Colleen visiting her parents in Florida last year.

“Are you OK?” Colleen asks.

“I’m fine,” I tell her, phone at my ear.  “Maybe I’m just coming down with a cold.”

It’s Wednesday afternoon and I’m already five days late with this week’s post.  I have the time off today, but I don’t feel like writing.

“Are you sure you‘re OK?” Colleen asks.

“Maybe it’s the holiday blues,” I say.

My mood is definitely bah-humbug today.  On Christmas, everyone will be at Colleen’s house, and I’ll be heading to work.  Johnny D’s opens at 6 P.M. Christmas night.

But this year’s no different, I always work Christmas . . . so that‘s probably not what’s bothering me.

Maybe I’m discouraged because another year has come and gone — and the book I‘ve been working on still isn’t finished.  Where does the time go?  Right now I‘m having trouble just pulling together weekly posts.

Or is it . . . here’s a horrible thought . . . that I’m just being lazy today?  (I hate when I find myself doing that.)

Anyway, instead of writing this post I called my best friend, Colleen, and we talked for a while.  Then I began reading one of David Hayden’s blogs.  He has a network of blogs, all of them top-shelf, and he also wrote a great little book on how to make more money in foodservice.

Last week in “Tips on Improving your Tips”, David wrote about the “Grinch-like” actions of a Kansas City bar owner.  The owner of Jardine’s, a highly-respected jazz club, recently fired all fifteen of her employees.

It seems that three weeks before Christmas, the staff at Jardine’s came to work at their usual time . . . and found the doors locked.  The place was closed.  They’d all been fired.

(Photo from "Tips for Improving your Tips".)

The sign on the front door said that the club would be closed while the place was remodeled and an entire new staff was hired from scratch.

(I’ve heard owners threaten this — “They’re not going to run ME . . . I’ll lock the doors and hire all new people!” — but this is the first time I’ve actually seen it done.)

Since the en mass-firing, there’s been plenty of mudslinging and finger-pointing from both Jardine’s ownership and the now-unemployed staff.

I’ve read that Jardine’s still owes some of these employees money — back tips that were never paid.  There was talk of verbal abuse and harassment, and one employee actually filed assault charges against the owner.  I read somewhere else that the whole thing started when some of the staff were caught drinking illegally after hours at the club.

But this “he said/she said” thing aside . . . what is not in dispute is the timing of the firing.

Three weeks before Christmas.

Given this business, we can assume that at least some of these employees were living paycheck to paycheck — and just before Christmas, all fifteen suddenly found themselves without jobs.

I can’t help but think of Tina DeLellis at Johnny D’s.  (Tina was the mom of current owner Carla DeLellis.)  Tina would never fire anyone during the Christmas holiday.

David and Carla with their mom, Tina DeLellis (Mrs. Johnny D). Photo from the LIVING/ARTS section of The Boston Globe, August 9,1991.

Tina demanded a lot from her staff — there was never any doubt about who was the boss — but she also treated everyone with respect.  She knew what it was like to struggle, to work hard just to get by.  She was quick to loan her staff money if someone came up short on rent at the end of the month, or was hit with sudden bills.

Maybe it was because Tina was born and raised in Naples, Italy and still had a lot of old-school ways about her — or maybe she just thought it was bad luck to fire someone around Christmas — but that was one of her unbending principles.  Everyone got at least one free pass during the holiday season.

I remember one year a prep cook was caught red-handed sneaking two bottles of beer out of the walk-in cooler downstairs.  The bartenders had noticed a bottle or two missing here and there, and now it was clear why.

The prep cook would snag a couple bottles, then go out to the back alley and chug down the beers before returning to work.

It wasn’t just the missing beers Tina was concerned about.  She didn’t want her kitchen staff working around hot stoves, handling sharp knives and even operating the slicing machine after they’d been drinking.

But it was the week before Christmas, . . . and she didn’t fire the guy.

“We’re going to talk about this after New Year’s,” Tina told him.  “For now, I need you to give me your word that this won’t happen again.”

“I need you to give me your word,” Tina said, “I can’t have you drinking on the job in my place.”

The guy finished out the holidays at Johnny D’s, then found another job, probably figuring he’d blown his chances here.

When he told Tina he was leaving, he thanked her, and kept repeating over and over how much he appreciated working for her.

Maybe it’s two different situations — Jardine’s and Johnny D’s.  Or maybe just two totally different owners.

Anyway, I want to finish this post with one further note on the Christmas spirit.

Although this isn’t technically a holiday story, I think the sentiment fits perfectly — this is from a book I found on top of the hamper in Colleen’s guest bathroom.  (I think she put it there as some sort of decoration . . . it’s a coffee-table book titled Chicken Soup for the Soul.)

One of the stories in it is from humorist Art Buchwald.

It seems that Art Buchwald was riding with a friend in a New York City taxi when the friend complimented the cabbie on his driving.

Later, when Art and his friend were walking down the sidewalk, the friend complimented some construction workers laboring at a site.

“What was that all about,” the author asked.

His friend told him that he was trying to bring some love back to New York City, one person at a time.

He said that although he was only one individual, his simple acts of kindness could multiply exponentially.

“[For example] I believe I have made that taxi driver‘s day.  Suppose he has twenty fares.  He‘s going to be nice to those twenty fares because someone was nice to him.  Those fares will in turn be kinder to their employees, shopkeepers or waiters, or even their own families.  Eventually, the goodwill could spread to at least a thousand people.  Now that isn‘t bad, is it?”

“You’re some kind of nut,“ Art Buchwald said, but the guy wasn’t discouraged.  He replied, “I’m hoping to enlist others in my campaign.”

They continued walking down the street.

“You just smiled at a very plain-looking woman,” Art Buchwald said.

“Yes, I know,” the friend replied, “And if she‘s a schoolteacher, her class is going to be in for a fantastic day.”

Here’s wishing that you and yours have a fantastic Christmas.

UPDATE 12/22 . . . David Hayden writes in the comment section below that he’s been contacted by several restaurant managers/owners who want to hire the fired Jardine’s employees.  Good news, just in time for Christmas . . . perfect.

(Coming Sunday, January 1, 2012 . . . a New Year’s Resolution!)

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  1. Colleen says:

    The book isn’t in the bathroom for decoration–it has a specific purpose! ;O)

  2. Llylak says:

    When you finally got down to it, you gave us a wonderful Christmas thought. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy your holiday celebrations at a later date.

  3. Starbucks8294 says:

    Have a great Christmas. See you next year, man.

  4. David says:

    Thank you for the very kind mention. It’s a tough situation covering the Jardines story because there are so many stories to be told and so many local media folks have a dog in the fight. I tried to be as fair as I could be, but there is far more to the story. The positive side of it is that I have been contacted by a number of restaurant owners/managers who want to hire these people. I think it is really great to be in an industry where we look out for each other like this. Reminds me that there are a lot more people out there like your friend Tina than those who give the industry a black eye.

  5. Teri says:

    Seen that story about the cabbie before, but couldn’t remember where. Thanks for reminding me! Good post!

  6. Case says:

    Fired just before Christmas, that’s cold dude. Be glad your boss is different. Have a good one.

  7. DAbertini says:

    Happy holidays.

  8. Jack K says:

    Great site, keep the stories coming. Finish that book you’re a good writer.

  9. Pauline says:

    Best wishes right backatcha. Love your blog.

  10. Joel says:

    Awesome post – powerful stuff. You´re a great bartender & a great writer…
    Merry Christmas Mike!

  11. scribbler50 says:

    Love the Buchwald story, especially at this time of year, it addresses the age-old question of… “Why can’t we keep up the Christmas spirit year ’round? Here’s how!

    Also… let me add to the chorus of “Finish that darn book!” you are a good writer, man.

  12. MikeQ says:

    Colleen: Well, it looked good, too . . . a couple of books casually lying on top of the hamper. A nice home-y touch. You do have an eye for interior decorating. : )

    Llylak: It did take a while to wind up and get started, Lly . . . glad you liked it once I got going.

    Starbucks: Hope yours was good as well, my friend, and have a great New Year’s!

    David: As usual, you did a bang-up job with your coverage of that incident, David . . . and I love that several owners reading or hearing of your article contacted you to help out those former Jardine’s employees.

    Teri: I was doing it from memory when I started, Teri . . . then I called Colleen back to have her read it to me. I always did like Art Buchwald.

    Case: Good to hear from you again, Case. Yup, I am lucky . . . finding the right owners to work for.

    DAbertini: Back with more bar stories later this week, DA. Happy holidays to you as well.

    Jack K: Thanks for the kind words, thanks for reading.

    Pauline: Welcome aboard, Pauline.

    Joel: Good to hear from you! How is Chili? (Joel was a kick-ass barback at Johnny D’s until he left for Chili with his beautiful Chilean wife. We’re hoping they decide to come back . . . we had plans for Joel as a bartender down the road.) Keep working on those screen plays, Joel! Maybe we’ll be able to help each other out someday.

    Scribbler50: Thanks for commenting, Scrib . . . as always I’m looking forward to your new post this weekend. How is that landlord issue working out at your bar?

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