LOS ANGELES — People arrive hungry and empty-handed. They leave clutching ducks, dolphins and mermaids.
And it's thanks to the deft hands of Miguel Carrillo, a busboy at Gladstone's Malibu in Pacific Palisades who for 29 years has crafted animal-shaped doggie bags out of aluminum foil. In minutes, he can turn leftover halibut into an island with a palm tree and mermaid, or a dolphin.
His work has earned him the name "The Magician" from co-workers and customers.
"I love it. I see the people. They are happy. They like it, so I feel good. They laugh. They talk about me and say 'I'm the man'," Carrillo says.
Carrillo, 55, born in Zacatecas, Mexico, was taught how to wrap in 1981. "I didn't feel good performing until I had been practicing and doing it for three years."
He started with a rabbit and his creations have multiplied. Today, he can make nearly anything. Elephants, complete with legs, trunk and tail, take the longest and he's not yet happy with his giraffes or crabs, but he will make them if asked.
Customers have favorites — ladies want dolphins, men sharks, little girls dolphins with mermaids and little boys ask for dinosaurs and dragons, he said.
He won't guess how many wraps he's made over the years, but he figures he makes about 60 a night.
"People will wait 20 minutes to a half hour" to get Carrillo to make their wraps. He might have five tables waiting on him, said manager Paul Williams. "They applaud and encourage him. People will not let him go until he makes one for them."
Is any other waiter or busboy as good as Carrillo? "They don't even come close," Williams said.
Carrillo uses two kinds of foil — traditional silver, and a thinner, special-order gold. The only tools he uses are a knife or pen to poke holes and toothpicks to keep his creations together.
He doesn't sculpt, paint or play the piano. "I am a mechanic," he said.