Atlanta VA Health Care System
Canteen Caters to Customers
Canteen provides service with a smile!
He has one of the biggest hearts bottled up in his 5-foot, 3-inch frame. With a warm smile peeking through the haze of steam rising from the Bistro serving line, customers can hear him ask, “How may I help you?” Not an unusual request coming from a grill master, but his eagerness to get their order for customized eggs is a pleasant invitation and early morning welcome to the Veteran Canteen Service (VCS) dining facility.
Angel Torres, 49, is a native New Yorker transplanted to Atlanta who is on a mission each morning to serve customers efficiently with a great level of satisfaction, he claims.
Don’t mind his tendency to talk looking over his shoulder sometimes because, “I mean no disrespect, I’m just eager to get the order right and ensure the customers are in and out quickly.”
Torres knows, understands and appreciates the urgency the Atlanta VA Medical Center staff has to grab a quick bite and get back to caring for patients. He’s a veteran himself.
Torres served on both active duty and reserve status in the Army for 13 years.
“This is my way of continuing to serve, by serving others,” Torres explained. “I get so much out of helping others.”
A testament to Torres’ character was manifested in September 2009, when he leapt into action to assist a patient choking on breakfast in the VCS dining room.
The patient began producing a weak couch and waving his arms in panic. Torres, who was monitoring the dining room cleanliness, rushed to the patient’s aid to administer the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the object, clear his airway and restart his breathing; it is a life-saving measure this former fuel and electrical systems repairer learned in the Army.
Torres doesn't consider himself a hero, and he gives all the credit to God. “I was just doing what anyone else would have done. He needed my help.”
Torres was later recognized for his heroism with a standing ovation, a monetary award and a plague during a recognition ceremony held in St. Louis, Mo.
Standing ovations seem almost the norm for Torres. He commanded the hot order grill seemingly from day one as a food service worker. Originally hired as a temporary employee, Torres impressed the customers and Canteen leadership as well.
“He started with us about a year and a half ago in the Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) vocational rehabilitation program,” recalls Christopher Haven, Assistant VCS Chief.
For years this Veteran Affairs CWT program has provided opportunities for disabled Veterans and Veterans with other barriers, to participate in a variety of job assignments in a structured, therapeutic environment. The ultimate goals of CWT participants include gainful community employment, increased independence, and enhanced quality of life.
“The Veteran we have here is one of my best employees; he is punctual, reliable - I can’t say enough. We quickly saw he had great potential. His sense of energy and attention to the guest far exceed other CWT workers or applicants for the position,” said Haven.
Torres was selected as employee of the year for the VCS. “As the lead on the grill he has exceed guest expectations with his personality and ability to move the guest through the line in a quick pace,” Haven said. “Since he has been there the Bistro line is always the longest, not because they are slow but, most people want Angel to prepare their food.”
Head bowed in a shy sort of way, Torres explained that he takes pride in what he does for the Veterans.
“I’m encouraged by the 100% satisfaction I get in the customers’ face. I want to treat them as I want them to treat me,” said the still-honeymooning Torres. “It’s that extra mile service.”
Torres expresses that same positive attitude and appreciation at home, he said.
“I married Martha four years ago after a 12-year court-ship,” Torres smiled showing all his teeth. “I always wanted to be sure I was doing the right things by her. So, marrying her was my attempt to show her I’m honored to share my everything (joy, happiness, hope and inspiration) with her.”
Torres said he likes making Martha happy and he is grateful to all the customers here who are touched by him directly and indirectly. “I also want to extend my sincere gratitude to all my co-workers for all their support,” Torres said. “The accolades I receive from my manager (Haven) and chief, Suellen Fazio, makes me feel great. Their support and compliments continue to encourage me to sharpen my skills in all areas,” Torres said.