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Kings of the kitchen

BRIAN BASHAM/record Zorbaz cook John Schott grabs an order ticket after cutting a pizza at the Detroit Lakes Zorbaz during a busy Friday night.1 / 2
BRIAN BASHAM/RECORD Zorbaz cooks Wyatt Schmitz and Charles Neeley prepare pizzas in the bar’s tiny kitchen. On busy summer nights 10 to 15 people cram into the small space to make food for the Zorbaz crowd.2 / 2

When you approach Zorbaz at midnight on a Friday, you hear the music, you see the lights. You know there’s a party going on.

Out in the bar, a couple celebrates their anniversary, Dale, a regular, lets out one of his trademark howls and screams and giggles can be heard from a bachelorette party.

The partiers give little thought to what’s going on to bring them their tacos and pizza and drinks, but the festivities going on behind the scenes in the Zorbaz kitchen at times equals the fun being had in the bar.

On a busy Friday night, the cooking crew of Charles Neeley, John Schott and Wyatt Schmitz can be found making food, washing dishes and keeping the tiny Zorbaz kitchen clean.

At busy times — a rush — they can be all business, rolling dough, spreading sauce or making a burrito, oblivious to anything but the pepperonis in front of them. But when it slows down, the cooks like to have a little fun.

“Most of us have laser pointers,” Schott said as he beamed his laser at a customer’s shirt at the back bar. “We like messing with them sometimes.”

The bar’s unique layout gives the kitchen staff a glimpse of both the front and back bars, and the stories of the hijinks going on outside of the kitchen constantly pour in — like that night’s deluge of rain.

“There’s a wet t-shirt contest going on out there,” a food runner reports.

“Some guy just fell over and dumped his drink on his lap,” Neeley said after taking a look out into the crowd.

“It’s fun. We get a lot of interesting guests in here,” Schott said.

“It’s such a small building, we can just poke our head out and see some guy try to shove a beer bottle down his throat,” Neeley said. “We just see some weird, funny stuff.”

But during a Saturday night rush, there’s little time for sightseeing.

 “It gets irritating,” Schmitz said. “There’s so many people ordering stuff and you can’t get anything done. You have to get your mind set that you’re not going to get anything done for a while so you don’t get mad at everything.”

On the other hand, serving food until 2 a.m. every night of the week can sometimes get tedious. The Monday shift can get rather long, Schmitz said.

“We try to space things out so we don’t get too bored,” he said. “Monday nights are long and boring.”

The small kitchen feels full with five people in it, and during busy times, 10 need to be packed in. Neeley said he and Schott many times stand back to back making pizzas during busy times.

This is also the first summer the kitchen has air conditioning, which the staff loves.

“On hot days last year, I would have brought two shirts, ‘cause I knew I was going to sweat,” Schott said.

Once the bar closes at 2 a.m. and the last pizza is cooked, the job continues sometimes until 5 or 6 a.m.

“We do all our own cleaning here,” Schott said. “We do everything, so we’re usually here until 5 a.m.

“My sleep pattern is all awry. I closed the other night and had to work at 11 a.m. the next day.”

Fueled by Red Bull adrenaline and excitement, the late night cooks press on until the early hours of the morning, get some sleep and get up and do it all over again.

“I just have a lot of fun here,” Schott said.