Tangled Up In A Twist Of Fate 78/ A to Z Challenge/ M is for Mutation/ A short story, sorta
Posted on April 15, 2013
Mike and John were friends since junior high. They lived in the same neighborhood, shared the same circle of friends and were destined to be best friends forever. After high school Mike tried college and left after half a semester. With the draft at the door he joined the Army. John went to a semi-party college and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. While in the service Mike ran Service Clubs and when he was discharged he worked as an assistant manager for various night clubs. John went to work drawing blueprints and worked his way up to supervisor. Mike got married, it didn’t last. John got married and it stuck. He had two kids. They kept in touch, Christmas cards, the occasional phone call and beer or two after the Thanksgiving Day football game. After a while John had become bored with his job and Mike had opened a strip club. They got together one night in one of the local taverns. Mike had news. The Willows Restaurant on Main Street had closed.
The Willows was in a historical building. It had many owners. They all loved it but couldn’t make a go of it. This didn’t stop someone else from picking up the lease. Everyone improved the place. The ductwork was refitted to an external, industrial look. The bar was a comfortable place to wait instead of dumping spot for walk-ins. The dining room was airy and had the appearance of high ceilings. The kitchen was upgraded and the people who had worked in it had kept it in good order. It was serviceable and could put out at least sixty meals a night without strain. The restaurant had great foot traffic. It was located on the end of Main Street proper. After that there was the beginnings of a sketchier part of town. The restaurant’s biggest flaw lay outside, despite foot traffic, there were only twenty parking places in a shared lot.
While Mike talked to John he might have understated the parking issue, but his enthusiasm won John over to the partnership. Mike would draw equity from his club and John could mortgage the house his father left him. Mike had to deal with his bank. John had to deal with his wife. Mike’s problem was taken care of easily. John waffled at first and confronting his wife, reasoning, threatening and ultimately compromising. The took their money to the landlord and signed the lease. they had their picture taken out front of the restaurant with its new name the 3705. they set up accounts with purveyors and began hiring a staff. The wait staff was a combination of professional waitresses and waiters interspersed with experienced part-timers and promising new comers. In the kitchen they hired a diminutive whirlwind with a lot of ideas and little experience. The sous chef was a acquaintance from high school who had the education and training. Mike filled out the kitchen staff with high school and recently underemployed youth.
The prepared and by the time opening day arrived the word of mouth had spread. There were flyers on every car, ads in the local Pennysaver and one-time ads run in the local newspaper. The staff was prepped with meetings and reinforcement from John. While everyone paid attention to the dining area, Mike had plans for a semi-secret part of the restaurant. Downstairs, there was a small bar that sat fifty patrons comfortably sixty five if crowded. Mike wanted a comedy club. He had people clean the area. It had been used as a nightclub, ignored, revived and finally with the arrival of Mike and John it was set to flourish. Mike’s “concept” was people would dine upstairs and when they were done would be directed to the club downstairs. Mike had used his connections with the bookers of strippers to line up comedians. He tried for as diverse a line-up as possible.
The house was packed on opening night. The wait staff took orders, recommended wines and kept the front of the house turning over. More than a few went downstairs for a drink and a preview of what was to come. The owners visited every table, had pictures taken with close friends and relatives. In the back, the chef had a nervous stomach. The sous chef chain-smoked. The staff hung together in a knot by the dish machine a posed. When the first orders began to come in the chef and line workers worked their positions on the line. The orders went out in a clump. They came in together and they went out together. After the rush, a break. Then then wait staff began bringing in the second wave. The dish washers were getting hit. The chef was hollering for dishes and the operators were beginning to see why the owners had been so nice to them when they visited the kitchen. somewhere during a lull, local politicians showing support came into the kitchen to shake hands and be seen.
The house turned one hundred covers the first night. No one got hurt, only one order was screwed up and it was only in the vegetable course. Everyone had a cold beer and cleaned. The dish staff wasn’t too keen on more cleaning but Mike explained that the sooner everything was cleaned the quicker the meeting would be and everyone could go home.
The next day two dish staff didn’t show up. Mike found replacements. It went on. For ten weeks the restaurant flourished. Then customers began to tail off. Lunch was holding its own but dinner was dying. The owners tried Happy Hour to get people in with the hope they’d stay for dinner. Nothing helped. Sponsoring a women’s softball team filled the bar on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The employees began receiving their pay in cash. To add to the fiscal misery, two replacement dishwashers broke in and stole five hundred dollars of equipment. Mike had an idea.
Another meeting. The menu was revamped and pub food was featured. The comedy got raunchier downstairs. Some of the wait staff were laid off. The more experienced waiters began scouting for new jobs. The comedy club drew people in but no one really wanted to go upstairs to eat. food was beginning to be sent downstairs. In a month and a half the upstairs had been reduced to lunches and office workers who spent time after work being overserved. The softball team did well. Some of the members gave Mike another idea.
Another meeting. In no uncertain terms the downstairs club would be gay-friendly. There was no room for argument. Advertising in gay media outlets brought in patrons. The club had gay comics, the staff was threatened with dismissal if they told gay jokes, which brought up the question, what if a gay employee told another gay employee a gay joke would they be fired? Mike blustered and John tried to reconcile his upbringing with the need to make back his investment. Mike thought naming the comedy club The White Swallow He didn’t. As tings go in the hospitality business things change. Being gay doesn’t have an effect. After a while the gays found a new club, the lunch crowd went back to their old favorites. The chef moved on, the sous chef trained remaining kitchen staff how to prepare the basics of the menu. He got his lay-off slip two weeks later. The place shuttered in a month, awash in debt and financially damaging their reputations.
When the members of the staff run into one another they talk about the rise and fall. How it occurred almost in slow motion. After two years of being empty the owner sold off the equipment and gutted the space. The state leased the space for offices.
This is a short piece that may or may not be a template for something longer and more detailed. I know the inner workings of restaurants isn’t a major genre on the best seller list. The characters would be worth the exposure.
See you tomorrow.