Food For Thought
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Moth Radio Hour: the great storytelling NPR program. This year it’s coming to Sugarbush. I’m hoping I get on. Here’s my Moth Radio story in case I don’t. My apologies ahead of time for the length.
I was working at a restaurant in Litchfield, CT during the winter of 1979. Work was okay. It wasn’t really a career, but I enjoyed the lifestyle. It was an open kitchen steakhouse kind of place. The chef was skilled and the owner was pleasant.
One morning, I’m prepping for lunch when I hear a knock on the restaurant door. A couple of yuppies I recognized as good customers were standing in front of me. Mary Jane was holding a bag of quarters and declared, “Today is my birthday and I can do anything I want”. This was a rule I was unaware of. She and her husband, Craig, walked right past me and headed into our bar area. She wanted to play pinball and Craig made himself at home behind the bar and mixed a couple of drinks. Mind you, it’s around 9:00 AM and no bartender is scheduled for another hour or two. My 19 year old brain assessed the situation and declared this acceptable: two responsible adults were doing some day drinking on a birthday.
From that point on Craig and Mary Jane took an interest in my career and in me. They questioned me on what I wanted out of work and used their connections to get me interviews. I enjoyed the meat cutting aspect of the steakhouse job. My first interview was with a butcher shop, but in reality it wasn’t much more than being a store clerk. No thank you. Next they connected me with the Austrian chef-owner of Hopkins Inn on Lake Waramaug. He was trained as a butcher at hotel school in Switzerland. This place was so far out of my social stratosphere I wouldn’t even take a date there. The chef was looking for a cook: an apprentice of sorts. I would be the first person he ever hired that was not from Europe. Craig and Mary Jane coached me through the interview process, remaining supportive and confident that I could do the job. After a few interviews over the winter while the Inn was closed they warned me, “If the chef asks you to pick out a bottle of wine he’s going to offer you a job”. Great, I knew nothing about wine and now I’m nervous I’ll blow this chance from my lack of culture. The local package store in Litchfield helped me out. I went in and explained what was happening. The owner knew the wine list, which was and still is incredible. He taught me how to recognize a German bottle of white wine by the shape and then gave me a key word to look for: Kabinett – a drier German style perfect for an afternoon glass of wine. Sure enough at my next interview the chef told me to grab a bottle of wine and meet him in the bar. I followed the instructions and located a Kabinett. I can still hear the chef say “Ohh, dats a nice one”.
He offered me a job. 6 days a week, 3 meals a day, 15 miles further from my house than my old job and I would take a pay cut from $125 a week to $75 a week. I said yes. My girlfriend dumped me, and I lost touch with all the friends I grew up with. But Imade a new circle of friends. My life changed.
I spent six years at Hopkins Inn. I made lifelong friends and skills that I’ve passed on to the next generation. When I got there I was 19 and knew everything. When I left I was 25 and not too smart. I learned that I had a lot to learn. This is where the foundation for all I’ve become personally and professionally was set. But that’s not what this story is about; this is about answering the door. That early winter day in Litchfield, CT at Marty’s Steakhouse opportunity literally knocked on my door. I answered. I could have said, “Oh no, we’re closed. The insurance company won’t allow it. I can’t let you into the bar.” That would have been the smart move. But I didn’t do that. I answered the door and set wheels in motion that changed the trajectory of my life. Kind people, strangers really, stepped in and helped keep me on track. Next time you hear the door knock answer it. Next time you can help someone do it.