WHEN GOOD PEOPLE LEAVE . . .

Here’s a short clip of what Johnny D’s looks like on a busy night.  (Booty Vortex was playing; video by Mojo.)  Next busy show, there’ll be one person missing.

It seems that in this business, just when people become really good . . .

— when they always show up on time, and do their job right
— when they can handle the crunch without breaking a sweat
— when they become the kind of bartender everyone can count on not only to carry their own weight, but to pick up the slack of those who are struggling

. . . seems that just when they get to that point, they leave.

I hate that.

Jeremy Newcomer left for New York City this past week.  (He’s the last bartender in the short video above.)  Drawn by lure of bright lights/big city, he’s off to Manhattan.

Everyone will miss him, but I think bar staff will miss him most.  He’s left some pretty big shoes to fill, and now we have to find the right person(s) to take his place.

Five years ago Jeremy was hired as an intern in the booking office, then he become a floor manager, and finally a bartender.  He turned into one kick-ass bartender.

He could handle anything, no matter how overwhelming or demanding the crowd.  He came up with the drink specials, stacked the kegs in the walk-in cooler . . . I won’t go on and on, but he was all over the place keeping things in order.

Jeremy Newcomer (left), with current bar staffers Oscar and Craig (“Chombo”), and fomer Johnny D’s barmern Julian and Tony (right).

The week before Jeremy left, some customers organized a pub crawl as a going-away party.  (Jeremy had been the one to organize these things in the past.)  They decided to make this last one special — everyone was to wear some sort of formal garb.

They started at Johnny D’s, then hit the other nightspots in Davis Square.  Dave was there, Brenden and Brook, Chombo, Jamie B, Leehea, former employees Julian, Tony and Jamie T . . . all the gang from the earlier crawls.

While they were still at Johnny D’s, everyone was talking about how much they’d miss him.  They were having quiet conversations on the side.  At one point, one girl was talking when she abruptly stopped . . . her eyes welled up and then there were tears trickling down her cheeks.

Yea, everyone will miss Jeremy.

Jeremy and the crew partying at Flatbreads, one of many stops that night.

I’m sure Jeremy will do fine in the Big Apple, . . . and the truth of it is, we’ll find a way to adapt now that he’s gone.  People are always leaving in this business.

According to statistics from the US Department of Labor, food service workers have a lower median tenure at their places of employment than any other category of employee.

Chart from the US Deparment of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

No other industry sees so many workers come and go.  When it comes to changing jobs, we’re #1.

For a while Johnny D’s was an exception.  At one time we had such a veteran bar staff that you could have been here for five years and still be the newcomer.  Our crew had been there forever — me (I had been there forever), John and Eric with something like fifteen years each, and Aaron, the new guy, who’d only been there five.

Then Aaron left to become the GM at a place in Shirley MA, and Eric left to help his friend Ky Nguyen open Kingston Station in downtown Boston.  John isn’t on the bar anymore, but at least he’s still at the club, as the GM.

We rebuilt, because that’s the way things are done . . . you train new people, and try to bring them up to speed.

So when good people leave, you simply join the going-away parties — whatever form they take — and carry on.

The Lark Tavern was recently refurbished after a devastating fire. Use the “Search” function for more stories on The Lark — I think there are over twenty of them on this blog.

I remember when I left The Lark Tavern, in Albany NY — there was no tuxedoed pub crawl, but we definitely raised hell that last week.

The day I was finally set to leave, my duffle bag was packed and I had the bus schedule in hand.  I was finally on my way to Boston.

But first, I met my good buddy, Bruce S, at The Lark for one last drink.  “It’ll make the bus ride more bearable,” he laughed.

We had a shot of Jack Daniels, and a beer.  We weren’t pounding them down . . . just sitting at the bar recalling good times.

Around five o’clock, I got up to head for the bus station, but Bruce talked me into to checking the schedule again.  It looked like I could stay a little longer, and catch the 7:45.

Then I was supposed to catch the 9:15, the 10:30, the 12:15 . . . more drinks and more stories . . . and yea, you guessed it, we ended up closing The Lark.

I’d already given up my apartment and had been staying with Stacey Conway.  Somehow she didn’t seem surprised to see me back on her couch the following morning, my duffle bag on the floor.

The next afternoon I met Bruce for another going away shot-and-beer.  Just one more.  This time I was definitely going to make that afternoon bus.  I had people waiting for me.  I was supposed to stay with two nurses who a year earlier had already moved from Albany to Boston.

6:00 . . . 8:00 . . . 10:30 . . . 1:00 AM . . . all the same story.  We kept having one more beer, talking with all the people who happened to stop by, and I missed every bus on the schedule for the second night in a row.

We did have a lot of good times to rehash.

On the third day, I finally left for Boston.

I don’t think Oliver Simosa will take as long to leave Johnny D’s.  Oliver is leaving the club, too . . . at the end of the month.

He’s been a bar back, doorman and waiter here (you can see Oliver stacking pints as a bar back at the beginning of the clip at the top.)  It’s especially disappointing to lose Oliver because we had our eye on him to become the next new bartender.  (His brother, Oscar, is a monster behind the bar.)

Oliver, on the left.

Oliver is headed back to Venezuela to play semi-pro basketball (brother Oscar is a semi-pro rugby player here.)  Oliver will be playing for the Valencia Globetrotters.  He shoots 40% from the three-point range.

“That’s it?” I said, busting his balls, “Only 40%?”

“That’s under pressure,” he came back with professional confidence, “While being tightly guarded!”

I’m sure he’ll kick some ass back in Venezuela.  (Editor’s Update, May 14th:  Oliver had given us a month’s notice, but he had to cut that to three weeks — he was invited to try out for the Venezuelan Olympic basketball team.  Good luck, Oliver!)

Anyway, good people leave, and what can you do?  Wish them well.  Hope they find what they’re looking for, . . . and hope they know that they always have a home here, if they want to come back.

See you next week with more Life on a Cocktail Napkin.

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7 Responses to WHEN GOOD PEOPLE LEAVE . . .

  1. Jake says:

    Doesn’t take much to make restaurant workers leave. The benefits are a big incentive in other jobs. No retirement plans or insurance so why not seek greener pastures when the tips suck?

  2. Llylak says:

    Just curious, does Oliver have a girl friend? : )

  3. Starbucks8294 says:

    Good luck to your friends sounds like a big loss. Working today wish I was leaving my job.

  4. Colleen says:

    “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” -Andre Gide

  5. MikeQ says:

    Jake: I agree that the relative lack of benefits in this industry helps give it a more transient feel. Another factor might be the people involved, both the workers AND some of the people they end up working under. I’ve been ridiculously lucky in that regard.

    Llylak: I believe he does, Lly. 🙂 I remember two young ladies at the bar once asked: “Who’s that guy! What’s his name?” They went over to him later, and Oliver was pissed I’d told them his name. He asked me to tell anyone else inquiring that he had a steady.

    Starbucks8294: Just think of the overtime, my friend!

    Colleen: I’m looking at the small stand-up plague you gave me years ago, Colleen … with the picture of the birds flying over the incoming waves, and the quote beneath. “Those who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” — Nietzsche. It’s still here on the desk beside my monitor.

  6. JT says:

    Give Grant a chance…he is a social butterfly and very trainable

  7. MikeQ says:

    JT: I’ll mention it to Carla, JT.

    (JT is “Taylor”, a regular at the Sunday Blues Jam and a local drummer/singer icon. http://lifeonacocktailnapkin.com/in-the-meantime-2/ . Grant is also a mainstay at the jams (guitar and vocals) who just starting filling in as a doorman at the club. He wrote a beautiful tribute to Tina DeLellis (Mrs. Johnny D, and Carla’s mom). http://lifeonacocktailnapkin.com/grants-tribute/

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