Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 4

Waking on the sofa in my office I felt overwhelmed at finally being reunited with the sensation of having had a full night’s sleep. I laid there for several minutes soaking in the almost intoxicating comfort. I didn’t have much optimism for the day but was glad that at least my brain would finally be functioning at 100% capacity. Unfortunately, I encountered a new challenge as I began to move off the sofa. Finally being fully within my senses, all I could sense was pain. My body ached from neck to toe and I realized the damage that the last few days had done.

It had been a long time since I had done this much physical work and I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I had been so active for so many hours in so few days. My calves began to cramp up and the muscles crossing my shoulders and neck felt like rebar. How many hours had I worked? Monday stretched for 35 hours into Tuesday. Wednesday was 19 hours. Thursday I worked 16 hours. Only four days in and I had already worked 70 hours. I tried to put my mind off of it.

I kept stretching as much as I could throughout the morning preparations. I switched on the ‘OPEN’ sign and took my place behind the register. I waited for Lyle Duerr to lead the coffee row crowd in. I hadn’t thought of any new way of up-selling those parasites. I had expected a bit of a coffee crowd to form between breakfast and lunch but with breakfast sales totaling about $40 in the first three days it was already difficult to justify opening for breakfast at all.

I thought that maybe I needed to find a way to promote the Belgian waffles better – they really were incredible. I knew that the hot cereal wasn’t going to be a big draw but I had hoped that perhaps with the hot fruit compotes it might attract a few sales from those looking for a convenient and healthy breakfast. I hoped that the weekend would bring in a bit of a brunch crowd and perhaps that would kick off my morning sales.

Once again Jeffrey arrived to mind the helm while I started cooking lunch. Once again the food sales were almost zero. I had set the beans to boiling earlier and they were nice and tender as I added the components of the sauce. I sautéed the onion, celery, red peppers, and mushroom with the browned ground beef. I began to wonder if the malt vinegar and demerara sugar might actually be off-putting to the Humbuggers. There was no way I was going to open a damn can of chili for these rednecks, but it seemed that might be what it would take to get them eating.

As I took the rice up front to put it in hot holding, Jeffrey turned to me and said, “This lady would like a tuna wrap.” I was astonished. It wasn’t even 11:00 a.m. and someone was actually asking for something on the menu. I told the woman I would be just a minute bringing the chili up front and I’ld get her wrap made up for her. To my amazement, within fifteen minutes we had some more customers asking for the chili. By the time the Flintstone Whistle wailed through the streets we had served about a dozen people and not one of them had asked for ‘SUPE’. Within minutes of the whistle, a steady stream of customers came flowing through the door. As the first one approached, Jeffrey asked her what she would like.

“What’s your SUPE?”

“We don’t have soup, but we have Chili,” Jeffrey explained.

“Is it spicy?”

“It’s pretty spicy, yes.”

“Yuck! I hate spice.”

“Well we also have a tuna salad wrap,” Jeffrey offered.

“Can I get that without onions?”

“Not really, they’re already mixed in.”

“So you don’t have any SUPE?”

“No, I’m sorry. It's really either the chili or the wrap – unless you’ld like a waffle?”

“Bah, I guess I’ll try the wrap.”

Fortunately the ‘SUPE’ customers were few and far between and, to my great joy, we had a number of orders for waffles and an even greater number for chili. Jeffrey and I were running like mad. I had taught him to make the waffles so he jumped from the register to the waffle irons to the espresso machine like a real trouper. I primarily focused on wraps and chili and took the odd turn with the waffles. At some point during the melee he turned to me with frantic eyes and yelled, “Is this ok, boss?”

“Oh, yes, buddy boy, this is great!” I yelled back.

“I don’t think we can keep up, boss!”

“One table at a time, buddy boy, just plate it up and ship it out!”

“Is this what a restaurant is like, boss?”

“Oh yes, this is exactly what a restaurant is like!” I exclaimed.

It had been years since I last scrambled to plate dish after dish after dish. My heart was pounding and I felt like I was surfing on a tidal wave. There are no words that can describe what it’s like to see people lined up in your restaurant, clamoring for your food. By 12:30 p.m. I was running through the dining area with a service cart, clearing tables as fast as I could and running back to the dish pit. By 1:00 p.m. Jeffrey was making another run and screaming that he had run out of room to pile the dishes. I ran to the back and told him to pile them on the floor under the sink. At one point Jeffrey actually had to push down on the cash to get the register drawer shut. The site of this nearly caused me to pee a little. This was indeed what a restaurant was like and I was in heaven.

By 1:30 p.m. the rush had died down and Jeffrey focused on bussing tables while I franticly washed dishes – because we had run out. He would bring the cart back and put the dishes on the floor by the back door and I would pile the cart up with racks of clean dishes to go up front. By the time he had to leave at 2:00 p.m. we had almost half of the dishes returned to the front counter.

Standing at the back of the kitchen I thanked Jeffrey profusely for his monumental work. This guy had never worked in food service before but he withstood the acid test and popped back out the other side smiling.

“I guess you were right, boss,” he said.

“About what?” I asked.

“Well, you said there HAD to be people in town who liked real flavour.”

“Yeah, I was starting to doubt it there for a bit.”

“Looks like word spreads fast in Humbug, eh?”

“Looks like it.”

“You know, boss, I never actually knew a restauranteur before.”

“Heh, thanks, little buddy.”

“Congratulations on your new restaurant.”

“Wow, thanks. Really – thanks,” I said, almost in tears that it was true.

“Well, see ya Tuesday!”

My heart stopped for a moment. I had forgotten that when Maria quit I had rescheduled Jeffrey for weekdays and Anna for weekends. Anna was great, as near as I knew, but she hadn’t worked an actual running day yet. The thought of opening Saturday without Jeffrey terrified me. He at least had a chance to ramp up to the real crowd but Anna was going to get thrown straight into the fire.

I ran to my office and grabbed the pile of resumes marked ‘unlikely’. I had already hired everyone in the ‘ok’ pile and the ‘unlikely’ pile was definitely better than the ‘when pigs fly’ pile. I spent the rest of the afternoon washing dishes, tending to the afternoon coffee rush, selling a few waffles, and working my way through the pile of resumes with the cordless phone pinned between my ear and my shoulder.

Going back through the resumes was a nightmare. I can’t tell you how many teenage Humbug girls had listed ‘hand gun proficiency’ and ‘hunter safety certificate’ under their skills. It seemed to be an odd thing to include when applying for food service work but I consoled myself with the thought that I would be the safest chef in the world if anyone ever tried to rob me.

I spent a lot of time talking to mothers who told me their daughters had already found other work. Some of the mothers took the time to tell me that they heard I was serving ‘weird spicy food’ and that they didn’t approve of that. I was starting to think that I’ld have to make it with just Anna. The last resume in the pile looked rather shameful – even before I realized it didn’t have a name or any contact information on it.

Under ‘experience’, this girl listed volunteering at an old folk’s home and for skills she listed ‘playing cards with the old people and stuff’. I decided to call the care home listed and see if they knew her name and number. This was really scraping the bottom of the barrel but the only other resumes I had on hand were in a pile marked ‘when pigs fly’.

The lady who answered at the retirement home was extremely friendly and sympathetic to my situation. She said they only had one volunteer who actually played cards with the residents, but that volunteer was a young man named ‘Marty’. I took down Marty’s number and thanked her.

When I called Marty’s number, his mother answered. When I mentioned that I was looking to hire him, she shrieked. She seemed very eager to have Marty find gainful employment and pressed me hard about how many hours I needed him to work. I managed to avoid making any commitments and asked her to have him call me. Marty returned my call at about 8:00 p.m. and he agreed to come in at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.

I hung up the phone and looked around the restaurant. The food was put away and the dishes were finally done. The crowd had made an incredible mess of the floors and I had to sweep and mop the dining area from front to back. The bathrooms had taken far too long to clean but were finally sparkling. I still had to clean out the front deli-cooler and wash all the inserts, make more waffle batter and then prep for Siesta Saturday. I didn’t finish until midnight and didn’t even have to debate where I was going to sleep that night.

As I lay on the sofa in my office I thought about the day. I couldn’t believe that I had begun to doubt myself. It seemed that those Humbuggers who did like spicy food had perhaps given up on dining out in Humbug long ago. With so many of the bland Humbuggers being so over-spiced in my restaurant, word must have spread like wild fire to the Humbuggers with taste. If people were still talking about the new place in town that was serving spicy food then I couldn’t imagine the sort of crowd that would be drawn to ‘Siesta Saturday’. I drifted off to sleep with a huge smile on my face.