Re:Big Boy restaurant chain
Thu, 01/10/13 9:29 AM
Aside from the paper routes I owned, and the summer job I held, working in the kitchen at a YMCA camp in the Finger Lakes, TJ's Big Boy in N. Syracuse, NY was my first regular, non-seasonal, job. Started as a "DRB" (Dish, Run, Bus), became a supervisor of DRBs (at the tender age of 17) and worked on the salad bar, which was a demotion from the DRB supervisor role, but was WAY better to get out of the dishroom and into the kitchen. I was a stickler about throwing away old food. Even then, I knew to not store food too long, and throw away all uneaten food from the salad bar/buffet at the end of the day. A disagreement I had with the manager, who wanted to save stuff.
The management was a mess at this location. At that time (late 80s) The corporate offices in MI were buying back franchises. TJ's sold back (but they kept the "TJ" part because it was familiar in CNY, where, at one point, there were four or five of these.) The managers were looking up at possible corporate jobs (advancement) so the head manager, in particular, was trying to show his ability to create a profitable restaurant (as he thought this was the best way to advance) and wanted us to cut corners. I said, "If your tactics cause a salmonella outbreak, you'll get yourself out of this restaurant for another reason." At that time, a few local restaurants had already been shut down due to an outbreak, and the papers were making a huge deal of it. Front page kind of stuff. It was the newest "scare" for papers to exploit.
I won, briefly, up to the point whete I finally quit, at the start of the summer of 1990, went I went back to the kitchen at the YMCA camp, where we really tried to create good food, with our budget. And, the chef they hired, really cared about putting out good food. Many of the camp counselors, many of whom were campers there in their youth, would comment about the kitchen,"you think of camp, and you think 'ugh! camp food,' but I actually have to be careful not to gain weight because the food is so good here!" I took that philosphy of good technique and raising up the dish to the next level with easy techniques to college when I worked in the dining halls. Luckily, this college used good products (for the most part) and the permanent staff appreciated my attitude of making something simple, like,"baked chicken" a wanted item by students. Although, admittedly, I liked working in the pizzaria over the big kitchens, because making pizza, breadsticks and pasta, is EASY work.
So, Big Boy taught me a few things, 1) how to manage a large salad bar/buffet i.e. keeping it clean, keeping it fresh, and not listening to a stupid cost cutting manager and keeping it safe! (this had made me a good party host), 2) How to recognize crappy management, (who are the leaders and who are the kiss asses) and 3) by default, I learned that businesses fail in quality when the goal is purely profit driven, but succeed, and last longer, when quality trumps profit. Because, Big Boy is no longer in Central, NY.