(Another in my series about pizza and my youth)
My first night back at Village Inn Pizza was memorable. It was a long 5 to close shift, and I quickly became reacquainted with a store that I worked at briefly in April of 1976, nearly two years earlier. I was told to learn busing and dish washing, being trained by a guy named Mike. Mike explained the basics, and having been busing and dish-washing at my last job I caught on quickly.
At one point Warren (the manager) asked me to go sweep up the front kitchen as the workers there were too busy. I ran to the back and grabbed the broom and swept. “That’s what I like,” Warren said, “did you see that, he ran to get the broom!” I got a couple snide looks from workers in the kitchen. Later one confided with me that they were in quiet revolt. The last manager had been very popular, but the store wasn’t performing well. The company decided to fire him and Warren came barking orders and demanding people do everything by the book.
My friend Dan (who suggested I apply) pulled me aside. “Warren’s sharp, these guys are dead wood, don’t get pulled into their games.” I had no intention of doing so. When the “old guard” told me to slow down and not be a brown nose, I just shrugged, “he’s the boss, I’m new, come on, I need this job.” Over the next two weeks I found myself learning more details about how the restaurant operated. I made pizza dough, learned how to operate the roll out machine (no tossing the dough in the air!), run the ovens, run the cash register, etc. I caught on quickly, in part because I had done a short stint there earlier. I kept up my speed, and got in the habit of sweeping and cleaning up before Warren would ask — something I knew he noticed.
I was not making friends with the old guard, but by that time so many of them had quit and so many new folk had been hired that it didn’t matter. Just two weeks into the job Warren called me into his office. “Scott,” he said, “you’ve been very impressive, you clean without being told to clean, and in two weeks have learned all the basics of the operation.”
“Thanks,” I said, noting that the comment about cleaning would shock my mom who complained I never did any cleaning around the house (which was, alas, true).
“How would you like to learn how to do the nightly books?” He asked. I replied sure. “The only people who do the books are supervisors, the assistant manager and myself,” he continued. “In two weeks I want you trained to be a supervisor. That means you’ll run night shifts — Kevin (the assistant manager) or I usually leave by 7:00 — and sometimes the day shifts on weekends. You’ll get a raise — I can’t have my supervisors earning less than the other help. Right now you’re at $2.40, the highest paid non-superviser is at $3.40, so you’ll be bumped to $3.50 an hour.”
At that point I was feeling really good — my pay was going to go up by almost 50%! “I would like to ask you to come in some nights and watch as I or Kevin do books. You and Dan can come in together if you want, he’s going to be a Supervisor as well. I can’t pay you for that, but I think it’ll be worth while.” I agreed. “One more thing,” he added. “This is going to be really difficult for you. There are still people here who have been here two years or more and they will resent you being promoted ahead of them. Most will probably quit — that’s what I hope. I’ve got enough people trained that I don’t need them around. Others may ignore you or disregard you. If you have any problems, let me know.”
I said I would, but added that I thought I could handle it. “Don’t feel you have to prove anything, if anyone’s a jerk come tell me, this isn’t about your pride, I’m the boss, I should know everything. “ I nodded. “Oh, and don’t tell anyone about this yet. I’m going to announce my changes soon.” I went back out and continued working. One of the old guard asked me what Warren wanted to talk to me about. Before I could answer Warren piped up, “It’s none of your business,” he told the guy. “I gave him a raise. He’s proven he’s a hard worker.” I shrugged my shoulders and the guy looked at me and shook his head. When Warren was out of range he continued “this is just a part time low paying job, you really shouldn’t jump every time he says jump, the guy’s over the top.” I ignored that comment.
The next night Dan and I came in to watch Warren do books. Warren looked surprised, but we reminded him it was his idea. “OK,” he said, “but now everyone knows you’ll be supervisors.” Within two weeks I ran my first shift. I positioned the employees where I wanted them, determined when to send people home, made sure the restaurant was clean, and of course worked. On slow nights I would run the kitchen with one or two people helping with busing and dishwashing. On busy nights we might have a crew of 12, meaning I’d have to figure out break schedules and focus more on dealing with customers and making sure everything was running smoothly.
The old guard complained, most did quit, but none of them gave me any trouble. One time I sent one guy to help the dishwasher catch up and he complained that he always worked in the kitchen and that I should send someone else. “You’re the fastest,” I said, “show Mike” (the guy who trained me my first night was still only busing and dishwashing) “how to speed it up.” He didn’t protest. For the first time in my life I had a job I really loved and I was in charge of the store, not just a busboy like at the First Edition.