Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

It was getting late on Friday night when a weary Russ T. Blade sat on the hutch above my desk, dangled his legs over the shelf and fired up a smoke.

Russ T., as Produce Aisle readers know, is my miniature, imaginary produce manager pal who appears to me now and again with ideas and suggestions.

Me: Kinda late for you, Russ T. Isn’t your shift over by now?

Russ T.: Not on Friday, man. Not now that we’re into mid-summer. Friday is my late night.

Me: I gotcha. Produce managers are sometimes directed to work one night a week. Keeps the clerks on their toes, right?

Russ T.: Well, that’s part of it. Some managers pick an easy night to satisfy that requirement, like a Monday or Tuesday. But, Friday is the best night for a produce manager to work.

Me: Is this one of those, it’s-good-to-get-out-of-your-comfort-zone messages?

Russ T.: Partly. I’ll get to that in a minute. I work late on Fridays until about nine or 10 p.m. That gives me a chance when I arrive to look over the weekend order that my assistant, Simka Rosa, wrote earlier in the day. This gives her experience in writing the tough order and I can still, uh, call the distribution center with any adjustments.

Me: So it’s about Simka getting out of her comfort zone?

Russ T.: That, and more. By working Friday night, I can crack the whip, you know? I work elbow to elbow with the clerks I normally don’t spend much time with. A good opportunity to squeeze in a little training. I also spring for supper on the run; burgers, which makes them happy.

Me: I bet by working Friday night your Saturday morning stock conditions are stellar.

Russ T.: OK, so you guessed my ulterior motive. You know how produce managers walk out the door every night, delegating tasks? When I’m playing the role of one of the closers, the delegation has a much sharper edge. We get an awful lot done on Friday night, which puts us in great shape for Saturday, and the entire weekend.

Me: So you’re dialed in, in several ways. That’s great. But giving up your Friday night? I bet that also earns a little respect from the crew, showing them you aren’t afraid to tackle one of the busiest nights of the week.

Russ T.: I think it helps, showing ‘em I’m not a slacker and can still throw freight with the best of them.

Me: Sort of an exercise, in everyone getting out of the comfort zone?

Russ T.: Produce summer volume means we have to move people around all the time, man. As much as possible, everyone should know what to do in every shift, on any day. And that includes yours truly.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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