on to bigger and better things

I stayed at Becker’s for a good year and a bit. I had actually ended up working with my best friend, although at the small shop we seldom worked together.  In the spring of ’86, after both Pete and I had passed our driver’s tests, we both moved on to the same new job.

Pete had gone first, and couldn’t stop talking about how great it was.  He was making more money, which was nice, and getting more hours, which was also nice.  His rambling, and rubbing my nose in his good fortune caused me to go apply at…

Gibson Bros. Restaurant – Cook, Counter Clerk, Shift Supervisor, General Manager – Spring 1987 to winter 1989

I started at Gibson’s as a cook.  Now, I don’t know how many of you have cooked in fast food restaurants, but let me tell you…it isn’t fun.  The people are fun, sure.  When you’re 16 years old, and pretty much all of the food that ends up in take away boxes has to be prepared by you, on a busy Saturday or Sunday in the summer it’s a crap job.

Let me tell you about Gibson’s…

The Gibson brothers (Ron and Lyle) had opened this restaurant together when they were in their 20s.  This place had been around (by the time I worked there) for 40 years, and was relatively well known to anyone that had ever passed through our fair town.  When I started working there, the brothers had just sold the place to wild man Mike Douglas.

Now, from everything I learned about Mike, this guy had no business running a restaurant…fast-food or otherwise.  Mike seemed to specialise in selling cars, and had opened a used car lot just outside of town prior to buying Gibson’s.

I suspect, that Mike’s intentions were to sell the property to McDonald’s at the end of the day, but the property the building was on was too small for an operation the size of ‘Micky D’s’…and since the guy who owned the house behind us HATED Mike, no joint deal could be made.  In the end, there was no small fortune to be made by selling the property to the big guys.

Anyway, as I said I started working for Mike in 1987, and the initial job sucked.

Cook – At Gibson’s this meant that you:

  • Chopped onions
  • Reheated previously fried eggs and omelettes
  • Reheated packages smoked meat and roast beef
  • Drop frozen hamburgers into the burger cooker
  • Put supplies away as they are bought in
  • clean all the friggin cookers and appliances
  • clean the bathrooms

Being a cook at the drive-in was not like cooking.

Counter Clerk – This was a step-up.  You got to work ‘the front of the house’ which essentially was a tiny strip of walkway between the ‘pass’ and the customer counter. We were a drive-in fast-food place. This meant there were no tables inside…just walk-up to the window, order get your food and take it to your car.

Working the counter meant you got to handle the money, and sometimes (most of the time for me) work the fryer. It also you meant that you had to wash the windows, scrub the floors and because we worked for Mike ‘The Doctor’ Douglas, we sometimes had to run errands for him or his girlfriend Debbie.

Shift Supervisor – This ‘promotion’ meant an extra $1.50 per hour and a set of keys. My extra responsibilities included opening and/or closing the restaurant; counting up the receipts at the end of the night, preparing the bank deposit. During this time I spent more time running errands that I used to, and was sometimes invited for lunch, or out to ‘the doctor’s’ estate in the country for what seemed like no reason at all. It was fun to hang out with Mike though. He was never short of pearls of wisdom for me or my colleagues.

Around this time, I started influencing the schedule and staffing decisions, and together with one of the other guys we pretty much ran the show.

General Manager – For the last 6 months or so of my employment, supervisor became General Manager, and I was becoming responsible for more and more of the daily operations of the place. In addition to the above, I became solely responsible for staffing and scheduling; contracting for other work that needed doing; purchasing stock and supplies; making bank deposits and I became an authorised signatory on the company primary account.

After I turned 18, and had been working 70-80 hour weeks for the 6 months previous, and had banked a little cash, so I decided to take a holiday and head to southern ontario for a couple of weeks and see my family.  I also took this opportunity to break my ties with Gibson’s and Mike. I was pretty burned out, and though I didn’t realise it at the time, by the time I came home, i knew I was never going back to the restaurant.

Looking back on this job in my 40s, man – I learned a lot at Gibsons.

  1. Don’t mess with a good thing – if it works, for god’s sake don’t ruin it.  Mike was a good old boy at heart, and he loved having a place where people would want to come and hang out.  The first thing he ‘changed’ was he added a dining room and inside seating.  Now, this made some sense.  Our town now had a burger king and was about to finally get a McDonalds so dining in was where we needed to go…but this guy put in beer taps and a ‘soda counter’ – which meant that someone ALWAYS Had to be on staff that was of age to serve alcohol. It also meant that people were ALWAYS hanging around talking to the counter staff.  OMG killed productivity.
  2. Gasoline and Restaurants don’t mix – Not sure what the idea was here, but Mike decided that fuel pumps were the thing that we needed to attract customers.  This was the singularly dumbest idea I’ve ever seen implemented. All it meant was that we were constantly in a price war with the two other actual gas stations on our corner. Utterly ridiculous!
  3. Network – It is crucial to build a network of friends, colleagues and general ‘go to people’ for when you need help especially with critical roles – no matter how big the company.  At this restaurant, we staffed the place with our friends – I knew a girl, who knew a girl, who knew a guy – we were all connected with each other in this small town professional high-school worker network and let me tell you – these people saved my bacon on more than one occasion – and when they needed their bacon saved, I was there for them too.  A good lesson I carry with me to this day.

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