Celebrating The Service Industry (Buzzfeed, September 1, 2016)


While Labor Day often marks the unofficial end of summer, its official meaning makes it a good time to honor the contributions that service sector employees have made to our country’s workforce. In fact, half of all Americans have worked in a restaurant and even more (59%) have worked at a retail job. Celebrities, elected officials, and other public figures are among those who have worked in the service industry, climbing the career ladder and gaining lifelong skills that are critical to their success. Here’s a look at 18 famous Americans who earned a path forward in retail and restaurant jobs

1. Steve Carell

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Although Steve Carell is typically known for his role as Michael Scott in the hit TV series “The Office”, Dunder Mifflin Paper Company wasn’t his first experience in the workplace. Prior to acting, Carell worked as a third-shift cashier at the Store 24 convenience store.

2. James Franco

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When James Franco dropped out of UCLA to pursue a career in acting, he practiced fake accents with customers while working the McDonald’s drive thru to prepare for his acting class. “Someone asked me if I was too good to work at McDonald’s,” he recalled. “Because I was following my acting dream despite all the pressure not to, I was definitely not too good to work at McDonald’s. I went to the nearest Mickey D’s and was hired the same day.”

3. Kanye West

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Kanye recalls his time working in retail at Gap as the inspiration for his sense of responsibility to help fellow musicians and his passion for style. “We should all be trying to make something that’s better,” he says. “It’s funny that I worked at the Gap in high school, because in my past 15 years it seems like that’s the place I stood in my creative path — to be the gap, the bridge.” See what he did there?

4. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan

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Before climbing the career ladder to second in line for the presidency, Speaker Ryan waited tables across the street from his current office at “D.C. power hub” Tortilla Coast. He first built valuable skills in the service sector at McDonald’s: “I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, you know, when I was flippin’ burgers at McDonald’s, when I was standing in front of that big Hobart machine washing dishes or waiting tables, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life,” he said.

5. Ralph Lauren

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Before his company became the official outfitter for Team USA, Ralph Lauren earned his chops at competing brand Brooks Brothers. With no formal fashion experience at 24, the American style icon learned retail skills as a salesperson at the Madison Avenue store.

6. Kristen Wiig

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Before Kristen Wiig ever graced your TV as a star on Saturday Night Live, she made her income folding clothes at womenswear chain Anthropologie and selling hot dogs at a mall.

7. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Although Cory Booker went vegan in 2014, he learned to clean chickens and enjoy a mean plate of ribs while working at Cab’s Kitchen. The restaurant was owned by Booker’s father and named after both the Senator, Cory Anthony, and his brother, Cary Alfred. He gained skills meeting with “lots of folks from all different kinds of backgrounds” and says, “It was a great experience for me. Everyone in America should have to wait tables, should have a direct service job.”

8. David Letterman

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Prior to making his mark on the late night talk show scene, David Letterman took advantage of the chance to build skills in retail as a stock boy at Atlas grocery store.

9. Michael Dell

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Although business magnate Michael Dell dropped out of college to start his computer business, he has never been a slacker. At just 12 years old, Dell climbed the service sector ladder as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant, later moving up to water boy, assistant, and even maitre d’.

10. The Obamas

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Sasha Obama, like one-third of all Americans, recently got her start in a restaurant job. During the Obamas’ trip to Martha’s Vineyard this summer, she bussed tables and worked the takeout window at Nancy’s seafood restaurant. But she isn’t the only First Family member with service sector experience— President Obama has credited his first job at Baskin-Robbins as an important opportunity to help him get where he is today.

11. Mila Kunis

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While playing Jackie on That ’70s Show, Mila Kunis relied on the flexibility offered by the service industry and took on a second job at Rite Aid with her mother. “My mom would pick me up from ’70s Show, and she’d take me to work with her,” she said. “I’d have to work the ice cream counter or photo counter until closing all the time.”

12. Team USA

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Olympic Team USA athletes like Allysa Seely, a part-time sales associate at Dick’s Sporting Goods, are taking advantage of service sector employment thanks to Dick’s Contender’s program. The retail chain recognizes the large time commitment required for athletes to not only medal at the Olympics, but also to find jobs with the flexibility they need, and has hired more than 200 Olympic hopefuls over the past year.

13. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)

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Prior to climbing the career ladder from New Hampshire Attorney General to U.S. Senator, Kelly Ayotte rose from busgirl to waitress at Mame’s Restaurant. In these roles, she built a foundation of critical skills for her future in public service. “And at that restaurant I learned that listening is the most important thing to serving your customers well,” she says.

14. Buzz Aldrin

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Before he took one giant leap for mankind by landing on the moon, Aldrin took the first step in his career as a dishwasher. The former NASA astronaut recently tweeted about this experience under the viral hashtag, #FirstSevenJobs.

15. Savannah Guthrie

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While also tweeting her #FirstSevenJobs, NBC co-anchor and correspondent Savannah Guthrie revealed she gained experience in various restaurant and retail jobs as a busboy, cookie store cashier, and even a skateshop worker prior to her broadcasting career.

16. Connie Britton

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Before Connie Britton landed star roles in Friday Night Lights, Nashville, and Gap ads, she picked up her own retail experience as an employee at Gap. Britton also worked at The Limited, and says: “I was appreciative for all those jobs.”

17. Lin Manuel-Miranda

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Composer, lyricist, and actor Lin Manuel-Miranda is best known for creating the smash-hit Broadway show Hamilton, but he also pays credit to his service sector experience. He not only worked the slushie machine at his aunt’s store, but he also gained valuable skills by operating the McDonald’s register.

18. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA)

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Before becoming Iowa’s first female U.S. Senator, Joni Ernst worked in the service sector to save money for college. She even touted her start in the restaurant industry during her 2015 State of the Union response and her 2014 Senate acceptance speech: “From the biscuit line at Hardee’s to the United States Senate — we are heading to Washington…”