Editor’s note: With ABQ Beer Week in the rear view mirror, we are finally getting back to our Unsung Heroes Series. We asked each of the breweries around town to nominate one or more employees who go above and beyond, but don’t necessarily get the recognition of the owners and head brewers/brewmasters. Today, we meet up with the man the owners of The Blue Grasshopper said saved their Rio Rancho location while they were busy opening up their new taproom near Coors and Montano. — Stoutmeister
Kenneth ‘Skip’ Galarneau is currently the bar manager at The Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub in Rio Rancho, and when I sat down with him, I had one goal in mind (OK, aside from drinking a good beer), and that was to understand what defines an unsung hero. What is the essence of being an unsung hero? I started by asking Skip about his past and how he had found his way to the present.
“In ’99 I started working at Turtle (Mountain Brewery), April of ’99, it was like a couple of weeks after it opened. I was just about to turn 21 and it was a good time to get a job at a brewery,” Skip said.
At this point I interrupted Skip with a bunch of questions about the early days of Turtle Mountain. I won’t bore you with that, but rather skip (no pun intended) ahead.
“I took a break over there and went to the coast in Newport, Oregon,” Skip said. “I worked at the Rogue Brewery out there … cooking again over there at the bayfront taproom. It was cool … just thousands of fish and chips and they had pizza over there, too, (plus) burgers, just a huge variety of food. That was awesome.
“Came back to town when my little brother was getting out of school and he actually got a job at Turtle, also, as did my older brother, Adam. He’s now a regional manager over at Bosque. We’re beer nerds, sort of, we just love the restaurant industry. It kind of puts us in touch with the people. I like Rio Rancho and working at Turtle helped me get to know most of the community out here and I grew up here, too.”
It was during Skip’s 11 years at Turtle Mountain that he realized what he enjoyed most about working in a restaurant was getting to know his guests and taking care of them. This became the focus of his career and he carried it with him to his next job, which was at yet another local institution.
“I worked over at The Range for five years after that, shaking drinks over at the Bernalillo location,” Skip said. “How I kinda got pulled from The Range over here was (I wasn’t living here at the time), it’s close to my family and close to where I wanted to live. I like Rio Rancho and I like the people out here. I feel really comfortable. And, you pretty much got a great view of everything. Live music six nights a week, though. That was pretty much the pull for me. And, a bunch of great beer on tap. The guest beers were the key to this place, I think. Because, you can totally advertise everybody that’s New Mexico. Now that I have a little bit more pull in the beer order I can get exactly what people want. I listen and then I deliver. We just try to pull the best stuff.”
Just as he did at Turtle Mountain, Skip started in the kitchen and quickly proved himself before finding his way out to the customers.
“They were open for a year when I got here in April of last year,” Skip said. “I started off as the kitchen manager. They were looking for some kitchen help. I walked in here and it looked like a baby old Turtle (Mountain), and I was like damn, I might have to work here. I came in here, I saw the setup — lots of beer on tap. It was an open mic night that night. I played a few songs. Everything was like a really good vibe, so a couple weeks later I started, and my second day they made me kitchen manager.”
One way to describe Skip’s migration from the back of the house to the front of the house is to say that his passion for food is far too great to be contained in the kitchen, and therefore he must be able to take it out to the guests. Skip has his own philosophy when it comes to the role of food at a taproom, and it’s hard to disagree with him.
“As a server it makes me feel nervous about serving alcohol when you don’t have a lot of food on-hand that really kicks ass and makes people compelled to order, not because they need something to eat, but because it’s delicious,” Skip said. “You’ve taken care of a human need, you know. That’s part of hospitality is taking care of all the human needs — food, drink, shelter, love.”
I took a cue from AmyO (thanks!) and asked Skip why he thought he had been chosen as the unsung hero. It almost seems like this question should be a requirement for this series.
“Basically I just like the work,” he said. “I’ll work hard wherever I’m working, I just hope it’s worth it, and it’s worth it because of the Rio Rancho people. Why was I picked? I just work hard.”
Of course, Skip didn’t give himself enough credit. Being an unsung hero is more than hard work. It’s the intangibles. It’s the passion that he has for what he does, how it inspires his coworkers, and how it translates to a better experience for his customers. Like the way he is always eager to work with the staff on improving their skills, yet is never afraid to be shown up.
“I’m not in the kitchen anymore, but I’m always ready to get down there and show people some method and how to just do some little tweaks and get a little faster,” Skip said. “I love watching other people maybe that aren’t even from the industry do something that I think is amazing, and stealing their shortcuts, and put it in my pocket, and be like, thank you, you don’t even know what you did for me. You know? Because, you never know where you’re going to get that extra knowledge … and then you’re like, we’re going to do it that way from now on.”
Stop in at Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub sometime for a beer and maybe some music, or just to say hi to Skip. If you are lucky you might catch him on stage.
“I love musicians,” Skip said. “I play and sing. Occasionally, I’ll sit in and play on somebody’s break or I’ll sit in with a band and sing some songs or something like that.”
The Brew Crew thanks Skip for his work in our local craft brew industry and wishes him the best of luck going forward in his career.