My day began yesterday around 9:30 a.m., which translates to about 2 o’clock p.m. for Mr. Renier Bautista. On an average day he’s up, in the Design District taking care of business around 4 a.m. See, he can’t work when we’re all at the restaurants, because they are being readied for service at that point, and then in service for the majority of the day and night. He is a little mystical, fixing everything when no one is looking. So when Jackie suggested we do a blog post about him I thought why not? He keeps all the gears well oiled around here, and I’m sure he’s got a thing or two up his sleeve. I had no idea.
We agreed to meet in Renier’s new workshop, built out of the back room at Harry’s Pizzeria this spring, and a place he’d be comfortable. There, sitting on chairs formerly of The Cypress Room, in the company of a sawdust-covered work bench, drills, ladders, saws and the rest of The Genuine Hospitality Group storage, Renier told me his story.
He had been working at restaurant called Soyka’s up in the 50s off Biscayne Boulevard in the maintenance department when Ingrid Schlictmann, then a restaurant manager at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, called her old friend and restaurateur Steve Haas. She needed a handyman and Renier was his recommendation.
His first project at MGFD was to build a the wine cage in the store room. “I didn’t know Chef then, because I was working with Ingrid,” he explained. “Michael came by and asked me to shorten one side, and we did, and he was pleased with the work.” Two weeks later Renier began doing small projects regularly like hanging things, fixing lights, deep cleaning.
“I was busy taking care of Michael’s. There’s a lot going on there with the courtyard. We have to keep an eye on it. The tables, the chairs, the floor, the fans, the dumpsters. One of my biggest concerns is keeping that courtyard nice and neat. A lot of people walk in there, shopping around. And he was happy because of how detailed we were.”
The managers at MGFD embraced Renier, and he quickly became part of the family. He learned the importance of good communication and found all the managers very easy to work with. “Everyone’s really nice. The kitchen staff and everyone treats me like a pal.”
One day Michael asked him to take a look at a squeak in the red winding staircase. “For two years that has been driving me crazy,” Michael said, “if you fix it, I will kiss you.” So Renier walked up and down the stairs and sure enough on the third stair it squeaked. He followed the noise, ruled out several options and found that metal was touching the baseboard. So he shimmed it with a piece of rubber.
“I said to Chef, go up the stairs. And it was quiet. So I said,” Renier smiled, “I can’t charge you by the hour today, I have to charge you by the knowledge. He looked at me and smiled. And that opened up everything, he looked at me in a new way. He began to trust me. One morning after that he called me at 12 a.m., and he said he had a problem with one of his freezers, that it had collapsed, ‘can you help me?’ So I looked at it and there was one leg down, and I built a piece and put it back up. It wasn’t hard, but I was there at one o’clock in the morning to take care of it.”
“Why don’t you hire me?” Renier said one day. Michael thought it was a good idea.
That was three years ago, when his son Samuel was one and his wife, Luz, was pregnant with Jeremy. “Michael was always calling me asking me how my wife was and how Sammy, then Jeremy was. It’s a really nice relationship between Michael and I, I can go to him and we can talk, there is a lot of respect there. I was telling my wife the other day that I have had good bosses, I worked for UM for 14 years and had a good boss, but if I had to put all my bosses on the scale, I would say Michael is the best. He’s not just a boss, he’s a friend. I have opened myself up to him, told him my opinion and how I feel about things and he listens, sometimes. He told me one day ‘Welcome to the family’, and thats really what it is, we laugh, we cry, we focus on the job, we focus on the company and the growth, but I can see with everyone from the waiters to the guys in the kitchen to the cleaners, I consider Michael a tremendous man and boss.”
At this point Reneir wiped his eyes. I was touched and humbled by the raw honesty being shared. Then he began to tell me about what he does in his spare time.
“About two years ago, I thought, I have to do more.” He began working with a church in the Dominican Republic for a year as a missionary providing clothes and shoes to children, building floors for their homes, “because they have walls and a roof but they don’t have floors, so we started working trying to get them concrete on the floor, at least in the bedroom.”
He became so involved in the D.R. helping people that his friends and family started giving donations to help people and so he decided to start his own ministry. “I became a chaplain and by the grace of God we are getting lots of help. Now I go and help people in jail and in the hospital and with the state, [the Florida Department of Children & Families] doing counseling for people who are emotionally abused. And that is a nice job, it’s very deep, working with women and children who have been abused. A lot of people have called to help me. And a lot of people have called for me to help them. I have gone to California and Ohio just over the weekend for marriage counseling. Their marriage was going to collapse, and I’m very happy to help. They’re doing fine now and they have helped me financially to help build the church in the DR. We built a big church. And it is beautiful. It’s not too big, but the congregation is like a family. We’ve really created it with a feeling of love, and people feel that affection. With all that is going on in the world, people need love.”
Of course he couldn’t do it alone, and the love that pours out of Renier when he is speaking of his wife and his sons is coupled by two shining, watery eyes. “I have a beautiful wife. She’s younger than I am, but she’s stronger than I am. She learned how to do taxes, and applied for a job at H&R Block as a receptionist, then moved up to a tax preparer and she liked it so much that now she’s doing it from home. So when tax season comes, that’s what she does. We live in Homestead, so we know a lot of people from other countries and now she helps those people to have something legal and not be afraid to pay their taxes. A lot of people try to scare them, but she is helping them.”
At this point I have to stop typing, and sit back to process. My mind is pretty blown. Renier chuckles and shows me the badge that grants him access to walk past the police, through the caution tape of any emergency, because he chooses to help the people in shock and trauma on the other side. He just likes to help people. He has kids in Haiti, about 60 of them, and he sends them money for lunch every day through his congregation. “I took Sammy there when he was about two years old. Those kids make me so happy, they are so sweet but they have no shoes. I gave my son’s shoes to one of those kids.”
I began my day worried about how I would fit in a trip to Publix in between work, a tennis date, and dinner, but you never know how your day will go. I walked away from that interview at peace, and chuckling because our genuine handyman is actually some part angel. “I have this charisma,” he said, and he does. “I make people smile and that smile can change your day. And that’s what counts.”