It was a scorching hot day in Forest Park and I needed something to eat and drink, but I wasn’t wearing a shirt or shoes. Fortunately, there’s an eatery that caters to the shirtless and the shoeless. It has a large menu and all the customers dine al fresco. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the staff that exchanges our damp dollars for delicious treats at the Park District pool.
Jamie Alonzo and Cathy Woods manage the concession stand, with Alonzo now in her 12th year. She recruits her crack staff members at the Forest Park Middle School. Alonzo runs the cafetorium there and her lunch helpers gain experience serving customers and running the cash register. When they reach 15, they’re eligible to earn minimum wage at the pool concession stand. Yearly 25-cent raises keep them coming back, and many sling hot dogs until they’re sophomores in college.
The stand is open from March to November, some days from noon to 10 p.m. The menu includes appetizers like popcorn, nachos and pretzels. Hot dogs and churros serve as main dishes here, with chicken nuggets being a staff favorite. Pizza is also a big seller and comes in three varieties.
Desserts are popular and Alonzo found herself “pumping out ice cream cones” for the No Gloves Tournament. Her piece de resistance though is the frozen bananas that she “hand dips with love.” To wash all of this down, the stand has two new slushy machines, featuring strawberry and raspberry.
For those who are on strict diets that forbid funnel cakes, the stand serves bagels on weekend mornings and has added salads with chicken strips ala fajita. Hot dogs remain the biggest seller, though, with the stand selling almost 100 per day.
Aside from the tasty food, the stand stresses prompt service.
“I hate lines,” Alonzo declared.
Some customers can be rude and some try to return their food after they’ve started eating it. The stand has a strict returns policy. If your ice cream falls out of your cone after you leave the window, they are not responsible.
Keeping the eating area clean of items like fallen ice cream is a must for a place that caters to the barefoot. It can be demanding work, especially when temperatures soar. However, Alonzo claims, “I get energy from the sun, the hotter the better.”
Now you know the names of the pool’s featured chefs and recognize the loyalty of their hard-working staff. We also learned that the middle school could be a great place to start a restaurant career.