Saturday, February 14, 2015

Food for the Soul (part 4)

Franklin had a great big booming laugh that filled the restaurant, "I'm kidding! But you should see the look on your face. I just thought maybe we needed to lighten it up a little before we got in to the nitty gritty."

Cassidy looked at him warily, "What's the expression? Fool me once, shame on you?"

"Trust me. Look, I know there is no reason why you should, but still trust me. I want this to be your story. What I thought we would do was hit on a few of the things that you were quoted as saying in the article, then what happened after it ran, and what continues to happen, you know like pushy reporters hounding you every Valentine's Day, that sort of thing, and what all of that meant to your business. Sound like a plan?"

"And I still get a chance to squash the story once it's written if I don't like it?"

"Hmm, not if you don't like it. That's pretty subjective. But if what I've written isn't true, then yes, you can kill the story. I've got it right here." Franklin handed Cassidy a pretty straight forward contract. She would agree to an interview, he would agree to let her have final call on if the story ran due to factual inaccuracies or out of context quotes. 

She took a deep breath and signed the paper.

"Let's start with the quotes. You said that you thought Valentine's Day was a scam, that it was the worst of all of the holidays, that there would be no chocolate covered strawberries or champagne to be found at Cassidy's Place, that the entire thing was insane and that you were afraid of how this was all going to be taken but that you wanted nothing to do with it. Is that right?"

"I did. All of that is true. But I said a lot of other things too. How about if I tell you basically what I told him and you can see what I mean?"

"Sure, but I will stop you here and there if I need more." Franklin sat back and started taking notes.

"I thought we were doing a silly little puff piece. Or maybe not silly for me, but just a fluffy nice story about new restaurants. I was riding high from our early success. This is what I always wanted to do. Run my own place. We were doing well and getting good buzz. Then he asked what I would be doing for Valentine's Day at the restaurant. I told him nothing special. I've worked in the industry for years. In my opinion it's really the worst of all of the holidays for going out. Restaurants know you are going to go out. They know you want something special and so over the years you've seen this morphing from special night out to SPECIAL! You get prix fixe menus where you have no real options in what you are ordering. You have reservations that are so stacked and tight that a table is expected to be turned 6 times instead of say the normal 3. So your service is rushed, your meal isn't exactly your first choice and often isn't the best the restaurant could do if it weren't trying to crank out so many meals so quickly and they charge you more for the experience. I think it's a scam."

"So your issue was more with the industry than the holiday?"

"Yes and no. I'm not a fan of the holiday, personal choice, I think people put so much pressure on themselves to make it perfect that they are too stressed to actually enjoy the day. I also am uncomfortable with the whole idea of doing something special like that on one day a year. I want people to come to Cassidy's Place on what ever day they want to. I want every experience they have here to be special. To be a treat. I want the food to be the best. The service to be the best. The experience to be the best. That's why I said you wouldn't see chocolate covered strawberries. It's February. Strawberries aren't in season. They might be romantic, but they aren't going to taste good right now. I'd rather do a strawberry dish in the spring and early summer. And I'm certainly not going to increase my prices by 30% just to add them and a cheap glass of champagne."

"You said in the interview that you were worried how it was going to be taken. Did you have any idea at the time how badly it might go or were you just not sure?"

"I wasn't concerned with how my customers were going to take the interview, I was concerned with how my colleagues were going to. I was basically saying that the entire thing was insane. People were paying more for a lesser experience and that I didn't want anything to do with it. I thought there might be some backlash from the industry. But I thought, it's my opinion and they can make their own case. I wasn't expecting to be painted as the Valentine Grinch."

"So what happened next? After the article ran?"

"Well, at first I was just a little shocked. Yes, this is everything I had said, but it wasn't how I said it, or what I meant. I couldn't deny that I said those things, so when people asked I had to say yes, I had said them, but nobody wanted to hear the rest. It was picked up as a sort of joke. 'Heartless Restaurant Owner Says No to Lovers' People started talking about how I wouldn't allow reservations if you wanted to celebrate Valentine's Day. I was picketed by a group calling themselves 'Lovers of Love' it was crazy."

"Were you worried about the future of your restaurant?"

"I really was. People don't understand how precarious opening a new restaurant is. The food can be excellent, and I think ours is, the service can be impeccable, and I think we have the best staff in the city, the location can be great, everything can be just wonderful and you still fail. So here I was with great food, great staff, wonderful location and people cancelling reservations because they thought their romantic night out was going to be spoiled by going to the anti-love restaurant."

"You're still open, what happened?"

"Well as reservations were being cancelled for Valentine's Day by couples we noticed that we were getting a lot of large group reservations coming in. Fewer two tops, more 7 or 8 tops. It turned out that we had somehow tapped into a niche market for Valentine's Day that was being under served. Some of them were here to celebrate what they called S.A.D. Singles Appreciation Day. Some were here because they thought it would be edgy to not celebrate the holiday with us. But what we did was make sure all of them had a great experience. And we weathered the decline in business that hit when the article first came out. We outlasted the news cycle and were still standing when people moved on to other things to focus on. Until the next year."

"That's where I come in. Is that standard then? Every year do you get reporters revisiting your story?"

"Pretty much. The original story got so much attention that now everyone wants to put their spin on it. Are we the anti-love place? If we are does it make us hypocrites when we cater weddings? A picture of me eating a strawberry ran like it was a shocking expose. I can't tell you why it stuck or why it struck a nerve, but I can tell you that it was hard to get past. Now we're pretty established. We have a regular clientele. We have faithful customers who know that we love love just as much as everyone else. We don't do it one day a year we do it when ever you want. If your special day is February 14th or April 8th we are going to be here just the same."

"What happened with your anti-Valentine's groups? I saw an article that had a little backlash from them."

"Well once they discovered I wasn't really anti anything they felt a little betrayed. Like I had promised them something when I really hadn't. They wanted black roses and broken heart cookies. I had to be honest and tell them that I wasn't against Valentine's Day, I just wasn't really for it either. So we lost them. But we kept the people that wanted to come out and have a nice meal. And not feel rushed. And not have to pay more than they would normally. We've done okay, but I have to be honest, if we hadn't already been open for almost a year I wouldn't have had the money to hold us over during the first drop off in business. It came close to ruining us."

"All from a silly little puff piece?"

"All from a silly little puff piece. I almost lost everything. And everyone who works here almost lost their jobs. And my landlord almost lost his tenant. And everyone who had invested in me and in Cassidy's Place almost lost their shirts. And frankly the city almost lost a damn good restaurant."

"So looking back do you wish you had just done a Valentine's Day special?"

Cassidy laughed, "No. I still hate that. I still cringe when I see really great restaurants putting out not really great product on Valentine's Day. Or adding a Mother's Day brunch when they don't normally do brunch. Do what you are good at. Stand by your menu. Give customers the best every day. And be really careful who you give an interview to."

Franklin smiled, "I think this is going to be really good stuff. I really do. I would like to talk to your staff and maybe a few customers if that's okay with you?"

"It's up to them. But I don't have a problem with it as long as you treat them with the same fairness you are treating me."

"Absolutely. And one more question for you."

"Okay, shoot."

"Cassidy Paisley. Is that your real name?"

"Now that's a funny story. It's almost time to open for dinner, how about I treat you to a meal here so you can get the full Cassidy's Place experience and then I will tell you about my name over dessert? I recommend the flourless chocolate cake. It's a thing of beauty."

The next week a copy of The Insider was delivered to Cassidy's Place wrapped with a red ribbon and a single rose. The card red "Happy Valentine's Day,  Franklin Roth"

Cassidy sat down and began to read:

"When you think of a romantic Valentine's Day dinner the first place that comes to mind is probably not Cassidy's Place. But owner Cassidy Paisley knows a thing or two about love. Named after her mother's celebrity crush, Cassidy grew up in a house that did not hide their feelings. And didn't feel the need to celebrate them only one day a year. Little did she know transferring that to her namesake eatery would cause....."

She thought it was well done. It showed how her words had been twisted and how it almost cost her the true love of her life, her restaurant. Franklin had talked to her staff and she was touched with how much they appreciated working for her and how much they enjoyed their jobs. He had spoken with a few of her regular customers including the Jeffers. They had met at Cassidy's Place during that first S.A.D. dinner, gotten engaged there the next year and had celebrated Valentine's Day with them ever since. They joked that they hoped their story would show how romantic of a place it was, but that it wouldn't keep them from being able to get a good reservation with plenty of time to linger over dessert.

That night she agreed to meet Franklin for a drink to talk about the article. Walking in to her favorite bar she was greeted by Gary. "Cassidy! Great piece on you today! And really? You were named for Shaun Cassidy?"

"David actually."

"I think I love you..."

"Very funny. Can I expect you to sing that every time you see me now?"

"For awhile yeah."

Gary brought her a drink and told her Franklin had called and said he was on his way. " and Franklin?"

Cassidy shook her head, "You are a hopeless romantic."

"It is the season! David Cassidy....I can't believe I never even asked. This is great."

"It could have been worse. My mother's name is Presley."

Hearing Franklin's booming laugh from behind her she smiled. Maybe Gary would get his Harlequin romance ending after all.

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