Late-night Mexican-food junkies may have noticed that Freebirds has been serving up more than just burritos Friday and Saturday nights, now that the restaurant has added a bouncer to its payroll.
Matt Johnston, a teacher at McKinley Elementary School, said he has been working as a bouncer at Freebirds for the past two months. Manager Mark Orfalea said he hired Johnston to serve as the doorman at the restaurant on weekend nights between midnight and 3 a.m. to help control the large crowds during those times.
“It’s kinda out of control out there on Friday night – I mean, have you seen it?” Orfalea said.
Johnston, who has worked as a bouncer at various bars, concert venues and nightclubs, said he was hired to work at Freebirds last fall for Halloween weekend. He said that after working at Freebirds on the restaurant’s busiest weekend of the year, the owner hired him to manage the crowd during the peak hours of the night on weekends. Johnston said he does not usually have trouble dealing with the large influx of customers.
“You know, I deal with 400 kids in a night, but maybe four are a problem,” Johnston said.
Because Freebirds has limited seating space, Orfalea said, too many patrons inside the building can create a safety hazard and take away from the dining experience. Johnston said he makes sure that the long, late-night lines do not overcrowd the restaurant, and he tries to keep unruly customers from causing trouble.
“I just try to create a good situation for the people who work there, and a good situation for the people who eat there,” Johnston said.
Johnston said most Isla Vista residents do not cause problems, and said the worst incident he has seen was a bloody fight involving two 16-year-old high school girls.
“There are a lot of drunks, and some fights, unfortunately,” Johnston said. “But the thing is, most kids are pretty cool.”
In the two months that he has watched the door at Freebirds, Johnston said he has started to recognize regular customers. He said he used to work at San Marcos High School, and often sees his old students standing in line at the restaurant.
Orfalea said Johnston is hired on a week-to-week basis, and he said the Freebirds’ doorman is not necessarily a permanent fixture at the restaurant. Johnston said he works at Freebirds to earn some extra spending money.
“It’s not about being a tough guy,” Johnston said. “I’m 44. I’m doing this for my vacation.”
I.V. Foot Patrol Sgt. Steve Johnson said the IVFP has not been actively monitoring Freebirds, but he thinks that hiring a bouncer is a sensible way for the restaurant to keep its business safe and secure.