I was shooting the breeze at work with the General Manager, Clay. His authority in running the restaurant had piece by piece been taken away. He had been assigned a new boss by the corporate headquarters and he seemed to be undermined by him at every turn. Clay and I had become very close over the last two years as he had developed mutually respectful relationships with several members of the original staff. Day in and day out I had seen his weathered face filled with frustration and stress. He treated me like a peer rather than a subordinate and had put much trust in me and the few others, giving us unprecedented leeway in how we ran the restaurant together.
“So Clay,” I asked,” how long can you hold out?” He responded,” well I'll play the game, but I might not make it to the ninth inning." It didn’t come as a shock that he told me this, I knew our family at the restaurant had few days left. Clay was always the type to go out and bring business in. He was often at work hunched over his desk on the phone with clients and potential banquet parties. When things broke down or were need of repair Clay never called an electrician, plumber or handyman. Most times he would be hard at work reaching up on a ladder to hang a new painting. Maybe some days he would be pouring sweat through his shirt, sleeves rolled up as he installed new shelving or put tinkered away at a mixer with a wrench and a natural curiosity at how thi9ngs worked.
Clay led from the front. He wasn’t an armchair quarterback or backseat driver. He valued his employees like they were his own family. When a new policy was instituted he would tell you why, not just to do it. If employees were no longer allowed at the bar after work neither would he be there. If there was an issue with a guest he would immediately ask the waiter what happened, and believe them. If we were wrong and he told us so, we knew his point of view saw through the drama and emotions, he saw the truth. He wouldn’t yell or scream, he would pull us away from prying eyes and explain where we went wrong, as a father does his child. Maybe it was more an older brother to his kid brother, I’d like to think it was like that.
Maybe that’s why I knew he was leaving, he valued the people that valued him. That’s now how things are in the corporate world. That’s why I wasn’t surprised a month later when he asked me to sit down with him in his office. His face was beet red as he closed the door. “I just can’t do it anymore,” he confided in me. “I’ve put in my notice, I just wanted to let you and a few of the others know first, so you can be ready.” He said as he ran his hands through his short, graying hair. I noticed new bands of silver spreading on his temples. “Man, changes are coming and you have to be careful,” he continued, ”We can’t run things the way they were, there’s a list of people they’re watching and some of you probably are going to get let go after I’m gone, don’t be one of them.” I sat there for a minute or two, “Clay, I work for you, not the company, if you go I’ll be following you.”
Over the next month the changes did indeed come. I started looking around, as the first few weeks passed the new acting managers let many of the original staff go. People that had been there for years were fired by managers who maybe had as much as a month under their belt. The family was breaking up and it was time to grow up and head out to the world. As it were I was the last waiter from the original staff to leave, but as I said, I never worked for the owner or the upper management, I worked for Clay.