Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thank you, Natalie

A woman from Massachusetts emailed me today asking me if I would sell her a zip up sweatshirt. She sent with the email a picture of Natalie Portman wearing one of them. When asked where she got the picture, she sent me the link.

The sweatshirt must be at least five years old but we still use the same logo. Maybe I should start a NP sweats line. Now, how cool is that?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


This January has put a few things on my personal plate and I must admit finding it hard to be inspired to write the past few weeks. Tonight, Casey weighs heavy on my mind. Yesterday, his outpatient hernia surgery ended up taking a couple of hours and with his last call yesterday from his house, he was in a bit of pain so I can only lay there in the middle of the night wondering how he is doing but not able to call because of the hour.

A business does not allow for personal distractions, however, and so those challenges must continue to be addressed and so this is one that I am presently working on.

One of my first culinary decisions that I had to make years ago when I first started managing the restaurant was chili. Now, first of all, let me remind you that I came into this business with absolutely no prior food service experience but when I walked into the kitchen that day and watched the cook, I knew that this was a problem that I must immediately address.

The cook was standing over a pot of grey matter. He was pouring ketchup from out of a can into it. "What are you doing?", I asked. The cook looked up at me with a smile and said, "Fixing the chili.". I watched in shock as the ketchup added the color and additional flavor to the seemingly tasteless thick broth. Without another thought, I knew what I must do. I drove to United Grocers and paced down the isle that held the various canned chili. I picked what I felt looked good and was reasonably priced and thus we started the era of canned chili.

Over the next few years, I actually tried a few different brands looking for that one that we could use as our signature but none seemed to really stand out.

Then, in the late 80's, Duke made the choice for me. Now, Duke was a story on his own. He was as tough as his named sounds. I had actually kicked him out of the diner once. He had taken a liking to one of the waitresses. His jealous temper had found him sitting at the counter glaring at any fellow who even gave her a smile. I had had enough when he sat there for six hours one day after being warned. I must admit because of his size and temper, I told his girlfriend to tell him and he obviously did not have much respect for me from that.

After she left the business, he came back in one day and without her there, I figured there was no reason not to allow that. Instinctively knowing that I was somewhat afraid of him, he often teased and prodded me as I walked by. One day, I had had enough and was walking across the floor. I guess I must have been gazing at him and he chided, "Hey, what are you looking at?". I stopped and stared into his mean eyes. "Nothing", I returned and continued on into the kitchen. The guys around him erupted in laughter and with that one confrontation, I had regained Duke's respect and we actually began to be friends.

One day, Duke stopped me as I walked by. "Hey, Lyle, I came in for chili and the waitress tells me that you are out. What is up with that?", he teased. Now, just the day before, a local food rep had dropped off some chili samples. I remember him telling me that I must try this new chili. I looked at the label that read Campbells and chuckled as I put the cans up on the shelf with no intentions of even opening it with that label.

I stopped and told Duke about this new chili without admitting the name on the label and asked him if he would like to be a guinea pig. I offered the chili up to him for free. I then went back into the kitchen, opened up the number five can, poured part of it's contents into a bowl and heated it up for him in a microwave. Delivering him the steaming bowl, I then went on with my rounds.

Duke yelled for me across the floor. Showing me his empty bowl, he asked if I had any more. "I will pay for this", he stated, "This stuff is great!". I made him and myself a bowl and sat down at the table with him. He was right. The consistency seemed perfect and the meat and bean mixture had just the right seasonings that I liked and thus began a new era of Campbells chili.

Over the years, I have had a bit of fun with it but have always been honest when asked or complimented on about it. The best time was when I was invited to a chili cook off from the referral of one of our chili eaters. I laughed as I asked the man on the phone if I could bring my can opener with me. To this day, I have served this chili.

Three years ago, we were asked if we wanted to join a local vets chili cook off. Jim really wanted to so I paid the fee and drove down to the VFW hall with him and watched him put together two different types of chili, red and green. I was happy when he won awards for both and gladly gave him the honor and the monetary prize as reward for his work.

For the past three years, he has won awards for both but I have remained reluctant to turn over the reigns in the diner away from this canned chili that has been so consistent and well liked. I have often thought about it but am not one that likes change especially when I have something so well accepted.

This week, Carrie called me up and asked for some chili for a weekly snack that various people in her office put together. This week, if was her turn. She really likes our chili so she decided on chili and chips. As we talked on the phone about it, it just came to me. "Would you like to try some of Jimmy's award winning chili?", I asked. We agreed and Jim put a batch together. He let me know the only problem, however, was the fact that he had never gone by a recipe so he said that he would keep tabs of what he put in it. His finished product tasted very good and I took a pot down to her office.

With this first step behind me, I have asked Jimmy to perfect his recipe and I am going to just take the step out hoping for the acceptance of our customers. I believe his flavor to be superior but one small problem will be in the beef. The Campbells has a fine diced beef and we have not been able to find a grind of that sort that works. Dicing up our own is far to labor intensive so for now we will use our ground beef while we look for that just right chili grind. To compensate for the difference and stay with our consistency in other soups and dishes, we have added more beef to the blend.

It all falls in line with our conversions to more home made. In the last year, we have moved our Pot Roast, Roast Beef, and Turkey all to a home roasted product made right here in our kitchen. This has all been done to give our customers a fresher better tasting product with a signature of our very own. Bottom line is that if it doesn't work, I still have my can opener.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Quality and Value

I know that Jake's has always been known mainly for quantity but ever since I took it over, I have strived to change that focus. I would much rather it be known for it's quality and value. I also feel that those factors along with service will be the best answer to get us through these hard times.

Along with our great staffs help, Judy and I strive daily to maintain those factors. When we are there, you will see us busing tables and pouring coffee. We constantly looking for problems to hopefully solve them before the customer leaves the building. I know that while that is always important, it is even more important in these present times.

Jimmy and I are constantly looking for ways to upgrade our quality without affecting the price. In the past year, he has greatly improved that in his roasting of our own roast beef, pot roast, and turkey. He also cuts all of the steaks and tweaks the various recipes to improve them such as our clam chowder of which I would put alongside any ones. In Oregon, Moe's is the standard and I have had many people tell me that ours is so much better. I do know that it is creamier and has more clams and vegetables in it.

But we are not and never will be fancy. That is not what we are here for and we know it.

Our hardest times as is with many others in town is in the evenings. It would be easier and more profitable for us to just close down at 3PM as others have but we will continue to work to improve those hours rather than give them up if anything so that people do not lose their jobs in a time when so many others are. We did decide to close down the Sunday evenings but that decision came after the crews desire to close it up also. That decision has been a good one for us also in that it gives us a time when we can easier get maintenance done (carpets and hoods) and also gives us a place in the week for special events if we want to such as an up coming spaghetti feed to help build the veteran memorial by the river on Newport Ave.

Our Thursday night steak and Saturday night prime rib is beginning to be successful but is constantly being watched and adjusted. Recently, we have been cutting the prime into rib eye steaks also and giving the customers the option of on Thursday, either top sirloin or rib eye and on Saturday, either prime or rib eye.

Jimmy is now playing with some roasted chicken on Wednesdays. We tried it last week and nearly sold out. He was planning on making the unsold portions into a chicken catchatori on Thursday but ended up with only enough to make some really great rosemary chicken rice soup that sold out quickly.

We will also continue to give back and support the community in every way that we can. Our present MOW (middle of winter) clothing, blanket and food drive has brought in over fifty large garbage size bags of coats and blankets, five sleeping bags, and six grocery bags full of food that is being distributed through the Salvation Army.

As I stated before, we will be holding a spaghetti feed for the veteran memorial here in the near future. And we will be holding the same events in this year as we have in the past with Holdem for Habitat on Monday nights (although with the changes that the Justice dept have imposed which reduces the intake from what we made before), the Fourth of July BBQ for the VVA, and our biggest event of the year which is the Thanksgiving feast for Seniors. All that with directly supporting a variety of things in the community such as Volunteers for Medicine, Hospice, Bend Police and Fire Chaplains, and many many others.

This along with our cater arm should keep us all pretty busy this year. At least that is our hope.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Oh Toaster, where are thou

A few years ago, I came up with this great idea with the help of the bread company manager. We would change the bread to a thicker slice which would greatly enhance the look of the plate and increase sales. Besides, we were a truck stop and were known for our large portions and it just seemed to fit.

My first problem was the toasters. We used pop down toasters and the bread did not fit. So, we purchased large opening toasters made for bagels and such. That worked OK but the size of the slice was larger and we had to turn the bread and re toast. This seemed to work for a while but the new toaster elements seemed to go out quicker and we had problems with toast toasted on one side.

I found a toaster that used a conveyor and figured that this would be the answer to all of our problems. It worked great for a while or at least until shortly before the warranty was out. We had to replace a couple of elements which seemed to irk the manufacture of the toaster who claimed that I was obviously misusing the machine. Our repairman quickly saw the problem, however. The large sliced bread was letting off some sort of vapor when heated. The vapor was covering the element and after a while the coating on the element caused the element to begin to overheat.

So, in 2007, I found the answer. A conveyor toaster that has metal elements. To me it seemed that it would solve all of our problems. Now all of these toasters were progressively more in price and this one came in at $850. I gulped as i paid the bill but if this solved the problems, then it would pay for itself in the end.

But, just as the first, the elements began burning out shortly before the end of the warranty. Like the first manufacture, this one put the obvious blame on us. Element after element was replaced at a huge cost. All this just to toast a slice of bread?!

Recently, our repairman told me that it was time to buy another toaster. I have talked to many manufacturers and all of them told me that their toasters were the best and hardly ever needed to have the elements replaced. And to top it off, the price on most of them are over $1000.

As I stared at the old toaster laboring on the line this morning, it hit me. The problem is in the bread. But, the customers love the large slices for the most part. Right now, it is a frustration to me as to what to do and I hate having to put so much energy into a machine that just toasts bread but unfortunately, it is a part of every breakfast order and must be addressed.

I called the bread manager up today. We will be sitting down on Tuesday to discuss what we can do about it. The funny thing looking back on all of this is, however, if I had not changed the bread all those years back, all of this would never have happened. But, because I did change the bread and now our customers are used to it, how will changing back affect us.

It is just one of those things that all restaurateurs must deal with. The problem might seem minor but the decision might make a major effect on the business.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I was sitting in the backroom having lunch with a few of my old vet buddies when a phone call came in for me. The man on the other end of the line was from St Charles. It seems that their is a man there who had been in rehab for a while now that they are having problems with. He wants them to get better coffee.

They told me that the other day, the man threw his cup across the room and yelled, "Get me some damn Jake's coffee!". So, St Charles was calling to see if they could buy some of my coffee for them to try. Laughing, I quickly told them that I would gladly sell them some at my cost. They soon came by and bought a five pound bag off of me.

Since then, lots of thoughts have come into my mind about their problem but not getting a number from him or not being able to better hear his name (some of the guys were talking loud when he gave it to me), I am unable to check back to see how they are doing. You see, there are other variables that might go way beyond the coffee itself. Like how much they use per pot or how hot the water is.

But the thought of someone thinking so highly of our coffee did feel pretty good. Especially since I have worried from time to time about that same thing mainly since so many people have changed their thoughts regarding coffee and have gone with stronger blends and more trendy mixed concoctions. I need to keep my focus on my main customers who just want a good cup of old fashion coffee brewed the old way.

That very day, my daughter Trinity had a friend of hers down from Portland. I stopped by their table to say hi and the friend, Sandy, looked up at me and said, "I love your coffee!". I told her thanks and she said, "You don't understand, I don't like coffee but I love yours.". She then went on to tell me that she had just talked to a friend or relative of hers to let them know that she was drinking coffee.

I have used the same coffee for years. The brand is Farmer Brothers. I used it because the truckers loved it and it's ability to stay well in their thermoses. I tried changing it twice. The first time I was wooed by one of the food companies. They gave me a price that was half of what I was paying. They said that they were able to make some good green bean buys and that I would always do well by switching to them. They gave me a referral to the largest truck stop on the west coast up in Seattle. I called and found that my price was the same as theirs so I switched. A month later, the price doubled to where I was at before. I called the Seattle stop and found that they had a written contract that kept their price good for a year. I quickly called Farmers and apologised. They were great by putting in all new brewers for us.

A year or so later, a local company came by. I will not give their name as I will not put them down by name. They asked me if I would just try their coffee. Their guarantee was that no one that had ever tried them had not liked them much more than their previous coffee and all had switched to them. So, I tried them out in my back room. Soon, the people in the backroom were asking the waitresses to bring them coffee from the front room. I gave them an honest month's worth of trial before giving in and handing back their remaining stock to them. They were not only devastated but angry with me. There was just no way that a normal person could like another coffee over theirs. I simply shrugged and said, "I guess I don't have normal customers.".

Farmer Brothers has always done me right. When I moved, they brought in new machines. When I renovated, they upgraded at the same time. When I have a problem, they are always right on top of it. The have been a very good partner even though I no longer sell more coffee than anyone on this side of the mountains like I used to when I was filling up all of those thermoses.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Not so Secret Society

I took a walk with Judy the other day. As we walked a path here in Bend, we came across a large pile of metal. It looked to me as a few small kids had taken the small pile up as their fort. As I looked at the pile of scraps, memories flooded into my mind of a time long ago when a few small creative boys had used something similar to create a world of their own.

The very large pile consisted of old stumps that had been pulled from the ground after the area had been logged. I believe the stumps had been pulled to leave more room in the ground for other tall pines to spread their roots and assist them in growing larger.

Amongst the twisted limbs that once brought nourishment to old growth ponderosa pines, four or five young explorers found caves and caverns to explore. A rather large gap towards the center became the club house of a newly formed society....The Ground Hogs.

The Ground Hogs consisted of my two brothers, Rudy and Marvin and, I believe, two other neighbor boys, David Nelson and Gilbert Pickens. I was the youngest and smallest and so don't remember much of the inner structure of the society. I just felt very fortunate and proud to be a part of it being much younger than the others.

Other severed limbs of the old processed trees were salvaged into weapons that we used to protect our fort from invading armies. Our shirts, pants, and shoes along with our scalps and faces were covered with the dirt that still held to the old roots.

We really must have looked a sight. Especially when we marched on the town of Gilchrist. Our fortress was located just off of a small access road that tied one of the upper streets of Gilchrist to the logging roads on the hill above it.

With our weapons resting on our shoulders and marching in step (I took up the rear), the Ground Hogs descended on the town.

As we entered the street with the brown houses lining the sides of our road much like invaders entering a conquered town, we marched. And then began our chant:

"We are the Ground Hogs
Dirty Dirty Ground Hogs
Hip Hip Ground Hogs
Hip Hip Dirty Dogs".

As I remember back on that time some fifty years ago or so, I wonder about the reasons that it so embedded itself in my memory and just how much the others remember it. I am sure that part of the reason that the memory is so precious to me is because being the youngest, I wasn't always as welcome in the older boys play (David was nearly twice my age). As a matter of fact, the only other real memory of Dave in my mind was the first time that I drank a Coca Cola. We were all down at the store and someone bought us all Cokes. I took a big swallow of the sparkling dark liquid and my eyes immediately began to water. Dave laughed and told me that I was going to have to grow into more of a man before I would be able to drink this stout beverage like the rest of the boys.

Anyway, those are memories that will forever be embedded in my brain and from time to time will surface as they did the other day when visions of things in front of me bring them back in a sort of deja vu.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Great customers....and others

I arrived at the diner today to find one of my waitresses on the phone with an upset customer. I had to think fast on this one and went with the waitress who said that the customer had left without paying after she had suggested to her that if she had a problem to pay and then leave me a note. She assured the customer that I always read my notes and contact.

I listened to the customer tell me how our staff had completely ignored them many times even when they stood up and waved their arms trying to get their attention. As I listened, one of our other customers came up to me and began to tell me that what the customer on the phone was telling me was untrue. Meanwhile, the customer on the phone was using some rather unsavory language which just left another mark against her. After she dropped the F bomb on me, I had had enough. "You need to come back here and pay your bill or I will have to call the police", I told her. After hanging up, two other sets of customers came to me and told me that they felt that those customers were just trying to get off without paying.

As I was looking at the bill and waiting for them to come back, another customer came up to the till. "Lyle", he said, "We loved our food and are gladly paying for it!". It really felt good to have customers like that who seemed to love our crew so much that they felt that they needed to back them up also. Of course, you always worry about that one or two that are unhappy but when so many come up and let you know how happy they are, it verifies that the crew is indeed trying to serve their customers to the best of their abilities.

I waited for them to arrive and when they did, I went straight to the counter. Once again, their exaggerations showed me that they were being untrue. That and their continued language was all it took. "It is too bad that you didn't just pay and leave me your contact information. I probably would have sent you free tickets with an apology. But after the commotion that you put on which was witnessed by many of our customers along with your language, I have no alternative but to ask you to just pay your bill.". She then slammed down her card on the counter and said, "Fine, take your payment. I just want to get out of this ------ place." The other person told me that it was his first and last time here. I told them that I was sorry that they did not enjoy themselves and agreed that maybe they shouldn't come back. This seemed to make them even more angry. "You have the ------- restaurant in this town and I will tell everyone I know.". Nothing more could be said. I turned and asked Ted, our cashier to finalize their transaction. "I would love to!", he said, obviously enjoying what was going on.

Afterwards, both Ted and I thanked them and wished them a good day. I did not hear what they said as they left and frankly probably didn't want to. Ted then turned to me and told me that they had been in before. "Well, if they come in again, please let me know as I won't serve them.". "If they do, will you let me tell them?", he asked.

I am so blessed to have a crew and customers who look out for the business as much as they do.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My first full year of Blogging

Wow, this last year seemed to go by fast but when I look back at my blog, there were quite a few posts there. It is interesting looking back month to month and seeing what I was dealing with at the time.

In all, 89 entries were posted. That averages out to over 7 per month. Many of those were middle of the night posts, however, as the posts became a way for me to get things off of my chest and allow me to get some rest.

I put out the boxes for our annual Middle of the Winter food and clothing drive. I sent out the PSA today but before it was even sent off, we already have a van load. Maybe I should try and keep some kind of track on how much we collect this year. The only real way for me to measure that would be in bags full, however.

I am looking at this year with excitement and, I must admit, a little fear. While we watch many other businesses fall and still others reducing their payrolls, we are going in with the same amount of people. In order to keep our service level high and our product quality the same, we need to keep our edge sharp. This cannot be done by letting people go. I will continue this mindset as long as I can stay in the black.

Thank you all for a great 2008 and feel free to use this outlet to let me know if you do have any problems while experiencing our place.

mongo update

A young man stopped by last night and sat at the end of the counter. He left a small envelope behind. These are pics of what was in the envelope. One of the pics is very smeared (probably on purpose) and shows him up on a black railing of sorts. The other in a tree (we have a couple of thoughts on that one).
Minutes later, someone called the diner while blocking their number. When we answered the phone, they played Mongo's music and then hung up. I guess that means Mongo is still alright.

Anyway, I bought donuts for all from Sweethearts Donuts this morning. Ray asked what the occasion was and when I told him, he laughed so hard that he messed up on the change. BTW, I ate the maple chocolate bar on the right side....very tasty.
You know, I think I need to get our friend Monkey in the Box in on this one. Maybe he will have some ideas. Hmmmm

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Recharge

Judy and I get away a few times a year to kind of recharge our batteries. Most of the time, that trip is to the Oregon Coast. In January, a motel that we know has especially good deals so we try and get away as early as we can to kind of start of the year right.

Thus, we took off Sunday for our yearly Mid Winter Coast trip. I had hoped to get off early with the pass looking a little slippery but lingered too much at work and we got away around noon. We had little trouble getting over the top of the Santiam and as I started down the other side, I was called by an old friend, Tom Moore, who now lives in Denver and we are hoping will be able to link up with Casey pretty soon. I was keeping my eyes on the road and enjoying the conversation with Tom when we came up behind a gravel truck that slowed us all down. I thought about passing it up but thought better as I was not sure how slippery the road really was. Tom's call went out of range and Judy thanked me openly for not trying to pass the gravel truck. I recall a Jeep flying by just minutes before the gravel truck swung into a turn out. I figured that it must be out of gravel and was returning to its base. The line of four or five cars with me at the end passed up the truck and kept heading down the hill.

Then it gets a little sketchy as many remembrances do after a stressful situation. I know that I had backed off the cars in front of me a little thinking that I might be to close for the road. Judy yelled and hit my arm and I braked. Now, I have lived in this type of climate pretty much all my life and a winter stop to me is not a slam on the brakes. I slowed very quickly while watching the cars in front of me swing back and forth bumping off of each other like pinballs. I stopped just short and to the left a little of the mass of collisions. Quickly assessing the situation, I could see a wreck up ahead and looking into my rear view mirror, no cars behind me and a turn close by. I felt like a sitting duck. I quickly drove around the small pile up in front of me and took a clearing just in front of them. They already were a part of this and I wanted no part. I got out of the car and almost fell on the slick road. I noticed the Jeep that had passed earlier on the other side of the road just behind what looked like the main part of the wreck. I could see three semis with the middle one clearly nose into the embankment. The third behind it was trying to back up and instead was only slipping sideways. The road was soundly blocked. I tried calling 911 but was out of range. Minutes later, however, a State trouper of who I remember sitting on the side of the road earlier came by us all with his lights on.

I turned to Judy and told her that we needed to go back and take the middle road to the valley. The temperature was in the 20's and my gas gauge read a half. I felt that we would be there for hours waiting for tow trucks to ferret out the mess. I began backing up and turning and then realized just how slick the road was as my car even with the studs seemed to just want to spin. I figured that I had plenty of people to help push me out so I kept working on the turn until I got the car turned and managed to work it back up the hill and the other direction. The line seemed to go forever and others seeing me decided the same and were soon joining me in my reversed direction. When I got back into cell range, I called Trin just so she would know what road we were on. While on the phone with her, I noticed another van closing rapidly behind me. I edged over as far as I could and let the panicked driver fly by me at speeds that must have been sixty or better. I, in turn, took my time from then on and arrived at the turn to the other road just as ODOT got there officially closing down the Salem road. We slowly drove over Tombstone Pass (after seeing what we had seen, Judy said that it was aptly named) both of us still working at calming after the stress of the previous road. I felt my left calf keep trying to cramp up and I wondered if it was from my body tensing up during the previous encounter. We both remained on edge until we were safely out of the slipperiness. We then preceded through Corvallis and on to Newport turning north on 101 and arriving in Lincoln City close to six hours after leaving Bend.

We spent much of our two days in the room, watching the waves, reading books, watching the tv, and sleeping. We did go out on the second day and took a day trip to Walport to check out the Salty Dawg Saloon. We were told that it was the same owner as the one in Homer, Alaska that Judy had seen visiting Casey this summer. We found that not to be the case. The owner did own a pub in Alaska but not the Salty Dawg. She had undoubtedly bought the name in Oregon, however and was trying to glean a little from the popularity of the Internationally renowned bar. On our way, we usually stop at the Pirate Coffee shop in Depot Bay. We know the owners and they are very nice people. They were closed on Tuesday and Wednesday so we looked for a coffee shop in Newport.

We pulled up to one along the bay and parked our car in front. I watched a small car drive up to the shop with lots of stickers on the back. The most prominent was an Obama sticker on the right and a Coexist sticker on the left. We walked in right behind the young hippy couple and got in line. Judy spied a small table up front where you could see the bay and went over to secure it. The hippy lady turned around and openly said, "Well, I guess we weren't fast enough to get OUR table.". I said nothing but did smile inside. I wanted to say something funny like "Hey, can't we all just coexist?" but I was sure by her demure that she would not understand my humor. We drank our coffee soaking in the bay atmosphere and we soon on our way.

The two days flew by far too fast and on the third, we headed back stopping for coffee at the Eye Scream Coffee shop that my friend Steve Miller suggested (very good coffee and a great owner) and in Aumsville at a friend's restaurant (Neufeldts) for lunch and arriving back home around three. I stopped by the diner around six to check on things and met a man and his family who had come in for the first time. He introduced himself as Mitch and said that he owned the Sisters Olive and Nut. He said that they were in town for supplies and had enjoyed his meal and would be back. I, in turn, said that when I was in Sisters, I would stop by his place.

I arrived back home, had a nice supper, watched a movie and the end of the Blazer game with Trin and off to bed. Recharged and ready for our next event. Next up, MOW, which stands for Middle Of the Winter. It is our annual Food, Blanket, and Clothing drive. We will be collecting all of these items and then distributing them through Salvation Army. I will began working on that first thing in the morning.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Mongo kidnap response

Came in this morning to find a response that one of the employees posted. Although they love Mongo dearly, they seemed to all agree, if we give in, are one of them next?

No word, as of yet, from Mongo's captures. I will keep you posted.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Mongo has been kidnapped

We had quite a few cute stuffed animals on our counter this Christmas season. Most of them were brought to us by customers. It was fun watching the kids (both old and young) as they would push the buttons that would make the animals entertain them.

On a stop to Grocery Outlet, I found Mongo. The happy little monkey would spin around while the song, "you spin me around" played. He became a hit to many of the kids and so I left him on the counter after I had taken the rest off.

I did not notice when he went missing but last evening, someone brought in the picture and the note that showed that he had been kidnapped. Originally, I felt that it was my buddy, Frank, who does this kind of thing all of the time. But, he swears that it was not him and he doesn't lie to me so......

It will be interesting to see what the next note brings. Already, many of the crew and customers have their ideas on who took Mongo and what they will do to him. But just look at his pleading eyes and his hands in prayer for someone to save him. I think he is a wood box of some type. Maybe a cabin in the woods. Hmmmmmm

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year

After staying up and seeing in the new year with my grandson, Jayden, I awoke early and headed into work around seven. The diner was already fairly busy with a large crew of men who had just help clean up the mess from an accident down south.

As I walked around the room pouring coffee, one customer asked me if I was happy that another restaurant had gone under. His feeling was that now I would probably increase by it. I told him no. I know how hard it is to make this kind of business work and I don't like seeing anyone go under. Although I don't know Jody, I do know how hard that must be on him. The demise actually makes you more aware of all of your own costs.

I took note of another customer at the counter grumbling on his bill. I wanted to say something about the minimum wage law but held back knowing that the customer would probably not understand what I was saying or just wouldn't care. I reassured myself that my prices were very fair.

An error was made on an order. The highlighted ticket clearly said, "No Gravy". The cook put gravy on it. I quickly looked through the tickets for another similar order that we could use it on. Not finding any, I gave the order to the dishroom. The waitress was a little upset at the cooks mistake. I told her to let the customer know and asked the cook to get the redo out quickly. As I worked, the cost thing came to my head. OK, the waitress is angry because she might get less on her tips. I have just lost profit on at least three orders. Those are thoughts that a good restaurateur pushes out of his head or it will drive him nuts.

A short time later, one of the waitresses took out the wrong order. Now the same cook who had made the error earlier starts to get angry because she is busy and must now redo that order because of the error of the waitress. I chuckle inside at the fact that she must have forgotten her own mistake not an hour earlier and then began thinking, "Wait a minute, I am the one losing here.". I mark down both of the mistakes on my mistake list and then notice that no one has put anything down on it since before Christmas. "No one is logging the mistakes!", I declare. "That is because we haven't made any.", the same cook slyly replies with a grin.

I had figured on a steady day but had decided not to open up the back room. I felt that we would probably be able to keep up pretty good up front. Two large groups came through the door and that idea was quickly shelved as I called up Judy and asked her to come join me. Judy arrived shortly thereafter and took over the serving in the back room.

My next couple of hours were a steady stream of lining up orders, pushing waitresses, cleaning tables, pouring coffee, serving customers, helping the greeter figure out where to place the larger groups, scanning the floor for problems, backing up the register, and talking to customers. Although it is stressful, I smile inside realizing that I am doing what I enjoy.

In the middle of it all, I took a call from an old friend who lives where Casey has moved to. Casey is having some medical problems that have concerned both Judy and I and it felt good just knowing that an old friend was close by in case he needed it. I ducked out to the office to talk with him and was really enjoying the conversation when Judy stuck her head in and said, "Gas smell in the kitchen.". I quickly broke off the call and went looking for the problem. The only thing we could figure was an pilot light on one of the grills but all seemed to be in order as we checked all of the things on the line. The smell left and we went back to our chores.

I realized that I had not heard from Jayden so I stuck my head in the office to find him working away on the computer printing out some NCAA football helmets for something he was working on. Jay is a very bright young man who loves creating things. He will keep himself occupied making up games. His latest is setting up football leagues all over the world. He has even came up with logos for the teams in his various leagues. "Hey Papa, guess what AFA stands for?". "I don't know, how about A Funny Apple.". "No", he giggles, "Australian Football Association.". And then he will proceed to tell me all of the teams, their names, their mascots, and show me their logos.

A few minutes later, I notice Jay standing next to me. "Papa, can I have some lunch?", He asks. Looking at my watch, I realize that it is nearly 1PM. "Not yet, little buddy. Wait till it slows down.". He frowns and then notices Judy walking across the floor. He heads her way as he knows she will not deny him.

Around two or so, Judy and I sit down to lunch and joke with one of our regular customers who sits with us. She had been helping out Judy in the back room so we purchased her lunch for her. She said that maybe she should apply for work here and I told her that she probably would not like me as much then because I do push people when we get busy. Without looking up from her food, Judy agrees and tells her that I even push her. I go off on my lecture on how we are not on the main road and we must keep everything as sharp as possible to insure that the customers will remember their experience and want to come back. Realizing that no one is really listening and knowing that I have work to do in the office, I kiss Judy and leave to finish my job.

The next few hours seemed to fly by as I worked on a variety of projects and took note of the changing of the shifts. As Judy left, I told her that I would wait until the evening cashier showed up before leaving as we seemed to be still pretty steady. As I worked away on bills at my desk, a knock on the door brought one of my customers into the room. He wanted to know if I knew the score on the game. "I wouldn't have to ask if you put it on your TV on the floor.", he said. I put the TV in my office on and we watched and talked as USC was soundly beating Penn St in the Rose Bowl.

He left to join his group and I called Judy to let her know that I would be coming home soon. I grabbed up all of my stuff and headed into the diner to say goodnight only to find that the diner was nearly full. Putting my things down on one of the chairs, I dove back into the work. Pouring coffee, joking with customers, delivering food, and cleaning tables, the next couple of hours flew by and I finally headed home around seven.

Judy fixed us some supper and we ate while watching a food show on the travel channel. After supper, I looked at my options for the evening. I could read a book. To tired. I could look for a movie to watch. To tired. I could work on the computer. To tired. Realizing just how tired I was, I drug myself off to bed. Just another day.