My cell phone shrilled its faux phone ring and I looked at it. Father Owner was calling and I hit answer. “Hey there! I was just thinking of you. Our minds must be connected through the firmament.” I giggled my little self-conscious giggle.
Father Owner let out a small laugh and simply said, “Yes.” He went on with a wavering voice. “Listen, I have to talk to you.”
“There’s a reason I couldn’t give you the schedule last night. Remember when I said Son-in-Law had a guy in mind?”
“We talked about it. He won’t let this go. He wants to bring his guy in.”
My belly immediately felt chilly. Three days prior, I was hired by Father Owner as a server in his restaurant, Neighborhood Bistro, and was very excited. On and off throughout my sojourn with The Pie Shoppe, I’ve looked for another job. I kept hoping to work two jobs as I settled into my new restaurant and, assuming all went well, I would eventually and happily let The Pie Shoppe go. I had cold called Neighborhood Bistro a couple of times and loved the place. Father Owner and I chatted and got on well. He had held onto my resume, and some 8 months after my first visit he called me in to meet with Son-in-Law, a co-owner. This meeting went well and they hired me on the spot to start training that night. During the interview, we discussed The Pie Shoppe. Since Neighborhood Bistro operated with a set schedule and the Pie Shoppe had a flexible one, we determined it’d be easy for me to work the two together.
Neighborhood Bistro was set in an Old Town section of a well-to-do neighborhood in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The ambiance was light and cheerful. The entire dining room was sheltered under a large tent. Around the side and back was a tall, vine-covered brick wall, lined with flowering potted plants. The tent connected to a small, old house which had been repurposed into a kitchen, office, server aisle, and bathroom. A large front porch served as the entrance and in the very front was an open patio, nestled against the sidewalk, with large umbrellas shielding the tables from the sometimes hot Los Angeles sun. Inside, strings of lights, artisan lanterns, and candles gave a soft, beckoning glow. All the tables were painted brightly with primary colors. The booths and chairs were cushioned in secondary colors. Tall wine glasses and white folded napkins adorned the tabletops. The menu was eclectic and gourmet, changing seasonally. Father Owner and Son-in-Law co-owned the place with his wife, Father Owner’s daughter. Both Son-in-Law and his wife were trained chefs with a resume of fancy, fine dining establishments from around the country. The food was freshly prepared with an artistic touch. The music, a playlist off their iPod, was lively and upbeat. The family-owned Neighborhood Bistro charmed.
In almost every way, I was excited to replace The Pie Shoppe, a chain restaurant set inside a strip mall. Their corporate environment, where the mandates of the system treated the employee like an object to serve a purpose, was wearing on me. The menu of American comfort food standards, created out of the industrial food complex, was of dubious quality. Ingredients came into the restaurant pre-cooked, pre-chopped, pre-mixed, and frozen to be assembled onto plates by short order cooks. The ambiance was sterile, colorless, and cowardly, made to be the least offensive to the greatest number. The canned internet music was so innocuous as to be distracting.
For two days, I trained with two Neighborhood Bistro servers. The first started as busboy and, over 10 years, worked his way to being an assistant manager. The second was Father Owner’s Son, who was leaving the restaurant to go on an extended traveling adventure with his wife and new baby boy. I was to take over his shifts. From what I could discern in two days, the training went very well and the culture of the place seemed easy-going. All the employees had computer codes to comp and void what they needed off of tickets, a process usually limited to the management as a check and balance to prevent employee theft. Father Owner’s Son assured me that I must’ve been hired because I was like one of them and could be trusted. Everyone was very welcoming, including Son-in-Law. The food was beautiful and my early menu sampling was a party in my mouth.
“He wants to bring him in,” I repeated. “You mean, he wants to hire us both? Try the other guy out too?” This would mean less shifts, which I was okay with since I’d be working two jobs for the short-term anyway.
“Well… no… here’s the thing,” he said, with a hesitant, stumbling voice, like he’d rather talk about anything else in the world. “Last month, my daughter and I made some changes to the restaurant that he didn’t agree with. He’s been upset about it ever since. Now that we have some hiring to do, he’s insisting on his way, even though I’m in charge of the dining room and he runs the kitchen. He just wants to feel like he’s listened to, like he’s been validated.”
He paused, but I didn’t speak, so he went on. “Listen, I’m sorry. The guys that trained you, they like you. I like you. Your experience and personality are a really great fit here. And Son-in-Law can see you’re a strong server. He doesn’t have any problems with you. It’s not about you. He just wants his guy. Personally, I don’t like the guy.”
I jumped in. “You don’t like him and Son-in-Law would still force you to work with him in the front of the house? Doesn’t he manage the kitchen and you manage the front?”
“Yes. I know how it sounds. It’s complicated. This is part of a string of decisions where Son-in-Law is feeling picked on and singled out in the family. I offered to hire both of you and split the shifts but he said no. He wants his way only. In this case, because of what went down last month, I have to give in. It’s a family dynamic thing.” His voice never lost its awkward, I-don’t-wanna-be-here tone.
“Oh, I get it. It’s political,” I said.
“No, it’s family dynamics,” he said, as if I should understand the difference. “Son-in-Law doesn’t feel like he has a voice in the restaurant cuz my daughter and I pushed through a change he didn’t like. So he’s putting his foot down on hiring his guy, with no compromises.”
I sat quietly for a bit and this time he stayed silent too. Then I said, “So, you’re letting me go?”
“Yes. I have to. I am so sorry. Of course, we’ll pay you for the two days of training.”
“Okay. But do you realize you put me in a bind? I told The Pie Shoppe that I have a second job now and I only need a limited schedule. Now I have to go back with my hat in hand and say I’ve been fired already–beg for my hours back. Next week, they only gave me one day. That schedule is set. That’s a significant bite outta my income. I can only hope they’ll give me more the following week. Am I supposed to just be a casualty in your family dynamics?”
I heard a sigh on the other end. “Yes, I know. I am so sorry.”
I believed he was sorry. He went on again. “Listen, I’ve got your number in my phone and I still hope to bring you in. I’ll call you if something happens.”
“Yeah, okay, thank you.” I said. I didn’t say what I was thinking. How would I know I’d be hired for real next time? We talked a bit further as I told him my hours worked and my address so he could mail me a check, then we hung up with an uncomfortable goodbye.
When I went to The Pie Shoppe on my next shift, Server Manager asked after my new job. I said, “Well, my second job that dropped in out of nowhere just as quickly disappeared into thin air.” I gave her the rest of the story.
Her face grew solemn and sympathetic. “It’s probably good you found out about this so quickly. You know, it’s interesting–corporate is a beast and family-owned is a beast. In a family-owned restaurant they make their own rules. In corporate…” She paused. “… well, corporate is corporate.”
“Great. No such thing as a beast-free zone in the workplace.” I laughed and went back to my tables.