Jeremiah Chatham is the kind of person who looks far too gregarious to be wearing a suit. He has an open face, an easy laugh and is prone to a quizzical, smiling expression that’s at once friendly and disarming.
Chatham is the recently appointed executive steward at Harrah’s, which is a deceptively vague title for a hard-to-define job.
Basically, Chatham is supposed to make sure everything food-related stays clean — the dishes and cutlery and glassware and trashcans. Where cleaning and food service intersect, well, there will Chatham be also.
But really, it’s more than that, and the job is ever-changing, as Harrah’s grows and spawns new eateries, a new employee dining room and new buffets, to name a few.
“Every time I’m able to quantify it and define it, then we just grow,” says Chatham.
As the property grows ever upward and out, even the walls aren’t guaranteed to always be in the same place, a consequence of working in the middle of a massive construction zone.
“I remember when I first started here we’d have this pathway that we walked through. One day, I’m finishing shift and the pathway that I used to take now had walls,” says Chatham, by way of illustration.
Part of the challenge, in that kind of environment, is ensuring that the behind-the-scenes stay that way — in the back of house.
“I think one of the most interesting things that I’ve learned about is the logistics of trash. That you see a trashcan, and when you’re in a resort operation the trashcan is never full,” says Chatham. “You don’t think about where your trash goes, but there is a major process to it, there are all these steps that we have to take to make sure that it’s out of sight and out of mind.”
And the composting of all the food coming off the many restaurant lines is another, major operation entirely. It’s all sent to the Cherokee landfill for repurposing into compost, and Harrah’s is the top contributor.
And as new restaurants keep moving in, one of his top priorities is streamlining how all the cleaning, composting and trash pickup is done.
Sure, Paula Deen’s Kitchen has totally different forks than The Noodle Bar, but they should be washed the same way.
“The ultimate goal is to get every outlet essentially to run the same way, so that when we walk into Paula Deen’s, it should be just as clean as the food court,” says Chatham.
Doing that, he says, requires an intimate knowledge of how every process works to begin with, which is why his favorite part of the week is losing the suit and donning a work uniform, getting into one of the restaurants alongside his 70-person team and working a shift with them.
“I like it because it lets me see what problems we have procedurally,” says Chatham. “You need to be administrative and be operational at the same time. You need to know how to balance that.”
A balancing act is really what his job is becoming, a balancing act on a steep learning curve.
There has never before been an executive steward at Harrah’s Cherokee. This is the make-it-up-as-you-go phase. And in the midst of that, the job is doubling and, by the end, the stewarding staff will probably double, too.
Although it may be his first time in this job, Chatham knows this business back to front.
He’s been working in food service for a decade, in every position from the very front to the very back of the house. He finds something of a poetry in how he’s come full circle, from his first position as a dishwasher back to this job, a kind of king of the dishwashers.
In fact, he started at Harrah’s as a server, with no view towards bigger things. But after putting in his ten years on the line, this was the next natural progression.
Most of Harrah’s guests have no idea that Jeremiah Chatham exists, but without him, their experience would be a lot different in seemingly small ways that make a big difference.
A masterful game of musical chairs