By Will Reisman, @WillReisman
While SamTrans maintenance worker Tai Sevelo may be a pro at repairing engines and vehicle parts, his craftsmanship in such regards doesn’t stop at the garage—he’s also pretty adept at fixing up a meal in the kitchen. Sevelo, a 21-year veteran at the SamTrans South Base facility in San Carlos, is also a part-time kitchen manager at the Pantry, a family-style restaurant on Delaware Street in San Mateo that specializes in Polynesian food and breakfast plates. Sevelo, who learned the secrets of crafting tasty Polynesian creations while growing up on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, moved to the Bay Area in 1983, and he initially started working here as a cook.
He joined the staff of the Pantry 14 years ago as a cook, and now he manages the kitchen at the always-packed restaurant. An establishment with a fiercely loyal following, the Pantry has a set of locals who eat there every day, and Sevelo is usually overseeing the grill on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings to make sure they get their fixings prepared right. “I’ve served the same people the same food for a real long time, so I know exactly what everyone is going to order,” said Sevelo, who arrives at 5:30 a.m. for his shift at the restaurant. “When I miss a day at the Pantry, they actually get a little upset with me.”
A Foster City resident, Sevelo keeps a garden in his backyard, where he grows fresh herbs like basil, thyme, and sage—key ingredients for his concoctions. He said he cooks pretty much every night at home, and usually brings in the leftovers to munch on while working at SamTrans. He’s also helped raise funds for his sons’ high school, Junipero Serra in San Mateo, by hosting cookouts during football season.
For Serra’s game against De La Salle a few years ago, Sevelo helped raise $10,000 for the school by selling off his food. Fortunately for his coworkers at South Base, Sevelo also cooks up gargantuan meals when the facility hosts its barbecue gatherings, which happen about two to three times a year. “I usually throw together some brisket, poke tuna, stuffed shrimp, maybe some teriyaki chicken,” said Sevelo. “It’s usually a pretty good time.” Jerie Moeller, the bus maintenance superintendent at South Base, said the employees at the facility always look forward to the Sevelo-helmed BBQs. “Tai makes these great meals, with huge, Island-sized portions,” said Moeller. “Which is good, since we usually have a group of guys here who can put down some food.”
VIDEO: See what Tai does for SamTrans in this video: HERE.