There are not many restaurants in Abu Dhabi that have been around for 25 years. But what about someone who’s worked in the same restaurant for the past 25?
Meet Salvador Toriano Jr, aka Buddy, the supervisor at Beaujolais restaurant in the capital’s Mercure Hotel.
Buddy has been a familiar and reassuring face at the much-loved French restaurant for more than two decades. This year marks 25 years since he started working there.
He started off as a waiter but is now the supervisor. At the age of 59, he still works split shifts at Le Beaujolais, from midday to 3pm and 7pm to midnight.
“It’s normal for me now. It’s my daily routine," he says.
Le Beaujolais opened in the late 1980s, and has been offering up classic French fare such as onion soup, baked mussels and Coq au vin ever since.
The décor, chalked blackboards and checkered tablecloths add to the unpretentious atmosphere of a classic French bistro. Le Beaujolais has won multiple What’s On awards and in a world of anaemic and overpriced eateries, it remains consistent and cosy.
Every morning Buddy checks the stock, speaks to the staff and any comments from customers are taken on board. He also seats guests and serves them during lunch and dinner. Thursdays and Fridays are the busiest. What does he enjoy most about the job?
“Dealing with the guests. If I come to the table and say hello, then they are happy," he says.
"The most important thing for me, even if I am very busy, is to say hello to the guests. We can have difficult customers but we have to be patient. That’s my job.”
Such is Buddy’s popularity that even former residents who are back in town on holiday ask to see him again.
“Sometimes guests ask in the reception when they check in, they ask: ‘Is Buddy still here?’”
The Filipino came to the UAE in 1992 from Laguna. But this was not his first stint in the Middle East. Buddy worked in Baghdad from 1984 to 1989 for another hotel in the Novotel group. But the Iran-Iraq intervened and he ended up in Abu Dhabi via a brief stint back home.
The city that Buddy arrived into in 1992 is almost unrecognisable to the one that we enjoy today.
“There were not many buildings,” he tells me of his first impressions of the city that year.
“Taxis were cheap - many things were cheaper!”
There was no Abu Dhabi Mall or Marina Mall and life revolved around Hamdan Street.
Yet flickers of this life linger to this day, such as shopping at the Hamdan Centre. Then the Mercure was known as the Novotel and Buddy first lived in Khalidiya, then Airport Road before living in Mussaffah from 1998 until a couple of years ago.
He recalls the journey taken from the hotel after an evening’s work to his accommodation in Mussaffah. “There was not much traffic or signals. Sometimes the journey could be dangerous.” For the past two years he lives close to the restaurant.
Every Ramadan, Buddy travels back to the Philippines for a month to see his family. But it’s the customers at Beaujolais that keep him coming back. It’s like a family, he says.
“My manager told me I cannot leave because the guests speak too highly of me,” he says with a laugh.
“They told me I’m one of the pillars of the restaurant, so I’m very happy the guests and my boss give me this kind of comment.”