It is a rarity to work anywhere for 40 years. On average, millenials will work at four different jobs by the time they turn 32. Lorenzo Acuna is from a different time, a time when people were loyal to their workplace and in turn their workplace was loyal to them. Earlier this year Acuna celebrated 40 years as a server at the famed St. Elmo Steak House, a rare feat in the service industry, where many people get burned out due to the stress level and abnormal hours. For Acuna it is the life he has always known and loved.
He started out serving in the ‘70s at a now defunct Indianapolis restaurant, La
our. Of his beginnings at La Tour, Acuna says, “My Italian friend Franco persuaded me to start at La Tour. He was an old guy who taught me the ropes. At La Tour our chef was Wolfgang Puck. This was in the early- to mid-seventies, before Puck became famous.” La Tour was a popular white table cloth French bistro downtown Indianapolis in the ‘70s and Puck’s jumping off point in the United States. He served as chef there for a few years before he headed to Los Angeles to become chef and part owner of Ma Maison and the rest is history. For Acuna it was the beginning of a long a fruitful career of serving Indianapolis. From La Tour he went to work at The Columbia Club, The Skyline Club, Chateau Normandy and The Canterbury. But, St. Elmo is his home. Recently Acuna got the chance to see the first chef he worked with, “When St. Elmo won the prestigious James Beard award a couple years ago Wolfgang Puck was [also] one of the recipients. I had not seen him in 40 years. It was nice to see everyone’s lives come into almost full circle.”
“I have regular guests that I have waited on for 40 years,” he says proudly. St. Elmo has many return customers, and so, for a man like Acuna — a fan favorite — his customers have become a part of his life, “I have seen them go through all stages of life, from birthdays and graduations to retirements. I have seen babies grow up and become regular customers.” He says this is one of his favorite things about his job and he has created these loyal customers through his skills and personality.
It would be easy to mistakenly think Lorenzo has kept his job simply by keeping his head down, doing his work and never leaving; there are workplaces in the world where you can just get by. But, St. Elmo hasn’t become one of the most famous steak houses in the world by settling for mediocrity, the company sets a high standard for its employees and Lorenzo exemplifies these standards. During his 40 year tenure, Lorenzo has become an iconic figure within the establishment, with many customers requesting his service and returning simply to have him make their meal more than simply food and drink. St. Elmo’s co-owner, Craig Huse, says Lorenzo, “Sets the bar for our entire staff. He hustles, but maintains complete control. He never gives up a shift and he always stays late to handle guests arriving around closing time. He lets new servers know that he’s a St. Elmo veteran, but he balances that out with teamwork and help.”
When I ask Lorenzo how he has been able to continue in this industry for so long without wearing down or getting burned out, he responds, “It’s simple,” he says, “I love my job! It is easy to do something that brings you joy … Ultimately, working at a place that has the highest standards, best quality food, top notch service and is a true historical institution gives me wonderful satisfaction in life.”
His years of hard work have granted him the ability to not only make a living doing something he loves, but to spend time outside of work doing the things he loves. Huse says “He’s the ultimate family man to his wife and daughter. Lorenzo exercises frequently through the week to stay in shape (like waiting tables isn’t enough exercise – right?) … He simply has a motor that doesn’t stop.”
When we look at the service industry, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who have been serving our city for longer. Lorenzo has been honored for his service with a ROSE Award; the most prestigious award a person in the service industry can be bestowed. According to the ROSE Award website, “ROSE Award honorees are true goodwill ambassadors for their companies and the city. We hope you will take the opportunity to recognize your employees or volunteers who exemplify service excellence.” Huse has nothing but positive words to say about Lorenzo and he points out how important this is for our city, “People like Lorenzo, who’s served thousands of locals and visitors to our city since 1976, add to the character and hospitality [for which] Indianapolis is widely known.”
When I ask Lorenzo if he originally planned to make serving his career he says, “Only in my dreams, and I guess my dream came true … My 40 years have been such a pleasure at St. Elmo. I am looking forward, towards my next 40!”
Make your way through St. Elmo’s recently renovated, historic doors to allow Lorenzo to continue living his dream by showing you a great time and serving you his favorite item on the menu, “Cowboy cut ribeye! With the bone, lots of marbling and lots of flavor.”