Busboy serves up a beacon of Liberty
By MELIA BOWIE
© St. Petersburg Times,
ST. PETERSBURG -- It takes Augustus Soriano, a busboy at Arigato Japanese Steakhouse, about a minute and a half to put a smile on someone's face and a symbol of the American spirit in their hands.
One of eight busboys at the restaurant who specialize in turning patrons' leftover food into foil-wrapped works of art, Soriano's rendering of the Statue of Liberty has found special favor with patriotic customers of late.
"They were really beautiful," longtime patron Gale Valente said of the multiple ladies of liberty that Soriano crafted for her children the week of the terrorist attacks. "We'll probably keep them for a while. I was just so impressed with that kid; it was so special and he was so caring."
Soriano, who immigrated here from the Philippines with his family at age 3 and became a citizen at age 9, had practiced the monument at home a few months ago, "but I stopped doing it because it took so long," he said.
"Then when these tragic events happened I started doing it again and people started liking it," said the 20-year-old sophomore at St. Petersburg College.
Manager Ed McCracken said Soriano has become a hot commodity at the 66th Street N restaurant, where customers interact as much with their busboys as they do with the chefs who prepare meals in front of them.
"I'm doing like 20 a night," Soriano said of the statues, which he touches off by lighting the matches of her torch and placing the match book under her arm.
Kids love them. Their parents do, too. In fact, said Valente, a large part of her reason for patronizing the Japanese steakhouse these past 10 years is for the foil figurines.
Soriano, who learned the craft in his spare time after he began working at Arigato in early February, quickly mastered it. His repertoire now includes everything from palm trees and penguins to fire-breathing dragons and The Thinker.
"I can even make me doing the foil myself," he said, adding the talent has now translated into a way of showing his love of for this multicultural nation.
"Near Ninth Street, I've seen people standing on top of vans waving flags. All over my neighborhood I see flags on the lawn. It makes me proud to be an American," said Soriano. This "is my way to show patriotism. It made me happy, and it made my customers happy."
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