For those too young to remember, this is a Gadzooks. For those of you that are even younger, have your parents explain what a shopping mall is.

The restaurant industry is a much smaller world than you would think sometimes.  There are approximately 2.3 million servers in America at any given time.  This is a constantly changing pool though as people get out of the industry or gets promoted within it.  Approximately one out of every eighty working Americans is a server.  In spite of these numbers, something very interesting happened to me the other night.  I was given a trainee who I had recommended to my bosses for the job.  The first thing she said to me was, “You haven’t trained me in 10 years.”  I had totally forgotten about the fact that a decade earlier I was her trainer at the little bar and grill where I started my serving career.

The story actually began 15 years ago.  I had just taken a “less-than-honorable discharge” from the University of Missouri.  My first attempt at living away from home resulted in two things.  First, I discovered the joys of alcohol.  Second, I discovered that a degree in Political Science was going to qualify me to sell shoes for a living.  I knew the job at Toys R Us that I had in high school was not going to allow me to support my drinking habit or win my high school sweetheart back.

I went job hunting and decided it would really impress her if I got a job at her favorite restaurant.  The manager came out in a Mr. Potato Head t-shirt he had bought at Gadzooks to interview me.  I applied for a job as a busser, but he decided I would be qualified to be a server.  Thus began my time as a server at “Five-Four.”  It didn’t get the High School sweetheart back, but it did allow me to work with her new boyfriend and decide she wasn’t worth the hassle.

Fast-forward about six months.  My best friend, who we will refer to in this post as “Chuck” for reasons only he and I can remember, was home from school.  He was stocking shelves overnight at a grocery store.  This severely curtailed my ability to share the joys of alcohol with him.  One night I talked him into quitting that job by promising him a much better job working with me.  The next morning I dragged my hungover body into the restaurant and pleaded with Mr Potato Head to interview him.  It took a long negotiation, but eventually he agreed.  He also hired Chuck on the spot after the interview.

About three months later, I was fired and Chuck became a manager in training (unrelated events).  I landed my next job pretty quickly at a slightly nicer restaurant.  I decided to go back to school in another city.  My boss at the new restaurant wrote me a very nice recommendation letter that landed me a job in the new city before I even moved.  I spent a few years there before deciding to move to California.  In order to save money, I moved back to my hometown.

Chuck, now the General Manager, hired me back at Five Four.  The company had expanded from two stores to five.  Mr Potato Head oversaw all of the locations.  I worked like a madman and soon had enough money to head to the Bay Area.  A few years later, I moved back to Kansas City and my first stop was Five Four.

I left out about a dozen stops along the way.  The moral of the story remains clear: never burn bridges because you may need to cross them again.  I landed my current gig because a guy I trained at my last job was dating a girl that worked where I work now.  He didn’t want to work with her, but spoke highly of me.  She put in a good word and the rest is history.

A week and a half ago, an old co-worker’s name popped up on my Facebook.  She posted a status about looking for a restaurant gig.  I sent her a message.  Within an hour I had an interview set up for her.  Within 24 hours she had the job.  Within 48 hours she was at orientation.  Saturday night I trained her and she reminded me that I had done so a decade earlier.  What goes around comes around.

If anyone was wondering what happened to the other folks in the story, here is a quick wrap up.  Chuck married a bartender he met a Five Four.  They have the coolest son who calls me “Uncle Dave.”  He went on to be a General Manager for a couple other companies before taking a job as a broker for a local food distributor.  Mr Potato Head is now the Chief Operating Officer for one of the fastest growing restaurant companies in the country.  He oversees about 20 stores in 5 states.  A few years ago he was named “Restaurateur of the Year” by out state restaurant association.  The nickname was chosen purely because of the t-shirt he was wearing when he hired me.  I have nothing but respect for the guy and what he has accomplished in this industry.

Something else happened on Saturday night while I was training.  A co-worker tendered her resignation.  I saw her last night at a co-worker’s Super Bowl party.  She was a great co-worker and I knew that everyone in the room would be happy to give her a recommendation.  I looked around the room and realized there was at least a couple hundred years of serving experience in the room.  Something tells me she won’t have a problem finding a new gig.

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