Common Lengua: Castro Polyglot Helps Restaurant Workers Communicate

If you’ve seen a bearded man teaching Spanish lessons at Flore, it was most likely Dino Rosso.

The Castro resident is a high school Spanish teacher who, in his free time, works with language learners one-on-one.

Rosso has partnered with a couple of local restaurants, including Flore and Tacolicious, to act as an interpreter and translator between Anglophone front of house staff and Spanish-speaking back of house employees. 

Rosso, who grew up in western Massachusetts, refers to his “whiteness” as the “elephant in the room” whenever he meets students for the first time. Although he’s not a native Spanish speaker, he speaks like one.

Meet Dino Rosso. | Photo: Dino Rosso

Rosso’s brother was adopted from El Salvador, and from the age of five, Rosso was enrolled in bilingual schools. In college, he double-majored in Spanish and Portuguese before moving to Europe for a decade. While living and working in Italy as a model, he led bike tours and taught himself the language.

“Being exposed to languages when you’re young has a profound impact on your brain,” Rosso said. “I learned those other languages because I’ve always been interested in other languages.”

Rosso picked up Romanian before returning to the US to pursue a graduate degree. That’s where he learned French and Arabic.

Rosso went on to get his Masters and has taught students at all levels; he's worked as a Spanish teacher at the San Francisco Waldorf School for the past five years, and has a number of students that he teaches on an individual basis.

That’s how he met Sara Deseran.

A server at Tacolicious on Valencia Street. | Photo: Brook Peterson/Flickr

Deseran is a Castro-based food writer who became the co-owner of Tacolicious by way of her husband, Joe Hargrave, back in 2010. After spotting one of Rosso’s flyers depicting him as “the bearded Spanish teacher,” she decided to contact him.

“Not speaking Spanish has been my lifelong embarrassment,” Deseran laughed. “I wanted a teacher for myself.”

Rosso worked with Deseran on her Spanish for months before the two hatched a plan to address a somewhat embarassing business challenge: her front and back of house employees couldn’t communicate with one another.  

A Tacolicious staffer in 2013. | Photo: torbakhopper/Flickr

“The majority of kitchen workers across San Francisco are often Spanish speakers,” Deseran said. “Most people, in order to serve people, have to speak English, but it’s easier to work in a kitchen and not speak English.”

As a result, she said bilingual employees in California restaurants are "10 steps" ahead of their monolingual co-workers.

In June, Tacolicious launched concurrent six-week classes for employees at its Valencia Street location. Roughly 20 servers and management staff signed up for Rosso’s conversational Spanish classes and five kitchen staff attended his English classes. All costs were subsidized by the restaurant.

“Sure, staff can muddle through things,” Deseran said, “but we wanted to offer English and Spanish classes to employees so there’s not this weird world where we're working side-by-side but aren’t able to truly communicate.”

Rosso in front of his Tacolicious students. | Photo: Tacolicious/Facebook

According to Deseran, there was one major challenge to getting classes up and running—finding a time that worked for everyone.

“The immigrant population works harder than anyone and don’t have much time for language classes,” Deseran said. “The majority of our kitchen staff have two jobs, and the front of house staff doesn’t want to get up too early.”

Given the scheduling struggles, Deseran was impressed by her staff’s commitment. Although it’s too early to deem the crash course a success or failure, she's happy with how Rosso has helped to bring Tacolicious’ employees together.

"I don't expect people to be fluent," she said, "but the more people learn to speak the same language, the more it starts to bridge relationships."

Rosso with some of his Tacolicious Spanish students. | Photo: Dino Rosso

Eric LaFebre of West Portal has been a server at Tacolicious for just over a year and describes having the opportunity to learn Spanish at work as both “pretty insane” and “incredibly inexpensive.”

LaFebre paid a total of 20 dollars for Rosso’s classes this past summer, and has signed up for a deeper dive into Spanish grammar, verbs and vocabulary.

“I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish,” LaFebre said, “and that’s what a lot of my coworkers predominantly speak.”

Through Rosso’s classes, he said he become friends with his Spanish-speaking back of house colleagues.

“It’s nice,” LeFebre said, “because I’m getting to know my coworkers, and I get to learn Spanish.”

If you're interested in taking language classes with Rosso, email him at dinorosso [DOT] lingo [AT] gmail [DOT] com or visit his website

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