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Baltimore’s Front of House Workers Share Their Stories from Behind the Scenes

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Richard Afrookteh

The Bygone

Richard “Rich” Afrookteh at The Bygone in Harbor East came into the hospitality field in a roundabout way. First, he practiced law; then, he became a business owner, running a bus company that transported students to private and parochial schools.

But in 2018, Afrookteh realized it was time to pursue his dream of working in the restaurant field.

“I decided that I’m going to do what I really wanted to do and be in the food industry,” he says.

Today, at The Bygone, he serves a range of customers, from groups of teenagers celebrating birthdays to prominent diners with deep pockets. Recently, he waited on a couple who enjoyed a meal with pricey bottles of Champagne and red wine. At the end of the $3,000 meal, the husband tacked on a $2,500 tip.

“I was floored,” Afrookteh says. “I still have the receipt.”

Afrookteh, who grew up in Catonsville, had always been fascinated by food, influenced by his dietitian mother, TV cooking shows, and watching his grandmother cook. After high school, he worked as a server in Ocean City, where he experienced one of his most embarrassing incidents, at Mario’s Italian Restaurant.

Afrookteh was dishing out scoops of shrimp scampi from a serving dish to a table of diners when a man began gesticulating, causing the dish to tilt and drip some of the gooey contents onto the man’s toupee.

“He had venom in his eyes,” Afrookteh recalls. “It was mortifying.”

That didn’t deter the 19-year-old from wanting to pursue a hospitality career. However, his father, a general surgeon, “never supported that kind of notion,” he says, so he went to the University of Delaware and then University of Baltimore School of Law before working in the Maryland Office of the Attorney General.

When Afrookteh’s children arrived—two daughters, now 28 and 25—he went into private practice. After he left the bus enterprise, he saw an opening for a server at the now-closed Alexander Brown Restaurant in downtown Baltimore.

“I applied online, and they hired me,” he says. “I thought, ‘I guess I can get back in the front of house.’”

When the restaurant closed during the pandemic, Afrookteh, who lives in an Inner Harbor condo, headed to Antrim 1844 in Taneytown and The Valley Inn in Lutherville before landing at his current post in April 2021.

“When I arrived, I was nervous about The Bygone, wondering, ‘Is it going to be corporate and stuffy?’” he says. “But the Atlas Group was very welcoming.”

Afrookteh, who wears a blue dinner jacket, black slacks, bowtie, and white shirt for his role, arrives at the restaurant’s 29th-floor dining room by about 3:45 p.m. on workdays to prepare for pre-shift meetings and the family meal, when staff members share food before their shifts begin. Dinner service starts at 5 p.m.

“Once I’m finished, I’m home at 11 p.m. or midnight,” he says. “It’s a long day.”

The effort is worth it if his diners enjoyed their meals. “I don’t think I do anything unique,” he says. “I try to allow people to experience the feeling they want in that moment. I want them to feel that No. 1, they’re welcome, and No. 2, that this is a place where they are special.”

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