera in Southern California, raking in around $10,000 a week. It was twice as busy as the first store I worked at, and twice as stressful. Now that I wasn’t living at home, I was working to pay rent and sustain myself. I got a raise up to $8.55/hr (every penny counts) when I began working there in November 2009 and promptly started trying to get myself promoted. I trained in every ‘module’ possible, so that I could do everything in the store and make myself an invaluable part of the store. Which I did; managers liked having me on because I could hop between every station. Even if I wasn’t great at everything (especially not the line), I was still useful. I became close friends with all of my coworkers and pretty much killed myself working 30hrs/wk.

When I initiated my blog and first posted about Panera was about a year ago; I had hopes of becoming an Associate Trainer, and from there entering management. I figured that I could do everything in the store, why wouldn’t I get promoted? But after slugging away at the place for almost two years, I wasn’t any closer to getting a promotion than I had been. By the spring of 2011, I was frustrated with the job. I enjoyed working there, yes, but I didn’t make enough to support myself and was constantly tired whenever I wasn’t at work. It was physically demanding and ultimately, unrewarding. I was also due to be moving into a more expensive living arrangement, and possibly getting a car which would need to be maintained and fueled. My paychecks rarely saw the $400 mark, and after an extensive hiring spree, Panera decided to continuously cut my hours basically because there were too many employees. Normally, such an honor is reserved for doing something stupid and having your hours cut. Hmm…

To top it all off, I was still only making $8.80 after three years. I got a raise in November 2010, but come on…

After a nudge in the right direction by a certain special someone, I decided to take up a second job and see if said job would be something more enjoyable (which I’ll cover in the next post). I eventually left Panera in August 2011, having accumulated collectively just over 3 years of food services experience. Which, in turn, proved to be extremely helpful in getting that second job, as a Front Desk Clerk at the Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter.

Panera was a fantastic starter job, and I can officially say that I washed dishes to help myself get through college to my kids and grandkids at some point. I can use it as a springboard into quite a few jobs, since I was never fired and never quit on bad terms with my managers. Hell, I still visit them and they’re still excited to see me (at both the Costa Mesa and La Mesa location). Three years of work experience is quite hefty on an application, too.

I can at least thank Panera for that.

Myself and Mike at Panera, Costa Mesa, July 2007

Posted in: Money, Work