'Part of the job': During high heat, kitchen workers sweat it out

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Erik Ziter knows how to handle high heat. He's around a 600-degree pizza oven every day at the Tyler Street Pizza House in Pittsfield.

The 95- to 100-degree "feels like" temperatures over the weekend only exacerbated his own personal heat index.

"I get here soaked, I go home soaked. We have a walk-in cooler, which feels good for a few seconds, then you come out and the heat hits you," he said on a brief work break Sunday afternoon.

At Otto's Kitchen & Comfort on East Street, the staff drank plenty of water and Gatorade during the hot spell to keep their cool while cooking up and serving breakfast and lunch to a packed house on Sunday, according to owner Luke Marion.

"It's a kitchen, it's summer and it's hot; it's part of the job," he said. "I urge my workers to stay hydrated. They're a dedicated group. They can handle it."

Otto's and Pizza House weren't alone in dealing with sweltering work conditions that many Berkshire eateries did their best to keep their employees comfortable during the hottest summer weekend in recent years.

The Berkshires missed an official heat wave by one degree. Sunday's daytime high topped 89 degrees at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport after reaching 90 Friday and Saturday. Three straight days of 90 or better constitute a heat wave.

What made the temperatures feel hotter was the very humid conditions measured by dew points between 70 and 75 the last three days.

Relief is on the way to start the workweek, according to the National Weather Service office in Albany, N.Y. Showers and thundershowers will roll in Monday afternoon and evening through Tuesday morning. Behind the much-needed rain is cooler, drier air for the rest of the week.

Good news, especially for area restaurants, two of which succumbed to the heat over the weekend.

On Saturday night, Tony Mazzeo, owner of Mazzeo's Ristorante, sent his workers home an hour early.

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"We were so busy early and all our reservations were here by 8 p.m. and the humidity was too much. I decided to close the kitchen at 9 p.m.," he told The Eagle on Sunday, when Mazzeo's is regularly closed.

Mazzeo says he posted online about the early closure and fortunately only a handful of walk-ins had to be turned away.

On Sunday, Timothy's Restaurant & Pizzeria on Main Street in Lee canceled brunch, as a handwritten note on the door stated their air-conditioning system couldn't keep the place cool enough.

Nevertheless, it was Sunday as usual for many other dining establishments, such as Haven in Lenox. The crowd was lined up out the door at midday, keeping the cafe and bakery staff in constant motion. Front end manager Morwenna Boyd says they were prepared to handle the heat and stay in the kitchen.

"At night, we dipped towels in water, put them in the freezer and the kitchen help put them around their neck," she said. "Also, if at any moment someone feels overheated, they can sit in the office with the [air conditioning] on."

Those without A/C looking for relief could turn to cooling centers in several Berkshire communities Friday through Sunday.

Usually closed on weekends, Pittsfield's Ralph J. Froio Senior Center on North Street was open for anyone needing a place to chill. Director Jim Clark says 26 people showed up Saturday, with far fewer expected during the four hours the center was open on Sunday.

Just up the street on the grounds of St. Joseph's Church, the annual Polish picnic remained a big draw despite the heat. Plenty of shade trees and huge tents kept the sun from beating down on attendees, volunteers and the headline entertainment, The Rymanowski Brothers Orchestra band.

Marie Kotowicz and Nina Mastrangelo working the Polish food concession were selling plates of kielbasa, golumpki, pierogi and kapusta as fast as they were dished out.

"I'm not surprised at all how busy we are; it's very popular food," said Mastrangelo.

Kotowicz added, "We made over 7,000 pierogis. tons of cabbage and golumpkis, too numerous to count."

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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