While my executive search firm specialized in finding accounting and information technology people, we would occasionally get an assignment that was a little outside our normal expertise. One such assignment was given us by a client who was looking for a Senior Labor Arbitrator. After hearing their specifications we felt that we would be able to handle it and began our search.
In the course of recruiting for this position I happened to speak with a man in a similar position at U. S. Steel. Although he was happy in his position he agreed to meet me for lunch and suggested that he might have some friends who would have an interest in the opening. So a few days later we met.
Larry MacDougall and I absolutely clicked. It was as though we had known each other for years and were the best of friends. In the course of our conversation he shared his background with me.
He had started working for U. S. Steel right out of high school – in one of their foundries. He came from a blue-collar family and was the third generation working for the company.
He saw where this work had led his father and grandfather – a life of labor with very little to show for it – and started attending college at night. He earned his degree and a Masters in Labor Relations, got married and had three children with his lovely wife (a first generation American whose family had come from Iran). He was a true American success story – one of which Horatio Alger would have been proud.
As it turned out, Larry had prepared a list of associates whom he recommended for the position and I was able to find a candidate from among them whom our client hired. I called him to let him know and told him that I would enjoy his company if he would allow me to buy him lunch. We agreed to try a new Chinese restaurant that had just opened and was conveniently located about half way between both our offices.
When we got to Leong Chi’s we found a very brightly lit establishment with an almost high-school cafeteria layout. The place was busy and we had to wait a few minutes to be seated as we stood at the podium trying to avoid being run down by the restaurant’s very busy waiters.
Our waiter came to our table and handed us our menus and immediately asked if we were ready to order. As we had no opportunity to see what they had to offer we asked him to give us a few minutes to decide – which caused him to look rather disappointed but he left us to our own devices for the two minutes he allowed us to read the Bill of Fare
Larry and I both ordered the “Chef’s Special Combination.” This was Americanized-Chinese food raised to celestial heights. The meal consisted of a large quantity of pork fried rice, an egg roll, two spare ribs and two fried butterflied shrimp. We ordered a pot of jasmine tea to accompany our meal. An unexpected accompaniment to the meal was that when it was served so was our check. Can you say turn the tables as fast as possible?
Despite the rather hectic atmosphere and sense of urgency that the diners should “eat and get out” we enjoyed the food and began a ritual of returning every four or five weeks to have luncheon together. We always both ordered the “Chef’s Special Combination” – and we alternated paying for our meal. This went on for over five years until Larry and his family relocated to California.
We had been going to lunch at Leong Chi’s for over two years when at one of our meals Larry decided he had more of a taste for shrimp that day than for spare ribs. When our waiter came to our table – (by now I think the staff recognized us as somewhat irregular regulars) – Larry ordered the Special Combination but asked, “Would it be possible to get that with three shrimp and only one sparerib?”
Our waiter said in his pronounced Chinese accent, “Special Combination come with one egg loll, two shlimp and two spale lib.” Larry said that he knew that but was wondering whether they would be kind enough to make the substitution that he had requested. Our waiter seemed very upset at this request. “Only come one way with Special Combination.”
By now it was more of a challenge than a desire but Larry asked if our waiter would be kind enough to ask the chef if he could give him his Special Combination as requested. Our waiter turned to me and asked if I knew what I wanted. I said that I would have the Chef’s Special Combination. He said, “Rike on menu – or you want diffelent way too?” I said I would take it as is.
While he went to the kitchen, Larry and I joked that his request, if granted, would probably completely screw up Leong Chi’s whole inventory system – resulting in one too few butterflied shrimp and one too many spare ribs. It could signal the collapse of their entire accounting system.
Our waiter returned carrying two plates of the Chef’s Special Combination. Both had been prepared as originally listed on the menu. He said, placing Larry’s plate in front of him with a sort of inglorious thud, “You eat – you rike it. Chef say is good this way.” Having delivered this lecture he left immediately – after dropping the check on our table.
I moved my plate over to Larry’s side of the table and we swapped one of my shrimp for one of his spare ribs thus resolving the problem.
Despite the way this was handled we continued to patronize the restaurant – although we planned on requesting a different waiter on our future visits. However, that problem was taken care of for us. On our next visit we didn’t see the waiter with whom we had this confrontation.
Larry and I speculated that we might have caused this man to have a nervous breakdown and that he might have found employment with the Post Office. He probably didn’t realize that he was going to have to deal with packages of all different sizes in his new line of employment. We hoped he would be able to cope with that.
As we sat there eating our meal we realized that we might have been responsible for the change in this man’s career path. As a result we resolved that we would never again be responsible for causing such a life-changing event.
In the future when we dined at Leong Chi’s we always ordered our pot of jasmine tea and two Chef’s Special Combination luncheons – just the way they appeared on the menu.