My restaurant start – part 3

Sean Murphy

My first day as a caterer at the Canada Summer Games was not an auspicious day.

I had organized a crew of 60 fellow teens to sell hot dogs, polar pies, Cracker Jacks and souvenir key chains to 10,000 people watching the Grand Opening.

The Grand Opening turned into a Grand Bust when a political hack at the school board sent 1,000 school kids to sit on the steps of the stands and shut down access to the crowds.

My friend Louie-the-Thief had been the star of the day because he could throw hot dogs 12 rows up.

Louie also had made extra cash by skimming sales and stealing the souvenir key chains.

Louie was able to skim some of the cash because all of the girls in charge of the cash had a crush on Louie.

They all believed they could cure the bad boy in him.

It worked wonders for him all of his life.

After the grand opening crashed and burned it poured rain the rest of the week.

Nova Scotia rain. Colder than Boston rain.

We did not have a lot of patrons.

By day three I was down to a field canteen and a payroll of four.

Louie was offered a job in the canteen but he was making more money selling stolen key chains in the parking lot.

I cooked the hot dogs, Cousin Eddy ran the soda machine, and Sally worked the counter and cash. Cousin Billy loafed and ate ice cream.

There was an air of tragic romance about the operation.

I had a crush on Sally; she had a crush on Louie.

My cousin Billy had no specific job description because I did not want to hire him.

My grandmother used to say that Cousin Billy was not cut out for work.

Uncle George maintained that Billy had been dropped a lot when he was a baby.
George nicknamed him Death Trap.

Because Billy was lazy, and incompetent to almost any purpose, my mother made me hire him.

I learned that Billy had potential. He would have made a great terrorist.

The second day I got Billy to carry out the pressurized canisters of soda syrup.

To the creative terrorist, each of those canisters is a black syrup bomb.

Billy dropped the canister where it inflicted maximum damage.

It was the lobby of the university.

The dark, sticky syrup blew upwards through the three floors of the atrium to the glass dome in the ceiling.

Shrapnel of sticky, black cola syrup dripped from all of it.

Fifty years later I could still make out little black spots on that dome.

I moved Billy from transport to ice cream.

Our chocolate-coated ice cream bars came out of a freezer truck backed up to the field canteen.

When Sally called for ice cream, Billy opened the little access door in the freezer truck and got out an ice cream.

It was cold and rainy so there was not a lot of demand for ice cream.

It was hard to imagine Billy doing any damage as an ice cream guy.

Uncle George used to say that you should never underestimate the creativity of a fool.

One of those cold, drizzling days, Sally called back to Billy for an ice cream and then called out again, and again, with no response.

I turned to see him asleep on the back counter. His face was covered in chocolate and ice cream. I yelled, “Billy – ice cream!”

Billy bolted upright and then disappeared down between the back side of the canteen and the freezer truck. He dropped four feet and wedged himself right in there.

He had the keys to the truck in his back pocket and we could not get to them to move the truck.

Someone called the fire department and then the police came and then an ambulance came and everyone stood around and chuckled and made suggestions.

Finally we called a big wrecker to tow the freezer truck.

When Billy fell, he took out the power cord to the truck and all the ice cream melted.

Cousin Joe said we should have left him there forever.

We freed Billy.

He stormed off fuming at Cousin Joe.

Sally walked home with Louie.

I learned a lot that week.

I learned to identify the weakest link in your plan because that’s where Mother Nature will get creative.

I learned that hiring relatives is unavoidable and will inevitably end badly.

And I learned that the pretty girl will always pick the scoundrel.

What I failed to learn was to stay the hell out of the restaurant business.

Sean Murphy is the Head Coach of the team that runs the Beach Bistro, its little sister Eat Here, and their new craft cocktail bar, The Doctors Office.

Related Coverage

The start of my restaurant career – part 2

My start in the restaurant business – part 1