The bread was a big draw for diners who chose to eat at the Cooker. I know that because people told me, often emphatically. Since the bread was complimentary, served before the meal, and replenished as often as was wanted, perhaps it had something to do with the restaurant chain's ultimate demise. When your best attribute is free that makes for poor profits.
The Cooker served both homemade rolls and fresh-from-scratch cornbread. In fact, they employed a person full-time to make only bread, all the time. The rolls were wheat (though by no means whole wheat) that wound around like small cinnamon rolls, but with no glaze or sugar. I never really thought they were all that great, but I was clearly in the minority with that opinion. The cornbread, on the other hand, was shaped in rounds, individually, and they were damn good. 22 fat grams (each!) worth of delicious. Each table was to receive one roll per person in a basket, and each basket got one piece of cornbread per table. Unless there were more than four people seated, in which case there could be two pieces of cornbread. But, of course, this was never enough for 98% of my tables. Which is understandable, I go through chips at a Mexican restaurant like a junkie blows through nickel bags, but damn! At least let me bring the people what they want, which is mounds and mounds of hot, free bread served with plenty of whipped margarine now. I was often ordered to bring a scoop of margarine for each piece of complimentary bread I served.
But the managers watched the coveted woven baskets with their single-ply wax paper sheets enveloping the fresh bread like hawks. Only 4x1+1 pieces of bread could make it out to the table, unless the table had specifically requested extra. Because if there was anything that the Cooker cowtowed to utterly and completely it was the whims of guests who took advantage of that very fact.*
Because explicit requests for extra bread were the only exception made as to how much went out on the first round, we exploited it. We lied. We could tell when a table was going to run us the entire time for more free, filling bread--maybe we'd waited on them before, maybe they'd told us they were starving, maybe they expressed their love of cornbread--and so when harassed by management about it we'd just fib a little. It got to be so prevalent, though, that I'm surprised the managers didn't go ask patrons to verify if that was true. Of course, they'd never want to offend a valued guest, so we played that for all it was worth.
Danielle, the woman who was the sole bread baker there, was a tyrant. Her job was hard, no doubt. She had to make an extraordinary amount, dare I say a shit-ton, of bread. But that bitch was crazy. She would throw bowls when she got pissed, which was every Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday morning. They only scheduled her during the busiest hours because she was incredible at the baking part. The bread she made was consistently fluffy and soft or moist and savory, depending. And she did just fine, so long as there wasn't a rush. But if there was a push at the door and production became too stressful for her--a low threshold to be sure--she would lose her shit.
Servers asking for bread when she was clearly busy was usually the tipping point. See, servers constantly have to ask those who work in the kitchen for stuff, despite not being their boss. ("How long on that steak?"; "Is there dairy in that?"; "Can you wash a few bowls?") Servers, the people separating the diners from their food, ask for knowledge, knives, help reaching, estimated time of arrivals, extra dressing and a billion other things. They are needy people who can't do much for themselves back there besides ask.** Asking Danielle how much more time before the bread was ready could cause a melt down. She'd start cussing, as if under her breath, but everyone could clearly hear her. "Fucking bitchass kids ain't gonna tell me what to do. They can kiss my black ass!"
If a waiter was unfortunate enough to have been out at his table for a while, perhaps getting railed by his guests about why they can't be eating bread, and he came back to inquire with a bit of an edge to his voice, all bets were off. Danielle would start slamming shit. Doors to ovens, metal baking sheets (heavy, industrial ones that make a lot of racket), cutting boards, random passersby. "I'm gonna sue!," she'd yell. "This place is some bullshit. I can't believe this shit. There should be three of me. Fuck you 18-year-old motherfuckers telling me what to do. I swear, I'll sue!"
No one could ever figure out what she was going to sue over, but she was never fired. I imagine she went down with the sinking ship some years later.
*In fact, I heard once a manager say that he would get shit from the fellas upstairs if he had too few "comps" for the week. They'd say he wasn't doing enough to satisfy the patrons.
**Some servers are also back-of-house employees, but even the most able server has his hands ties when it comes to access to items in the kitchen.