The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2007 by Lazlo Zalezac
Dan walked out of the sixth restaurant of the day shaking his head in disgust. It was one of those places where the staff walked around in costumes and entertained the customers with their impersonations of famous Hollywood characters. He didn't like the idea of being a show business entertainer. He didn't like the idea of having to entertain the customers. He felt that customers should come to his place to celebrate and enjoy their lives. It was just a matter of finding a concept for the pizzeria that would draw people wanting to have a good time.
For two months he had been checking out restaurants trying to find one that was a fun place to eat. The closest that he had come was a sports bar, but that was a bar and not a place for the whole family. It was loud, but much of the noise was from the televisions broadcasting sporting events. He had tried one of the T&A chains. He found that people were having fun, but that fun involved a lot of work on the part of the waitresses as they strutted their stuff. There was a children's pizza chain and the kids were definitely having fun, but the noise would have driven him crazy in a day.
It amazed Dan as he went around that there just didn't seem to be many fun places anywhere. He wondered if Americans had lost their sense of humor and play. Getting into his car, he asked, "Is the only way that people can play is to get so drunk that they lose their inhibitions? I refuse to believe that."
Feeling like his plans were starting to fall apart, he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. Not having a fixed destination, he drove in random directions. After thirty minutes of driving, he drove past a park and decided that he needed to stop so that he could think about his problem. After turning around, he pulled into the parking lot and shut off the engine.
The park was nearly deserted except for a small bunch of teenagers. They were walking past his location while talking to each other. Shaking his head, he said, "There has to be some way of providing a physical environment that promotes having fun. It can't be that hard."
His mind was going around in circles. The most fun place he had found was an ice cream parlor. He had watched people line up in front of the counter to point out the flavor of ice cream they wanted. There was often a fleeting moment of indecision as they wrestled with that all important question of whether to have a cone or a cup. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation that was missing in the other restaurants he had visited.
Dan watched the teenagers as they reached one of the picnic tables. They sat down on the picnic table. He stared at them for a few minutes thinking about how they were acting. There was some light hearted pushing and shoving that was accompanied by smiles and laughs. Even at the distance that he was from them, he could hear their funny little comments to each other. It looked to him like they were having fun.
Dan watched them for several more minutes and then glanced away. There was no way that he could recreate the entire park just to sell a few pizzas. He looked back at them and then he noticed something important. The kids were sitting on the picnic table; not at the picnic table. Their asses were on the table and their feet were on the benches. Some of the kids were standing; facing those seated on the table. As he watched, one of the kids danced a little jig.
Inspiration struck. He realized that he didn't have to recreate the entire park. Slapping his forehead, he said, "All I have to do is create a place where the rules can bend a little."
No one sat on the table in a restaurant. No one threw nerf balls at basketball hoops while people were eating. No one rang a bell when someone said something clever. People didn't draw funny faces on the table. People didn't do those kinds of things except when they were at a party. Restaurants didn't have scoreboards for keeping track of friendly insults. Restaurants didn't expect some its guests to stand around eating and drinking while telling jokes or playing games. Restaurants didn't have funny hats for people to wear. Restaurants didn't have games like Twister painted onto the floor.
Dan sat in his car staring at the kids in the park. His mind was churning; thinking of all the things he could do to turn his pizzeria into a fun place for friends and family. He had never seen a place like that. He had never heard of a place like that. It was a niche market and it was all his.
He laughed as an idea flitted through his mind and started his car. It was time to go visit Tom's parents. If anyone knew how to throw a party it was them. Not all of the ideas that were swirling through his brain would make it into the pizzeria, but he now had a concept for it. That was the important thing.
Friday night, Dan was getting ready to check out the bathrooms at the start of his shift when Trent entered the back room. Without saying a word to anyone, Trent went over to the office door and knocked on it. Dan looked over at Trent thinking that the guy looked like he had a few beers too many. He didn't really care all that much for Trent. The guy was always talking about moving on to somewhere else, but seemed to stay where he was.
Rob opened the office door and asked, "What do you need?"
With a slightly angry tone to his voice, Trent asked, "Have you got my paycheck?"
Nodding his head, Rob said, "I'll hand it out at the end of the shift like I always do."
"I want it now," Trent said holding out his hand as if he expected Rob to put the check in it right that second.
"I'll hand out the paychecks at the end of the shift like I always do," Rob said with a frown.
"Dude, I want my damned check now," Trent said getting angry.
Shaking his head, Rob went over to the desk and rifled through the stack of checks. He pulled out the one for Trent. Handing it over to the cook, he said, "Here's your check."
"Thanks. I quit," Trent said as he turned to walk off.
Disgusted by the cook's behavior, Dan watched Trent leave. He looked over at Rob and said, "That's pretty rude."
Rob looked over at Dan agreeing with his comment. He said, "We usually don't get much notice when someone quits. I hate to say it, but Sue's leaving was kind of unusual. Most folks leave like Trent. They just show up one day and say they're quitting."
"That leaves you short a cook on a Friday night," Dan said knowing that Friday nights were the busiest nights of the week. The other cook, Tim, had transferred over to days.
Rob shook his head and said, "No. That leaves me short a busboy. I'm officially moving you over to cook trainee."
"Oh," Dan said. He wondered if that would come with another raise. Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "Are you sure you want to do that?"
"We're still trying to hire another cook to replace Tim," Rob said with a sigh. The turn over in a restaurant like that could be pretty high.
"He's been gone for more than a week," Dan said wondering why they hadn't replaced Tim already.
"It takes time to hire people. Most folks don't want to work jobs like this," Rob said. He looked at Dan and said, "When you open your pizzeria, you're going to have staffing problems. People won't show up to work or they'll be late with tons of excuses. They'll quit in the middle of their shift. You'll have high school kids that will announce that their parents are taking them on vacation for two weeks so they need the time off. There will be some who just won't work no matter what you do."
"I hadn't thought about that," Dan said. He always gave his best on the job, but knew that he was an exception rather than the rule. He had watched how many of the construction workers were willing to blow off the job for rather trivial matters. For some, all it took to forget to return to work was a beer at lunch.
"That's the heart and soul of managing a business like this. Finding and keeping good people. You might not like someone, but you'll keep them if they show up on time, do their job, and don't cause any problems. You may just like someone to death, but if they are unreliable and create problems, you'll have to fire them. That's just a fact of business," Rob said. He knew that he had been real lucky the day that Dan had been hired.
"I don't know if I could fire someone," Dan said.
"It is never easy. You'll have some that'll cry and demand a second chance. You'll have some that will threaten to sue you for some stupid reason. You might even get one that turns violent on you. It is hard to say. The one thing you have to keep in mind is that this is business; it is not personal," Rob said. It had taken him a long time to learn the difference.
"I'm going to have to think about that," Dan said. He didn't like the idea of telling someone that they didn't have a job. Frowning, he said, "I'm not sure I can do it."
"That's the price you have to pay in order to be successful," Rob said, "Now get out of your smock and into your chef's apron. You've got to get in that kitchen and help Jimmy."
Dan had only had to help out in the kitchen during the rush times. Entering the kitchen earlier than usual, he discovered that the job had dimensions that he hadn't thought about. Jimmy had piles of food on the counter. He looked at the pile of food and asked, "What are we doing?"
"You don't think all those tomato slices appear on their own, do you?" Jimmy asked looking over at Dan. He noticed that Dan was wearing a chef's apron and the hat. He was rather surprised to see that Rob had sent Dan into the kitchen that early in the evening.
"No. I just didn't know when you did that. I kind of assumed that the last shift did it before leaving," Dan said. He knew that Jimmy usually refilled the garnishes before leaving in the morning.
"Where's Trent?" Jimmy asked with his back to Dan. He knew that Trent was scheduled to work that night. Knowing his luck, Trent would be late again.
"He quit," Dan answered. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "I'm the new cook trainee."
"It's about time," Jimmy said with a smile. He wasn't sure if he was happier to see Trent go or Dan start working as a full-time cook. Getting a serious expression on his face, he turned to face Dan. Sounding like a drill sergeant, he said, "Atten' hut! You are now in my kitchen and you will work hard. You will say yes sir, no sir. When I tell you to jump, you'll ask how high. Do I make myself clear?"
"Huh?" Dan said staring at Jimmy in shock.
Jimmy burst out laughing and said, "Damn. The look on your face was perfect."
"You got me," Dan said laughing.
Jimmy got serious and said, "All I've been having you cook is the basic egg dishes and the burgers. Now that you're training to be a cook for real, you're going to have to learn the whole menu. That includes the dinners. Let's get to work."
Dan looked at the counter and didn't see any orders. He said, "There aren't any orders."
"There won't be many orders for the next half hour or so. The first thing we're going to do is prep the ingredients," Jimmy said.
"Okay," Dan said grabbing the knife.
"This is a head of lettuce. You don't cut lettuce with a knife. You shred lettuce with your hands. Let me show you how it is done," Jimmy said holding up a head of lettuce. He slammed the bottom of the head of lettuce on the counter. He reached over and pulled out the stem. He peeled off the outer layer of leaves and tossed them into the trash can. With deft moves he tore the head of lettuce into halves and then into quarters.
After washing the lettuce, he pulled off a bunch of the leaves that were the next few layers. He said, "These we use on the burgers. They are larger and a little stiffer. The hearts we rip up for salads. The center of the head of lettuce is tender. People like that in their salads."
"Oh," Dan said watching as Jimmy threw the shredded lettuce into the large bowl for salads.
Jimmy said, "On a night like tonight, we'll go through eight to ten heads of lettuce."
Dan nodded his head. Stepping up to the counter, he went through the same motions as Jimmy. Jimmy shook his head and said, "You can hit it on the counter a little harder than that. You won't bruise it by hitting the stem like that."
It didn't take long for Dan to prepare the heads of lettuce. When he was done, the big bowl for salad was nearly half full. It didn't look like that much salad to him. He said, "Do we need more salad?"
"No. Salads aren't a particularly big item at night. During lunch, they'll go through thirty heads of lettuce. All of the women are worried about their figures and they'll order salads," Jimmy said with a smile. Half of the time they drowned the lettuce in salad dressing without realizing that they were ruining their diets.
"That makes sense," Dan said.
"If you're going to be a cook, you're going to have to learn the ebb and flow of the orders. At breakfast time, you'll be cooking a lot of eggs and pancakes. At lunch, it will be mostly sandwiches, burgers, and salads. At dinner, it will be a lot of burgers, the dinners, and a few salads. After ten, the orders are mixed with breakfast and dinner foods."
After tossing the stems from the lettuce into the trashcan, Dan asked, "Why do we throw away the outermost leaves?"
"They usually have lots of defects. That's the oldest part of the head of lettuce and has been exposed to the dirt, the bugs, and all. Customers don't like seeing lettuce with visible spots on them on their plates. For some reason, it tends to ruin their appetites," Jimmy answered.
"Okay," Dan said covering the bowl with plastic wrap. He put it in the refrigerator so that it would stay fresh longer. Jimmy watched Dan put away the lettuce pleased that he didn't have to tell him how to take care of it.
"This is parsley," Jimmy said holding up a bundle of the plant.
"Really?" Dan asked looking over at Jimmy. He was very familiar with using parsley as a garnish. He looked closer at the sprig of parsley and said, "I thought that was a banana."
Jimmy laughed and said, "We wash it and then trim the ends."
"Just this one bundle?" Dan asked.