Friday, February 17, 2012

Veal Chop Johnny

One of my all-time favorite people in the restaurant business is Johnny V. I first met Johnny in Mclean, VA at an open call for Not Buca (name has been changed to protect Maggiano's). In he walked; Greek, mid-late 60's, 5'1", bald, belly like a bowl full of jelly, thick accent, in other words, everything you wanted in a fast paced, high tech restaurant. As Johnny went through the interview process we noticed he was missing several fingers on each hand and he was not shy talking about it. Johnny had spent the early part of his 20s in the military and on one particular day as he was escorting an American Colonel through a field they were hit.  Johnny went to shield the Colonel  and in the process lost several fingers but also gained American citizenship. And so Johnny came to America, was hired at Not Buca and the fun began.

We soon realized that Johnny couldn't see without his glasses which he rarely brought with him. Eyesight was important when ringing the orders, it was crucial when you wanted to ring in orders correctly. Johnny was not concerned with the latter. At any given point in the night, there would be anywhere from 5-7 misorders from Johnny sitting in the window. The staff ate well those nights.... those sitting in Johnny's station, not so much.

We also realized that a station rotation was not in the best interest of Johnny. Great pains and lengths go into making sure servers are rotated fairly between stations. A new station for Johnny meant that everything he rang in would be on last nights table numbers. So it was agreed upon that Johnny would stay in one station...until the end of time. Station #6 would become Johnny's. It was 3 steps from the computer, 3 steps from the kitchen and the table numbers were simple; 10, 11, 12, 13  (about the same time that it was decided that Johnny would only be in Station #6, it was decided that he would only have 3 tables).

I'm sure by now  you are wondering how Johnny made money with all the challenges he encountered. HE MADE A TON. Whatever he lacked in technical skills he more than made up for in personality. People waited to sit in his section. While they were waiting on their food (which they did a lot in his section), he gave them back rubs, the best back rubs, what he could do with those little fingers was amazing. When Johnny had down time, he walked around the dining room and gave everyone back rubs, he played with babies, he joked with kids, he flirted with the ladies, he loved and they loved him back. But alas, one day it was too much and we did what any good business would do with an employee who is struggling in their current position...we promoted him.

That's right, Johnny became the Maitre 'd. You know, that guy who plays an integral part in the success of the business by quoting accurate wait times, rotating seating, planning the floor for the night and working closely with the host stand which was mostly girls in their 20s.  Johnny was mostly a figure head, meaning the guy you wanted to shake hands with and tell stories with.....not the guy who wanted to count on having your 22-top ready at 7:30 on Friday in December. So Johnny continued to walk around and give back rubs and kiss little kids while managers stepped up and assumed the technical part of the Maitre 'D role.

This all worked well...until Mother's Day, the mother of all days in the restaurant business. Due to the large amounts of reservations and large parties, there is really no room for error, we gave ourselves a 3 table cushon that day. It should also be known that the Maitre 'D position is one that relies heavily on nonverbal communication and hand signals from across the room. There are hand signals for "break down a table", "flip it up", "unflip a table", "highchair", and of course, "number to set the table for".  Unfortunately for our guests that day, there are no visible difference when Johnny held up the number 7 or 6, or 8 or 9, or 3 or 4, or 2 or 5, or 9 or 6...and so on. After seating numerous parties at the wrong table, Mother's Day did not go well. As we were digging ourselves out of  being behind by 3 hours and struggling to keep Johnny in check, a guy walked up to us and said, "So, I see you hired Veal Chop Johnny". We sheepishly said yes and then inquired about the name, Veal Chop Johnny. He
explained that managed "That's Amore" in Vienna and on the computer screen, right next to the "Send" button was the "Veal Chop" button. He further explained that it was not uncommon on any given shift of Johnny's he would accidentally hit the "Veal Chop" button instead of the "Send" button no fewer than 8 times a night. Within the first week of working there he known as "Veal Chop Johnny". We all had a good laugh and continued to pay Veal Chop Johnny to give back rubs for the next 2 years.  

He was a good, good man and I miss him.

1 comment: