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Winston Gitonga Serves Takeout to Britney, Discourages Buddha Climbers at Tao

Winston Gitonga

At Tao, Winston Gitonga answers to the man behind him.Photo: Melissa Hom

A couple of years after he started working at Tao in 2003, Winston Gitonga and two colleagues founded Shiftdrink, a Website with insider information on restaurant working conditions written by and for industry professionals. When he’s not running his Website (now up to 2,800 members), Gitonga is flashing his wedding ring and keeping customers from climbing the Buddha at Tao.

The Journal had a recent article about special treatment for food writers. At Tao, do you comp food bloggers?
Tao is an expensive restaurant — in order to get VIPs coming back and spending a lot of money, we comp a few items here and there.

Have revelations on Shiftdrink ever gotten you in trouble?
We got an Inside Scoop on the Grocery that was horrible, when it was getting a lot of hype. We tried to tone it down, but I heard that the owners were really upset with us and hated our guts.

What about your anonymous sources? Has anyone ever been fired??
We did one on Telepan. Bill Telepan wanted to know who it was. He even promised to give us an interview, and he said, “I just need to know who did that Inside Scoop.” I said, “I can’t, Bill, sorry.”

There’s a “night out at Tao” on Shiftdrink that gets pretty boozy.
I don’t want to put in negative press about a place I work. I don’t want to lose my job. But typically that’s what Tao is — it’s a big party place.

Speaking of that, do you get hit on by girls a lot?
I always approach the table sort of bringing attention to my wedding band. But I have a lot of friends who are single who work there. Friday night is, like, “Alright, I’m going to get a few numbers.”

What’s the most ostentatious thing you’ve seen there?
Last week this guy — I believe he owned a football team in Europe — came in and spent I believe $14,000 on about eighteen or twenty people.

Do people try to climb the Buddha?
Two or three times a year. This one guy bet $500 to get to the head of the Buddha. We told him, “You’re going to get kicked out.” They finished the meal, he took off his coat and tie and jumped on the Buddha. The restaurant stopped and started clapping. He raced to the top before my manager and security dragged him down.

Have you served many celebs?
When Britney had that whole thing with driving the kids, she brought the kid in. She walked in, got her table — everyone was like, “Oh, my God, Britney’s here.” The D.J. started playing her song. She didn’t stay long because it was way too much attention. The house wrapped some food to go so she took it with her.

Finally, the question Inside Scoop always closes with: Do you get a shift drink at the end of the night?
No.

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