Inca owner wows his customers by memorizing orders

Nov. 21, 2018

People shake their heads in disbelief and smile as they watch Oscar Cadena work his way around a large group, memorizing his customers’ orders and then repeating them before heading to the kitchen.

Cadena, co-owner of Inca Mexican Restaurant, doesn’t recall his record, but he can tackle groups into the 40s.

“It happened a long time ago when I started serving tables,” he said. “One slow day … I thought to myself, ‘Why do people have to write orders?’ I have to do something different to kill the time, so I started remembering three, five, six, 10 orders and just kept increasing. … The challenge was to increase the number every day.”

Watch him repeat 39 orders in this video from earlier in the month.

In addition to remembering the orders for the kitchen, he also can recall who ordered what when he brings it to the table and write out separate checks from memory.

Cadena always starts at the head of the table and works his way counterclockwise. Once he has taken all the orders, he repeats them back to the customers before heading to the kitchen “both to ensure the food is going to be right and that’s what they wanted.” It gets trickier for big groups when all of the people on one ticket don’t sit next to each other. He can jump around the table and still keep it straight.

Inca isn’t a restaurant with a simple menu – it’s seven huge pages. And customers like to customize their orders, so it isn’t just a No. 19; it’s two enchiladas – one chicken, one beef – with sour cream, all beans and no rice.

“Sometimes it’s difficult,” he acknowledged.

He started practicing about 20 years ago when he immigrated to Seattle from Mexico and began working in a restaurant. He moved to Sioux Falls 15 years ago after his brother-in-law Julio Espino opened Inca. Cadena and his wife, Angelina, now the head chef, bought the restaurant at 41st and Holly from Espino eight years ago.

Cadena, who became a U.S. citizen in September, can’t explain how he’s able to memorize so many things. He doesn’t have a skill for remembering phone numbers. “I am the face guy, not the numbers guy,” he said. Even a week after taking 40 orders, he could still list all of the dishes. His memorization skills, however, didn’t help him in school, he said. “I was talking to too many people. I didn’t pay attention to the teacher.”

His skill is entertaining for the customers, and he enjoys making their experience at Inca fun and memorable. In addition to serving great food, he wants to present a clean restaurant with great service. Years of achieving that have led to multitude of loyal customers.

“This restaurant is different than other ones,” he said. “Everyone feels like family. That’s the big difference.”

Cadena doesn’t always wait tables, but it is his favorite part of the job.

“I love serving tables. I love seeing the happy faces. … It’s not my style to be stuck in the back. I want to be out with the customers.”

Inca owner wows his customers by memorizing orders

The owner of Inca Mexican Restaurant entertains his customers by taking orders for large groups without writing anything down.

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