Once Marty was gone, and the decision had been made to let the business determine its own course, I had some time to reflect on just how far this little adventure had come. As I looked over the numbers I was glad to see that the margins on food were turning out exactly as I had calculated them. In most restaurants that is the most difficult part of the equation.
The problem was volume; or more precisely, lack thereof. The customers that I had accumulated, the ones who actually walked in through the front door with expectations of being well fed, were wonderful. I’ve never been good at names, so I tended to give them nicknames that described the things they ordered or what little I knew about them. To nickname a few, there were Chai, Taco Family, Grandpa & Grandma Coolio, the Phone guys, the Landlord Couple, and the Smoke Shop family.
Most of Taco Family spent a full day in my little bistro while they awaited the arrival of Taco Grandson. The next day they came in to get a really strong Americano for Taco Daughter who had been through a very long labour. When they eventually brought the handsome little new addition to their family into the bistro, I just couldn’t help but feel some pride in being a part of their experience. I hoped that I could be open long enough to throw him a fifth or sixth birthday party. Children of that age were usually ecstatic about the waffles, and I envisioned a double-decker serving with birthday candles and smiled.
Grandpa & Grandma Coolio were rather young to be grandparents, but they brought their little grandson in for a waffle almost every week. Seeing the little guy with syrup smeared ear to ear always made me happy. Another young man who enjoyed the waffles was the son of one of the phone guys. He was old enough to place his order himself and took great pride in being very mature about placing his order and inspecting his plate upon delivery. Quite a few Humbuggers could have taken lessons from him in the social graces.
Landlord couple and the Smoke Shop family came in at least twice each week for lunch and always had interesting stories about their encounters with Humbuggers. We spent hours talking about Humbug ways and wondering how anything in town ever got done. I can’t begin to do justice to some of the stories that they told me about their tenants and customers. At the core of every story, however, was a childish, rude Humbugger that felt he or she should be worshipped for being good German.
Chai always pushed the boundaries of what I could make in the lines of beverages. I would have to say that she was the inspiration for almost half of the specialty drinks I developed. Her favorite food was my roasted red bell pepper cream cheese. There is just no way to describe the flavour and aroma created by mashing freshly roasted red bell peppers into cream cheese.
There were so many nice couples and families that came in that I really had to wonder where everyone else was going. Of the sixty or so families that I had on my list, I realized that only three of them were Humbuggers. Even those who were Humbuggers weren’t the true blue German Catholic Humbugger type. I had the highest respect for these people because they had lived their entire lives in the oppressive little town but still managed to hold onto their individuality.
Since most of my customers weren’t the sort to conform to the Flintstone Whistle, they often came in at times when I could give them extra attention. Many of them tended to sit on the sofa and serving them was like serving guests in my living room. Although it looked like I might never get a paycheque out of the bistro, I knew I would always cherish the conversations and laughter that inevitably echoed through the dining room around that coffee table.
It just confounded me that so many Humbuggers excluded themselves from this sort of experience. Getting traffic into a restaurant should be the easiest part of the business equation. Good food at great prices usually results in line-ups at the door. My regulars confirmed that the food was spectacular and every single one of them thanked me for the prices. Getting true blue Humbuggers in the door for food was a challenge that I was beginning to think I could never live up to.
Even after six months I still had people walking through the door referring to the place as The Humbug Coffee House. Most of them had never liked the coffee house, and it had never been well supported, but they liked me even less for trying to change it. Worse than that, I had refused to conform to their way of life. Anyone who didn’t conform was made to feel very unwelcome – and all too often that applied to my customers as well. As I have explained previously, Humbuggers can’t seem to whisper, and so I heard all too well the rasping hisses of criticism. I didn’t dress like them, celebrate Christmas, vote for the right candidate, and worst of all; I was an atheist. On top of all of this, I refused to be a doormat for them and I spoke my mind.
To top it all off, I had hired a gay fellow and a pastor who didn’t preach at the ‘right church’. When a true blue Humbugger did come in for coffee, I would often see them leave as soon as I committed a horrible faux pas, such as greeting a Native customer with a friendly hello. No exception to their strictly mandated set of protocols could be overlooked.
As they became aware of my refusal to conform to their backward, redneck ways, several Humbuggers took the time out of their day to come and warn me that a Tim Horton’s was coming to town. They recommended that I drop my prices on coffee and get back to free refills or my coffee shop would never make it. When I cheered the idea of a Tim Horton’s, thanking fate for my great fortune that finally Humbuggers could go somewhere else for coffee, they usually just got stuck in a Humbug Huh. With a quick comment on the weather they were quickly rebooted and usually just left, having lost their train of thought.
I was making ends meet with my fresh menu, and if I just worked through to the end of the lease I could recover my investment in the equipment as wages. For me, it seemed like the moral victory of refusing to serve factory food and actually getting out without losing a fortune would be worth it. I knew that Humbuggers would always remember my bistro as a failure because I never even learned to serve a ‘normal hamburger’ but in a way I viewed that as a sign of success as well. If Humbuggers felt I was doing things wrong then it was obvious that I had to be doing things right.