Awards · World Away From Word

The Journey of a Black Hat

Come November, it will have been a year since I started working at Panera Bread. I take a lot of pride in my job and since joining the Panera family, I’ve put my heart and soul (not to mention many tiring hours on my feet) into my work.

When I first started, it was so wonderful and overwhelming that I thought I’d never learn to do all the things that come almost naturally to me now.

I’ve had every single item on our menu and then some. I’ve tasted all our pastries, breads, and bagels. I learned to open the bakery, close the bakery, how not to hate my life when the phone rings, made some salads and sandwiches on the line, and almost have the mid-shift down to a science. (If it weren’t for the darned coffees, I could rule the mid. :P) I take shifts no one else wants to work sometimes, cover for absentees, and strive for speed and accuracy with an emphasis on cheerfulness in everything I do.

Long have I aspired to be a black hat.

I don’t know how many of you have a Panera Bread in your area and/or know what a black hat is. The technical term is Associate Trainer, and they stand out by their product knowledge, work ethic, and the fact that they can boss the green hats around without interference. (That’s mostly accurate.) As soon as I began work, I looked up to the black hats who trained me. I respected them for what they knew, and how they shared their knowledge.

Last Sunday, my dreams were realized as I was black hatted. (Okay, so technically it was only announced last Sunday because Mike forgot my hat until Wednesday, but I digress.) This is a huge deal for me. It’s not about the pay raise, or the shiny name tag, or the fact that black compliments my skin tone so well–it’s all of those things too, but not just–it’s the fact that I have earned this position and I am incalculably proud.

Me pre-black hat
Me, post-black hat. Do I not ooze wisdom from my pores?
My noob nametag. Pretty, but not prestigious.
My new nametag sits among the other shinies. :)

I didn’t get to make a speech when Mike announced my new high ranking. Everyone cheered and clapped and I beamed, but since I didn’t get my speech, here it is now.

I’d like to thank my mom for driving me to work every day, even in the wee morning hours when all civilized citizens who are not up to no good should be in bed. 

I want to thank Mike for making this real, Dave for being so patient with the schedule and telling me “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be a black hat.” And Cortney, for getting her position as manager to make space for another trainer.

Thank you Fernando, Rebecca, and Krystal for being the first black hats to inspire me, make me laugh, and accept me into the Panera family.

Thank you, Kristin, for being my closing guide, there’s-a-hot-guy-in-here go-to gal, and country song partner. Whenever I answer a question with a country song title, I always think of you. Bazinga!

Sean, thanks for mocking my every failure, announcing to the other cashiers that I suck, throwing garbage at me and then leaving our location to own your own Panera as soon as I was awarded this honor. You’re the best and we all miss you like crazy.

So finally, I want to thank God. Because God gave me this black hat. And, I feel God in this Panera tonight. WOOHOOOOO!!!

That’s how my speech would have gone if I was allowed to speak it.

I can’t wait to get my first trainee and hopefully inspire the same dreams of greatness that the other trainers instilled in me. :)

“May your hats fly as high as your dreams.” -Michael Scott, Dunder Mifflin Paper Company


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