It’s another busy night and orders are already piling up in the kitchen. I go to grab the last order for Table 80 and there, as always, is Sumi Tissera, sweating from the heat, and clearly swamped. He gives me a quick smile and winks. “One last rush, kiddo. Let’s kill it.”
That was Sumi, the hardest-working man in the kitchen and the most precise, every plate he prepared looking as gorgeous as it tasted delicious. He was an artist at work, the Michelangelo of Mediterranean food.
“He was my partner, and he was the best,” said Betim Morina, head chef at Colossus Greek Taverna.
Over his 12 years in the restaurant, it was Sumi that everyone counted on, for infectious energy, getting it done under pressure, or just knowing how to put a smile on a face when things were at their most chaotic.
It was a Friday night a few months back and I had booked off work to spend some time with my family and to later visit some friends. I was driving to my friend Julian’s house when the text came in.
“Did you hear the news?” my co-worker, Katie, asked.
At first glance, I wondered what ridiculous tweet she might have seen from some outrageous celebrity. I could wish, after I got to the second sentence, that it had been something as silly and frivolous.
“Sumi passed away,” it said.
My heart sunk into my stomach. I couldn’t process the news. It didn’t seem possible. It wasn’t long since I had last seen him. I took it for granted after every shift that I’d soon be seeing him again.
Then Katie called, we talked, and there was no denying the terrible reality.
I immediately turned my car around and rushed to the restaurant. Inside, some of my co-workers were sitting at tables, crying and hugging, trying to console each other.
Sumi really was gone. A heart attack had taken him in his sleep, after his only day off that week.
There hadn’t been a chance to say goodbye. I didn’t get a chance for one last laugh. I didn’t get to sing S.O.B. with him one last time.
“We truly lost a brother, one of the best friends a person could ask for,” said Stoycho Dimkin, manager at Colossus.
“I wish I had a chance to laugh with him one more time, to hug him, to talk about the (New England) Patriots’ game one more time. He loved them so much,” he said.
The next week of work felt like a year. The funeral was hard. I needed to see him one last time. We wanted to tell him we loved him, that he could never be replaced, that the hole he left behind in that kitchen, in our hearts, could never be filled.
Now, four months later, Harold has taken on the responsibilities at Colossus that once were Sumi’s. Harold had worked beside Sumi for seven years. You can see in his eyes how much it pains him to be in the position of succeeding his old friend.
When I was working and the restaurant was loud and busy, I used to expect a laugh with Sumi every time I went up to grab food from the kitchen.
Now, with every order I pick up, I think of the friend who isn’t there, the jokes that will never be told, the songs that will remain unsung.
And I remember my friend.