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ROCKY POINT, New York -- Since she was just 14 years old, Long Island's Madison Bender has worked in the restaurant industry.

A mere four years later, the now 18-year-old holds the impressive title of sous-chef - the second in command to the top chef - at the Maui Chop House in Rocky Point.

"I never thought I was going to get here because I waitressed, I bussed, I hosted," Bender said.

"I never saw myself ... getting the responsibility being like a sous-chef in the back of a kitchen."

As she learned from her various restaurant jobs, she attended Eastern Suffolk BOCES Edward J. Milliken Technical Center and studied culinary arts.

"I found my passion for cooking at a really young age," Bender said. "My teachers really inspired me."

In June 2020, she graduated and started to work her way to the top of the kitchen.

John Louis, the head chef and owner of the Maui Chop House, found Bender when she came in for an interview. She was recommended by his restaurant manager, who was one of her teachers at Rocky Point High School.

Related: New Jersey brewery honors Black history month with special beer series

"I have two young daughters, so I'm a big proponent of empowering young females and just young professionals in general," Louis said. "Working with her watching her grow, watching her mature, and watching her hit it out of the park, it's great. It's going very well."

Bender also juggles the responsibilities of being a full-time student at Suffolk County Community College, where she is studying education. Bender hopes to follow in her boss' footsteps and own her very own restaurant one day.

Related: From skater to chef, new passion leads to popular taqueria

"I just encourage all owners and chefs to really open their minds and listen to the younger generation," Louis said. "They have great ideas, they have great energy, and you find the right one and you can hit a home run."


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Patrons threaten to call ICE after Mexican restaurant enforces mask rule

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Employees at a Mexican restaurant in Texas are speaking out about the hateful messages they’ve been receiving from customers for enforcing a mask mandate. 

After Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday, rolling back statewide mask mandates, the Houston-based Picos eatery announced it would continue to require that customers wear masks in its facility. Several patrons responded by threatening to report the staff to ICE and calling for their green cards to be checked.

Monica Richards, co-owner of Picos, told the Washington Post customers have sent her and her staff threatening messages over social media and on phone calls. 

Read More: Texas governor lifts mask mandate, says it’s time to open state 100%

“It was just horrific,” Richards said. “People don’t understand unless you’re in our business what it felt like, how hard it was to go through everything we went through during COVID. For people to be negative toward us for trying to remain safe, so that this doesn’t continue to happen, just makes zero sense to us.”

Owner of @picosrestaurant says theyve gotten some unpleasant messages from people after they said they would continue to follow the @CDCgov guidelines. Fortunately theyve also gotten overwhelming support. Story on @KHOU

— Anayeli Ruiz (@AnayeliNews) March 6, 2021

theGRIO previously reported that Texas is the largest state to end an order intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The virus has killed more than 42,000 Texans.

Abbott imposed the statewide mask mandate in July during a deadly summer surge and faced sharp criticism from many Republicans. Enforcement was spotty at best, and some sheriffs refused to police the restrictions at all. As the pandemic dragged on, Abbott ruled out a return to tough COVID-19 rules, arguing that lockdowns do not work.

Texas will also do away with limits on the number of diners that businesses can serve indoors, said Abbott, who made the announcement last week at a restaurant in Lubbock. He said the new rules would take effect March 10.

“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Abbott, speaking from a crowded dining room where many of those surrounding him were not wearing masks. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed,” he said.

Read More: Texas power grid CEO fired after deadly February blackouts

Staffers at another Houston Mexican restaurant, Cantina Barba, have also been bullied by customers who refused to wear masks — even when it was a statewide requirement. 

“This has been ongoing through covid,” Cantina Barba co-owner Steven O’Sullivan said. “We’ve had threats of calling ICE. I had one guy just stand there and berate one of my bartenders and tell her ‘you’re an absolute idiot, you don’t know what you’re doing. If you think these masks are going to save your life, you’re stupid’ blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to deal with that stuff.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has responded to the violent reactions by reminding residents that businesses have the right to implement protections against the potentially deadly virus.  

“Forget what the governor says, forget what the law says. What does our own humanity call upon us to do?” he said on MSNBC. “That’s to be cognizant that this is one of the best things we can do, is wear a mask, to keep each other safe.”

Richards, meanwhile, says she has also seen the ugly side of humans amid the COVID pandemic.

“Being Hispanic, and going through that immigration process, and finally receiving your papers, and then for somebody to start threatening you after you’ve been through all that, that’s crazy,” she said of the threats to call ICE on her staff. “It’s just heartbreaking.”

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