Off Script: Where everyone knows your name

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After 21 years of serving the community, Tony and Susan DeLa’O closed down the Tomats kitchen for the last time on Sunday, March 29.
Courtesy photo[/caption] I have been having bittersweet emotions about Tomats restaurant closing their kitchen this Sunday. I’m so excited and happy for them on their next chapter. But, it was a home away from home for me. It has been since high school when they first opened their doors to the public. My junior year of high school I was rocking the babysitter hustle all over town. Thanks to an opportunity to work at the Karen Lynn School I had met a lot of families, and with a rate of $1 an hour, per child (or whatever you wanted to pay me beyond that) I was kept busy. Susan DeLa’O, one of my clients, offered me my first job as a hostess on their opening front of house team. And from there on out, if I wasn’t doing something for student government, I was seating guests, bussing tables and eventually serving on the weekends. Tony and Susan taught me a lot about the industry and truly set me up for success as a server during my college years. There are two things that are still vividly alive in my memories. One is Tony’s voice telling me, “Cuidado Crystal, everything in the kitchen is hot.” The other was the importance of not wasting anything, and grabbing a rubber spatula to make sure to scrape everything from the dressing or ketchup container before rinsing it out and throwing it away. I cannot express how often those two things still come to mind on a weekly basis. It also has led to an ability to make more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches than my family has thought possible from an almost empty jar. After I moved back to Winters as an adult, I found solace and company dropping in to sit at the bar. There’s something special about being able to walk into a place and being comfortable, feeling like you belonged. That’s something that Susan instilled in me, and all her staff. Everyone who walked through the door was treated like they were family, and eventually you learned their names, what they liked and you could cater to them.  She called it the locals hidden gem, and you certainly could walk in and see the same folks enjoying time and a meal together on any given day. The funny thing is as an 18-year-old teenager, I wanted to be in a place where no one knew me. And yet, after moving back as an adult, Tomats is where I often went because I knew exactly who I was going to see there, and was always happy to see them. Thursday evening was my regular time slot, when I was able to make it in. The last time I went in for a beer with my friend Ray Vasquez we had a serious conversation about where we would start meeting up next. It was one of those moments where you jokingly laugh about something, but then realize that you’re actually quite serious about it. We went through a list of potential bars and places where one could enjoy a beer, relax and not be surrounded by tourists on a Thursday evening. The list was soon shortened to two potentials. In the fall, after all of this social distancing is over with, if you see us out on a Thursday night, you’ll know where we decided on. Walking into Tomats was like the Cheers theme song, but in real life. I’ll certainly miss it.]]>

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