Relieved to have mouthed the words, “I’m giving you my two weeks’ notice”, I prepared for the owner’s acceptance or rebuttal. Either way it went, I didn’t give a fuck. I was getting off of Planet Chaos.
“Oh, NO! Spencer! How am I going to keep Sovereign open without you…I mean, do you have a job lined up?” I was flattered. Prior to this, I felt nameless in his presence.
“Yes, I’m going to run John Fleer’s commissary kitchen,” I said. His face turned from late to a meeting to the house is on fire. He couldn’t talk. Wheels were spinning and flying apart in his mind.
“John Fleer is a super nice guy. If I wasn’t doing my own thing, I’d love to work for him. So, I get it. Congratulations”, he responded trying to figure out strategically what to say to say next. He wasn’t going to make it easy for me. That was clear. He texted someone and waited for the response before proceeding. “Can I ask you a personal question?” he finally said.
“How was it working for The Chef?”
This felt like a trap. If I unloaded on him, perhaps unfurling a litany of complaints about my soon to be former master, I could get him in trouble. And/or I could potentially make myself look bad. I didn’t want to be a shit stirrer, especially on my way out the door. I just wanted work my two weeks in as professional manner as I could manage and be done. I stammered and said nothing.
“That’s all I needed to hear,” the owner responded. “I’m going to call you later. This isn’t over, Spencer,” he said departing with an arm full of bar towels and swizzle sticks.
The next day, the owner chose a cozy wine bar not far from Sovereign for a late afternoon meeting. There, I had intended to lay out a dream two-week plan to rescue the situation complete with mock spreadsheets, timelines, and half-hearted promises of “sticking around until the next guy was hired.” But before I could get to any of that, there was a frothy pint of porter in my hands. As I nervously sipped, I was bombarded with emotional pleas, compliments and a cash offer far exceeding anything I’d ever made before as a chef.
Upon receiving my silent vote of no-confidence the previous day, the owner had fired The Chef. There had been bad blood brewing between the two, something about unprofessionalism and a The Chef’s inability to hold on to a staff. He had yelled at a female server, fraternized with another and almost punted Sovereign down into a human resources black hole of which there was no escape. The current kitchen staff, the owner said, “respected me” and would easily salute me as their new X.O. My food was “great”, my demeanor “calming”. I found that last part hilarious. I almost blushed, although that was probably the beer.
“For me to stay and fix this clusterfuck, I’d want more money that you’re willing to offer,” I threw out there brimming with an alcoholic’s confidence.
“How much do you want?”
“Remember, I want a nine to five, Monday thru Friday gig. NO weekends. My family time is EVERYTHING. If I were to take the gig—and I’m not, trust me, I know what all is involved in running a restaurant kitchen, it’s more than I want to take on—I’d want at least (almost double what I assumed was his cut off figure). I know that’s way more than you can afford.” Truth was, I didn’t want to stick around regardless of the paycheck. He could have offered me a company car, full-ride benefits, a travel stipend, two months off a year. My mind was made up. I figured he’d laugh at me, pay for my beers and be done with it.
But he wasn’t done at all. He did the calculations on his oversized i-Phone, took a sip of wine and said, “That’s roughly X hundred dollars a week. What if I pay you Y hundred dollars a week (a figure far more than I’ve ever made as a restaurant chef)?” I was stunned. Rarely do I back down once I’ve arrived at a decision, but this? It was time for me to do some calculating of my own. If my tipsy fingers weren’t mistyping, what the owner quoted me a week translated to a figure just shy of a doctor’s salary. My determination had hit a road block.
“Before I respond to that, I’d like to confer with my wife,” I said nonchalantly ordering another beer with a nod. Inside I was freaking the fuck out.
“Can you give me your answer by Monday? Maybe take the weekend?”
“I can do that.”
Kristin and I couldn’t believe our dumb luck. We both agreed turning the owner down seemed like a bad move, especially given the fact that apartment life was a huge source of depression for me. Now we could get the house. We could get back on track and out of our transient mentality and maybe sock a few bucks away. We both breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I called him back the next day, accepted his offer and resigned myself to doing the thing I swore I’d never do: run another restaurant kitchen. But at least this time I would be paid what I was worth, and maybe a little more. I could do balls to the walls Monday thru Friday. No nights and weekends either? No sweat.
Of course, this was all too good to be true.