by Nat Frothingham
Glenn — we raise a glass to you for who you are and what you have achieved — as a graduate of Montpelier High School and the University of Vermont with a degree in French, as a high-school French teacher for 22 years, and for your illustrious career of more than 50 years as a waiter, beginning when you were 13 years old as a busboy at Howard Johnson’s and from there to 17 different restaurants in Montpelier, Northfield, Waterbury, Stowe, Burlington and the coast of Maine.
Tosi, a popular (and often requested) waiter today at J. Morgans in the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier, describes himself as “a World War II baby.” Tosi’s mother was from a small town in Alsace-Lorraine near the French-German border. His father was an American GI who worked as a stonecutter in his brother’s sandblasting operation in Barre.
As a boy, Tosi watched his mother struggle with polio. She was in an iron lung for three months. “She had one of the worst cases of polio,” Tosi said. “But she had three young children and she overcame the odds. She had parallel bars and braces on both of her legs. She learned to walk all over again.”
Soon after his mother recovered, Tosi’s parents divorced, and his grandmother came from France to live with the family. “I taught her how to speak English; she taught me how to speak French,” Tosi related. It was Tosi’s love of French that propelled him to UVM, where he majored in French, minored in Spanish, and spent his junior year studying French in Paris and Nice.
Tosi grew up in Montpelier. “We lived in a second-story apartment on Elm Street. It was called Elm Street because of the big, beautiful elm trees. There was a big elm in front of the house, and there were Baltimore orioles that would build these big hanging nests. I remember State Street being lined with those elm trees.
In the 1950s and 1960s there were plenty of kids in Montpelier. Tosi was one of 900 kids packed into the building that still houses Montpelier High. “Growing up on Elm Street there were kids in every house: three of them, four of them, the Cody’s — seven of them, seven in one family, four in another. In the Meadow, every house had kids. We would play in an old field. You could easily get three kids together to play a pick-up football game. That’s a demographic that’s different.”
It was that changing demographic that led to lower school enrollments and, in turn, to Tosi teaching French part-time and then losing his teaching position altogether. But Tosi had never given up his career as a waiter.
Based on his genuine pleasure in telling it, one of Tosi’s favorite waiting-on-tables stories is about serving a formal dinner for dignitaries from UVM at the Thatcher Brook Inn.
“This one woman was wearing a lime green outfit. It was very becoming on her. As I came over with my tray of drinks, she turned and her elbow hit my tray, and I dumped a whole glass of red wine down her back.”
Tosi said again, still defending himself. “She hit me. I just dumped it right down her back. I brought it down and washed it, but I ended up having to pay for her whole outfit — 80 bucks,” Tosi remembered.
Tosi said he’s not sure that the dining public really understands the hard work of waiting on tables. He’s worked in restaurants that suddenly fill up with people. At Villa Tragara, for example, “The place was more than busy,” Tosi said. At another big restaurant in Stowe Tosi said, “On some Sundays there were helicopters that would land in the parking lot.” The Quarterdeck Restaurant in Bar Harbor, Maine, would be open from 5 to 9:30 p.m. “At 5 p.m. there would be a line out the door in front of the restaurant and you couldn’t see the end of it. One afternoon we had a line of people waiting to get in when the Rockefellers parked their boat at the pier down by the waterfront, and the boss said ‘You’ve got 17 of the Rockefellers. I want you to take good care of them.’ To which I replied, ‘I’ll give them great service just like everybody else.’”
On a recent Sunday he arrived for work at J. Morgan’s at 7 a.m. The Sunday brunch opens at 8 a.m., but coffee had to be made, everything had to be stocked up, and the reservations had to be in place. “A lot of times you don’t have a break. After Sunday brunch is over, we have to take down the brunch and put it away, clean the chafing dishes, remove the dirty linen, then vacuum the Montpelier Room. It was 10 minutes after 4 p.m. when I finished my shift.”
Waiting on tables used to be pretty straightforward. “When I first waited on tables there was coffee and decaf and Sanka in packets. For tea you got a tea bag. There weren’t any of these herbal teas.
Nobody asked for skim milk. There was milk. Beer? We carried a couple of brands. Now, there are 17,000 different kinds of beer. And there was no such thing as a vegetarian or a vegan.”
A waiter is constantly on move Tosi says. One night at The Shed restaurant in Stowe the waiters wore pedometers. “On that particular shift I walked four and a half miles. In my career I’ve probably walked around the world,” Tosi grandly concluded.
Talking broadly about his service as a waiter, he said.
“You’re on stage. You have to be congenial, knowledgeable. It’s what you project. And you develop a closeness to people,” Tosi said. “Dealing with children, losing elderly people, that’s all part of it. There was one person who came in regularly,” Tosi said. “She was in her 90s. She died when she was 100. One day her son came in and said to me, ‘She just loved coming in. She just loved having you wait on her. She loved coming here because of you.’”