When Ben Rubenstein was a freshman, he made money by subjecting himself to medical testing. Now a College sophomore, Rubenstein is making money in an equally stressful -- and unique -- way. He is one of the guys serving up gyros and hoagies at the Greek Lady on 38th and Locust streets, and, in his estimation, the first Penn student to ever work at one of the ubiquitous food carts. How did he go from getting carbon dioxide shot up his nose to this? It all started when Dimitrios Dimopoulos, the son of the original Greek Lady food cart owners, opened his own business on Locust Street. Rubenstein loved the Greek Lady and would stop by sometimes on his way back from his "studies." Dimopoulos found out about Rubenstein's innovative career choice. "He'd always ask about studies...," Rubenstein says. "Because I was sacrificing my body for science. Well, money and science." Then, over last spring vacation, Rubenstein got his big break when he was caught on film for MTV's I Bet You Will television show while in Cancun. However, the realms of possibility this footage opened up for Rubenstein were not movie offers. Instead, Dimopoulos saw him on television, and their relationship blossomed. One day, while Rubenstein was picking up food for his girlfriend, Dimopoulos started complaining to Rubenstein that he needed more help in the cart. On the spot, Rubenstein said he would do it. Dimopoulos jokingly told him to come at 11 a.m. that Monday to begin. Rubenstein can still recount the following conversation as proceeding his first day: "How much are you going to pay me?" Rubenstein asked. "Ten dollars an hour," Dimopoulos answered. "Oh, yeah!" Rubenstein said. "Okay, nine dollars," Dimopoulos finished. And so, Rubenstein began in late September 2002. Since then, the business has changed, and the staff has expanded. First, Rubenstein began by bringing his girlfriend Jamie Elfant, also a College sophomore, into the fold. Then her sister Lauren, a College senior, joined them. Rubenstein also managed to pull in a high school friend now at Penn, College sophomore Eric Feigenbaum, in those first months. As Dimopoulos has decided to hire more and more students, it has become Rubenstein's job to choose workers from among people he trusts. He has found no shortage of students who want to work at the cart. Even though it is not MTV, working at the Greek Lady has allowed Rubenstein to do a little acting. When he began working at the food truck, everyone who he was working with was Greek, and he used to pretend he was Greek too. He would tell customers that he was stuffing a few french fries in the gyros because "back home in Greece," they stuff a few fries in everything. That was before Rubenstein, who has never actually been to Greece, was told that was untrue. But for Rubenstein, working at the Greek Lady is about more than dishing out grub to hungry customers and fooling around with fake accents. He and Dimopoulos have become close friends, and he is helping to plan for the cart's future endeavors. Dimopoulos even invited Rubenstein to his wedding this past fall. Unfortunately, it was over Thanksgiving break and Rubenstein was at home in New Haven, Conn. And how does Dimopoulos, who initially worried that Rubenstein was irresponsible because he subjected himself to all of those medical studies, feel about having Penn undergraduates work for him? "I like it," Dimopoulos says. "I like it a lot." He finds that the students are dependable, can work flexible hours and live close by, so the cart is accessible for them. Rubenstein occasionally feels weird when he recognizes people and cannot think why, until he remembers that he has seen them at the cart. Sometimes a customer he knows, but whose name he cannot remember, comes by, and he has to struggle to take their order with their name on it without letting on that he has forgotten what exactly that name is. Still, Rubenstein is generally excited by all the people who he knows around campus through the cart. Maybe his experiences will even lead to a career in the business someday -- or maybe not. Dimopoulos sometimes suggests that in the future, Rubenstein could take over the cart while he begins selling gyros wholesale. Rubenstein, a history major, is not sure that he could take the pressure. "I have lots of respect for anyone in the food cart business," Rubenstein says, describing Dimopoulos' extraordinarily long days. Still, despite the hard work, Rubenstein is delighted with his job. And, since his initial pay assignation, Rubenstein has gotten a raise.Comments powered by Disqus
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