Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Green Eggs and Fish

Today’s St. Patrick’s Day Blondie and Dagwood cartoon reminded me of something funny that also happened on St. Pattie’s day. One of the secrets of our success in the restaurant business was provided by a young, ex-marine, named Charles Rathbun, who had studied at the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Management program. Charles (we called him, Chick) was a hard-working and personable manager who we hired a month before we opened our first unit - to manage that unit.

Six months after that Lums Restaurant in Seekonk, MA opened, it became the number one Lums in the world out of about 350 Lums. Chick was married to a charming girl from the back woods of North Carolina named Faye. Faye often worked as a waitress, and had a very large family back home – a place where jobs were very scarce. As the Seekonk Lums expanded, and as we built more Lums sites, Chick would often bring up more and more of Faye’s relatives to work for us. As we expanded we promoted Chick to become our Area Supervisor, and this process continued.

Faye’s relatives were always hard workers and good employees, but sometimes some strange things would happen. One of these employees was a teenager named Donnie Spivey who first went to work as an after-hours cleaner, and then joined our management-training program. Donnie was a hard-worker without much education who put all his earnings into fast cars and automobile insurance that kept increasing as he crashed his cars. After some training and a couple of stints as relief-manager, Donnie was promoted to become the Assistant Manager of our Lums in Cranston, RI.

My custom the week before St. Patrick’s day, at our weekly meetings, was to hand out a small bottle of green food dye to each manager so that they could serve green beer that day. The following week, on St. Patrick’s day, I went round to each restaurant (that year we had six) to check on them. I arrived at the Cranston Lums after the noon rush was over, about 1:30 PM. Immediately something looked wrong. There were dozens of tables with dishes containing the remains of uneaten food, and as I looked closer, I saw that most of it was greenish fish.

You guessed it. Donnie had decided that, if it was cool to serve green beer, it would also make great sense to serve green fish! He had poured some of the green dye into the batter into which we dip the fish fillets before deep frying them. Although it was disastrous to the business that day (we recovered), it was also so funny that I was laughing about it as I confronted Donnie. Donnie eventually drifted away into another line of work.


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