Isaac Vanderhorst, prep cook 

'If you could get a dollar for every biscuit you made, you'd be rich.'

click to enlarge Isaac "Ike" Vanderhorst, a longtime employee of Poogan's Porch, has made more than 7 million biscuits in his career by a manager's calculation

Jonathan Boncek

Isaac "Ike" Vanderhorst, a longtime employee of Poogan's Porch, has made more than 7 million biscuits in his career by a manager's calculation

In each installment of the Working Life series, a local worker describes what his or her job is like. The stories are taken directly from interviews and told in first person with minimal or no editing of the subjects' natural speech patterns.

There used to have been an elderly lady worked here, name was Albertha, and her and I used to work at King Charles Inn. I was a busboy, and she was a cook in the kitchen, and she used to make the biscuits. So one morning, two of the cooks didn't show up, and she was behind in work, so she got kind of panicky because she knew she had to make biscuits and get ready for lunch and breakfast that day, so she told my manager, she said, "Why don't you let me have Isaac?" She said, "I believe Isaac can help me with the biscuits."

So, you know, I was young, and she didn't really want to — like I say, when you don't have a choice, you don't have a choice, so you make do with what you got. So she said, "Isaac, come on in here, I've got to show you how to make these biscuits." She showed me how to make them biscuits, and I caught on real quick and fast, so that's how I started making biscuits, through her, and the she-crab soup, she taught me how to make that. But I was just a busboy during that time. I had worked at other restaurants, but I'd never had that opportunity to work in a kitchen like that.

When Poogan's Porch first opened in 1976, they served dinner rolls, not biscuits. They ran out of dinner rolls one day, it was a weekend, and there was no place open for them to go get anymore, and I offered to do the biscuits. At first, they'd said, "Biscuits? No," but well, this time they didn't have too much choice, so I went in and made the biscuits, and it jumped off since then because everybody liked the biscuits.

They never did order any brown-and-serve rolls after that 'cause I've been making the biscuits since. People like it. They were made from scratch, and they were fresh every day. The brown-and-serve rolls, you know, when they come from the store, you don't know how long they've been in the package, and sometimes we get them in here in big boxes, it sits for a while. But everybody wanted the biscuit.

The last manager, she said, "You know, Isaac, I'm going to try to find out how many biscuits you've made since you were here," so she asked me how many biscuits I make a day. OK, during that time, I'd make at least 20 pans of biscuits a day, and each pan has 35 biscuits on it. So she calculates from that time and asks me how many times a day, because I make it for the morning shift plus I make it for the night shift. So between two shifts, I fixed about 20 pans, and sometimes on the weekend it'd be more because we started doing brunch, so it was more biscuits. And then they started using the biscuits instead of using English muffins for the Benedicts, they started using that, so I had to make more. So that's how that got started. They've got the number somewhere, I don't know the answer, but it was somewhere in the millions of biscuits. [laughs] They always said, "If you could get a dollar for every biscuit you made, you'd be rich."

For me, for now, I come in at 8 o'clock, and they always have a chart on the board in the kitchen, and anything that they need made, they put it on my side of the board, and I go ahead and I make mainly the biscuits and the she-crab and stuff like that. Well, the biscuit is automatically, but the she-crab soup and the sauce, and other times I'll throw other things in there, you know, like if they don't have time to make it and it's on the board, I makes it. So that's mainly my job now. Usually by 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I'm through.

A lot of people always ask me, "What is the recipe?" OK, you can give a person a recipe to something, and if they ain't got that mold to make it — people come in, "Oh, I made your biscuit, but it wasn't like yours." You see, it's in my hands. I did it so long, I'm a master about it, so you're not going to actually get it.

Sometimes you can work with other people, other cooks and people around you, and it makes you want to just give up. I say that because they're not doing their part, so I've got to hold them up, and it gets tiring after a while. Certain people come in and they look at it as just making money. They don't care about the restaurant and the business in itself.

I'm dedicated to the job, and I have known other people that have been here and leave and come back and be shocked to see me still here. They say, "My God, Isaac, you still here? Oh my goodness." It's not the fact that I couldn't leave or wouldn't leave. It's just that there's something that holds me here as a family restaurant. Being that the restaurant is in a house, it makes you feel more at home.

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