Thursday, September 5, 2013

Turning 50 / Ezra Pound and the Graves 601

   the following is a copy of my FOOD SERVICE NEWS column.                                                       
                                                           TURNING FIFTY

The summer of 2013 will be remembered by many Minnesotans in the hospitality industry as the year half their patio business was lost to inclement weather.

Golf courses will dole out woeful statistics showing how many rounds were lost because their greens were under water.

But for Klecko, trauma manifested in a different form.

He experienced a fiftieth birthday.

Alright, living half a century doesn’t automatically qualify a guy as old, but who’s kidding who?

When the thresholds crossed, and you squint just so, a guy can start to make out the finish line.

One of my acquaintances suggested that I use this unique perspective to mark milestones.

So after pondering girls I’ve dated and nuns I’ve loved, my focus shifted to our industry.

I suppose it would be appropriate to start off by thanking district #281. During the autumn of the Bicentennial, all the schools in my county made it mandatory that each student be exposed to industrial arts and home economics.

On my first day of seventh grade, I spent period six with Ms Williams in Cooking 101 where she had me baking apple crisp with three beautiful girls.

I never touched a wrench after that.

Like many of you, my journey started bagging groceries and washing dishes. By the time I was sixteen, many of my friends were setting their sights on what colleges they would attend. But I already had three years of work experience.

Why would I want to go off to broaden my horizon when I already got to lean against dumpsters, drinking cans of Blatz and smoking Merit’s with grocery store bakers?

At seventeen, I vultured a dish washing gig at Nicklow’s. On Friday evenings belly dancers would walk through my work area virtually naked. As you can imagine, these ladies understood how boys hormones worked, and nothing gave them greater pleasure than “accidently” brushing up against me, just so they could watch me blush fire hydrant red.

With that said, I hope you will indulge an old man a brief moment to get sentimental and share some of his current observations as well.

Lately I’ve been reading a bit about this dead poet named Ezra Pound. The guy was pretty much responsible for launching such literary greats as T.S. Elliot, Joyce, Frost and even Hemingway.

Pounds formula to success was to take ideas and strip them of anything that wasn’t imperative.

Each aspect of language (in his eyes) needed to be anchored in clarity, precision and economy.

There simply weren’t any bells and whistles in this guys scope because he felt ancillary words only slowed down the truth.

He believed nothing could cross this planet faster than an idea laced in purity.

Well I’m not sure how pure my thoughts are, but if there was just one thing I’ve learned from the people that have flourished in my industry, it would be to embrace hospitality.

Not too long ago, I was downtown Minneapolis schlepping bread samples to potential accounts.

It’s mid afternoon and I’m standing in front of the Graves / 601 Hotel.

You might be surprised to hear this, but since we’re family now, I’ll tell you the truth. I can get intimidated entering luxury concepts.

Even though I do this fairly often, and even though many of the people I will deal with come from similar backgrounds, the whole experience can be daunting.

So I walk up to the gentleman working the door and the first thing I asked him was what entrance would be appropriate. To my surprise I was encouraged to enter the front door (I guess I should have mentioned I was dressed in baker’s whites) and the desk help greeted me with a sincere smile.

If you’ve work hospitality for even a minute, you gain an uncanny extra sense that enables you to know who is rolling their eyes internally. No, this woman was upbeat and pointed me over to the elevator that would take me up to the fourth floor so I could talk to my contact at Cosmo’s.

Within seconds I crossed the restaurants threshold only to be greeted by a manager who could have doubled as a GQ model. The price of this guy’s suit had to rival my mortgage payment.

When I told him who I had come to see, a look of disappointment formed on his face. I was told that this particular chef was off, but the manager said he would see if he could track down somebody else.

The concern more than won me over, then the unthinkable happened, the manager actually got me a sit down with the Executive Chef - John Occhiato.

You sales reps reading this know exactly how rare it is for a concept to have its staff in sync to the point where they actually become accessible to you.

And accessible was exactly a great way to describe Chef Occhiato. After discussing product lines, John extended me the courtesy of touring his kitchen and making me feel welcomed.

Who knows, maybe I’m getting soft, but the older I get, the more I tend to agree with Ezra Pound’s theory. Bells and whistles are for sheep. The only component that is indispensable in our industry is our attitude and willingness to be of service     

Without this, everything is smoke and mirrors.

Without this, there can be no hope of leaving behind a legacy.

Thanks Graves / 601 Hotel for the shot of inspiration.

And by the way, it’s still not too late to send birthday gifts.

Until next month -

1 comment: