When Robert Baca was 11 years old, he wanted to be a busboy.
"I went to my friend, Bob Jacobson, who owned Rick's Rancho Restaurant in Santa Maria, Calif.," Baca said. "I told him I wanted a job."
Not old enough to work in the restaurant, Baca was paid to sweep the parking lot. He became a busboy at the age of 15, and, in one year, was appointed maitre' d.
"I couldn't believe it," Baca said. "The boss asked me if I had a suit, I said, 'No.' And he told me to get one because starting Monday I was his new maitre' d."
The mustachioed Baca started his culinary career as a fry cook. By the age of 19, he said, he was pretty much running the place. But it came at a price.
"I quit. I got burned out," Baca said.
But food was still the focus of Baca's being. He worked for a produce company (which he later bought) delivering fresh product by day and, at his friend's request, went back to work at Rick's Rancho by night.
Baca later worked a short time in Sacramento for his friend Jacobson as assistant executive chef at the Sierra Inn.
"I had just arrived (at the hotel). I hadn't been in my room 10 minutes reading over the restaurant menu when there was a knock on my door. It was the general manager. He told me I was the new executive chef because he had just fired the other one."
Moving to Reno to operate the restaurant inside The Days Inn, Baca expanded his skills to restaurant management.
"The restaurant was losing $15,000 a month. I paid $10 a month to lease the restaurant. The Days Inn had a policy the restaurant must be kept open. After I took it over, it stopped losing money. The employees were ripping him off."
It was around the first of September that Baca met Janice McIntosh, director of the Carson City Senior Citizens Center. Soon after, he was the center's new chef.
Baca sees the somewhat structured meals at the senior center as a new challenge. He must now follow guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Division of Aging Services when preparing meals.
"You must have one food item a day with vitamin C; 2-3 ounces of protein; three vitamin As a week; 3-4 ounces of fruit and a vegetable," Baca said. "It's fairly simple to do, but I'm still learning and I love it."
When Baca began, he was serving about 120 each Meals on Wheels and congregate meals in the dining room at the center. Now, each number has increased by more than 30 percent.
"Each day we have new people coming in from Reno, Douglas County, who heard about the meals by word of mouth. And it's because of the great help I get from my crew - Tracy Tedesco, Connie Bachstein, Aleena Rednose and Juan Carlos Molina. They are just great."
"I'm real happy here," he said. "I come out and talk with the seniors. I love talking with them. Their knowledge is great. They're talking from experience. And I want to hear negative comments as well as positive. I plan on staying for a while."
Baca gives credit to local grocery stores for donating food to the center. He's also happy many food companies are offering more healthful options such as low-sodium soups.
"And I like to talk things over with my crew to see how we can improve on things. It's great here."
-- Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1223.