Profit is not a four-letter word, Loss is. Percentage of sales that is profit increases when percentage of sales that is expenses decreases and percentage of expenses decrease proportionately to the increase in sales volume. In other words it became evident that if we wanted more money left over at the end of every month we would have to stay open for dinner in order to increase sales volume. The conundrum was we would have to struggle more to struggle less. We now needed a full time manager because I sure as heck wasn’t going to give up any more sleep.
“This is great! You should open a restaurant…. Ha!”. Dave stood above me eating my lunch as I lay on the soggy floor groping for tools to fix a leak. I was fighting to get all three sink basins of our three basin pot sink to stop pissing water all over the floor. The problem was as soon as I could fasten two drains the third would leak. I was rushing because our new Dishwasher was on the clock doing nothing as the dishes piled up and I needed to get back to my bread dough that was rising on the table. In the tropic heat of the kitchen it was growing rapidly and beginning to resemble the huge stomach of the executive Chef/Instructor who taught me how to make bechamel sauce back at the Institute.
I lifted my head off the floor to respond to the joke but could only see Dave’s slippers and dropped back again with a splash. As I lay there I relaxed a moment and envied plumbers the hefty wage they received while laying in such a comfortable supine position. In the end I jury rigged the drains with gray Duct tape and pulled myself up to finish explaining my management problem to Dave.
“Dave, you taught us, Profit is not a four letter word, loss is.” I wiped a fresh expression to my face with cold water, washed my hands and moved to the table to punch down the dough. “I can’t do it alone, Katie quit her real job for this but she can’t help in the kitchen. She’s in the office all day keeping us out of debt, dealing with the house and two baby’s in diapers. We need help. I know it can work but we’ve got to open nights and double our sales to cover the rent and the electric bill. You’re the man Dave. We’ve talked about doing it on our own for years and here’s our chance.”
Dave was at the top of the list in the head-hunt for a co-conspirator. He was a friend in the business who retained a sense of humor in the most horrid situations. He kept a dry wit and simmering libido under a cloak of low self-esteem. Something like Woody Allen on Viagra.
I met Dave in 1974. After I convinced my parents that I needed freedom (not) to excel scholastically I left the Bay area and drove down the coast to Santa Cruz California. Working nights in restaurants there provided endless food and a little spending money to support long days of surfing. Dave managed a house of omelets called “The Broken Egg.”
Santa Cruz was an easy town to be eighteen in. The first rent I paid was forty-nine dollars a month. But still the money had to be made. One day with hair still wet from the freezing, green ocean by that town I tucked a T-shirt into Levi’s and walked into “The Egg”. In the dimly lit dining room I could see a figure wiping black lacquered tables. He had a lanky, slightly bent posture. I asked the young man if the manager was in, “Yes that’s me, can I help you?” His smile had a frantic look about him and his hair was crazy like Einstein’s.
I applied and Dave hired me to wash dishes. Through attrition I became his assistant manager in a matter of weeks. It was a salaried position that in the restaurant business translates to sanctioned slavery at the cost of printing a business card. A title and a salary that actually meant unlimited hours of work without hourly compensation. We became friends there preparing, serving and cleaning up what sometimes resembled a perpetually recurring mob scene at a UNESCO food drop in Somalia.
Dave became a favorite role model. That thousand square foot patch of downtown Santa Cruz was always a spark away from exploding into disorder and somehow he managed holding together a pre-ignition sort of atmosphere. The crew of bossy waitresses he’d inherited from the previous manager who’d deserted needed to feel that they had control of their lives. Dave finessed them daily so that they would continue to strut miles back and forth from the pick-up counter to the black lacquered tables carrying white bake-lite plates heaped with snotty omelet’s and tan plastic mugs full of generic diner coffee.
We served breakfast in a seedy neighborhood. Next door to the Egg was a Greyhound bus depot and a dingy card room. Directly upstairs was a place called Staircase Massage. During the night shift a lady from Staircase would call every so often and order a side of Mayonnaise. The first time she came down to get her order I held out a level two-ounce portion cup. She said, “Honey are you new here? I need a bowl.” I pleased her with what she wanted naively thinking at the time that they must eat a lot of sandwiches.
I managed to remain fairly naïve in spite of Dave’s management examples. At the end of a horrendous rush of customers and omelets he could deftly adjust his interpretation of company rules regarding interpersonal relationships with employees. While he might be locking himself and a waitress into the tiny Managers office I would diligently plod onward with the never-ending tasks at hand. Like cleaning the overflowing and reeking grease trap by hand after one too many omelet chunks had slithered down the drain of the pot sink.