‘Rules’ of Engagement in Civilized Society Include Restaurants by Dee Wolf-The Lobster Shanty Salem, MA

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Rules of Engagement

Posted: 1/19/2022

Today’s guest post by my friend, Dee Wolf, Chef/owner of The Lobster Shanty and Wolf Next Door Coffee in Salem, MA first appeared in my Server Not Servant Facebook Group where it garnered more attention than any other post in the history of the group. As of today, Dee’s post has been shared 350 times, 700 people reacted to it, and 136 humans commented on it. [The FB post cannot be shared any longer because it has been slightly edited.]

Diane is a savvy, seasoned, salty restaurant industry veteran, and clearly her poignant message has resonated with many. I’m reposting here to encourage more people to read and share her message with your networks, including media contacts for publication. The link to this blog post will make her message easier to share.

The more restaurant customers and humans who read Dee’s work, the better…

From Diane ‘Dee’ Wolf:

You don’t need to go out to eat.

You don’t need to sit at a bar and have drinks with friends.

If you want to, then there are some rules that our society needs you to follow. If you want to drink, you must be 21 years old, and we can only serve you during the hours that our liquor license allows. We require guests to be fully dressed, including shoes and a shirt. You can’t misbehave or disrupt other guests. You cannot smoke or vape inside the restaurant or on our patio. When you drive here you can’t just leave your car anywhere, you need to park it in a legal spot, or you’ll get towed or get a ticket. Don’t drive if you’re drinking alcohol. If you bring a dog, she can’t sit inside, and we need proof that she has had a rabies shot.

What I’m saying is, having rules of engagement in any society is nothing new.

We have the legal right to refuse service to anyone, at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all. But we are not unreasonable, and we welcome you to join us and stay. We want you to stay, we are in the hospitality business – but it is a business and there are laws, rules and societal norms that we all must follow to be part of this community. We take community building seriously.

I didn’t need to buy a restaurant.
I didn’t need to get a liquor license.

But I wanted to – so I had to do a few things; I got TiPS certified, ServSafe Certified, went to culinary school (which required me to be vaccinated for MMR, Hepatitis B, Chicken Pox, & Meningitis). I also trained with NEHA (the National Environmental Health Association) and created a HACCP (Hazzard Analysis Critical Control Point) plan to make sure my team handles food safely. I wrote a business plan, took out loans, and sold some personal items for seed money. I applied for a food permit & a liquor license. We had to have a health inspection, plumbing inspection, fire inspection, and building inspection just for our occupancy permit. Can’t just hang a sign, need to go before the Design Review Board for approval first. Want an A-frame sign? Need a special permit for that too. We must file and pay meals tax to the city and to the commonwealth, monthly. I need three or four different kinds of insurance, a payroll service, a trustworthy accountant, pest control, quality food & liquor vendors, trash, recycling, & compost removal. I must arrange for cooking oil recycling and knife sharpening. Clean that grease trap and snake the drains every quarter. Clean the exhaust hood and have the fire suppression system tested regularly. Train my crew, write a menu, buy plates & glassware, decorate the place, maybe get a couple of TVs, pay for cable or a satellite, maybe a jukebox service and an ATM. (Don’t forget to pay the four different musicians unions if you play a radio or have live music) Buy a Point of Sale system, arrange for credit card processing. Maybe secure a line of credit (or bootstrap it like we did). All of this needs to be done before we serve a single burger or pour one beer. The goal is to create a culture and an atmosphere that folks want to go to.

Yeah, you could eat at home – my job is to entice you to come join us and be part of our special community. Do you have to? No. Do I want you to? Yes.

We have done SO MUCH to get this restaurant ready for you, to make it fun, to make it safe – so you can let loose and relax for a while. The least you could do is not give my host pushback for asking you to follow the rules. Rulemaking is well above our pay grade here at our little Mom & Pop restaurant. Anyone who wants to ‘punish’ a local business for following new mandates from the city or commonwealth is shooting themselves in the foot – because all that will be left are big chains of boring food dished out by large, soulless corporations. If you want to live in a thriving, unique community; a community with heart and soul, do your fucking part. We’re tired of arguing with you, we’d just like to get back to hospitality if you don’t mind…

In the comments, Dee added, A handful of folks in cities with new vaccine mandates want to punish restaurants by boycotting them, I find this infuriating and heartless. If you want small, independent restaurants in your community, you need to support them.

Amen, Dee Wolf. Amen ♥

Dee can be reached via email at lobstershanty@gmail.com.

Subscription to these blog posts is currently free by entering your email in the blue box on the upper-left side of this post. To support the mission of the Server Not Servant blog and expedite publishing of the forthcoming book, please click on ‘Support Server Not Servant’ in the blue box on the upper-right side of this post. Venmo: @Patrick-Maguire-32. Please email me about personal or corporate book sponsorship opportunities at patrick@servernotservant.com.

And please consider sharing this post if inspired to do so.

Cheers-Patrick Maguire

#ServerNotServant

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Fuck You, #BoycottBoston Boors. #FuckYou

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Rules of Engagement

Posted: 1/17/2022

I’ve spent the most of my life living and working in and around Boston. Right now, I’m embarrassed for Boston and the America many of us grew up to (mostly) love and respect. The recent degradation and desecration of Democracy, ‘patriotism,’ and ‘American’ ideals that we have witnessed, and are in the midst of, are absolutely disgraceful.

A friend posted the following on social media on Sunday morning, 1/16/22:

I never turn off comments for Facebook and Twitter posts, but I did today for the posts about the [Boston] vaccine card mandate once I started getting Nazi stuff and other nastiness. I’d like to think we’re better than this as a country but apparently, we’re not.

Oh, and to those saying they’ll try to push their way into restaurants without vaccine proof because “a mandate doesn’t have the same power as a law”? Guess what–they both have the exact same power of enforcement. And again, don’t take it out on restaurants who are already struggling enough as it is.

Seriously, don’t be a dick.

My response on that thread:

100%. ‘We’ are not ‘better than this’ right now in Boston and America. There is a pervasive entitlement under the auspices of ‘freedom,’ and in rejection of ‘tyranny’ that is rampant in our culture. Many of the #FreedomFighters, including the #BoycottBoston tribe, are opportunists seeking any chance they can to desecrate the very democracy that supports their right to do so. It’s like a sport for them. Vaccine mandates, designed to protect workers and customers, are not easy decisions made haphazardly to ‘oppress’ anyone. And they wouldn’t be necessary if the majority of our populous were intelligent and open enough to research, learn, and trust science on their own without incentives or mandates for the greater good. Self-preservation is a strong motivator, and critical thinking is nearly extinct. And anyone or anything who threatens cultist’s long-ago, established ‘worldview’ will be subject to hateful, vitriolic, and sometimes violent attacks. ‘Different’ will always be a hated enemy to them because it makes them uncomfortable. And thoughtful, 2-way conversation (and potentially changing one’s mind) using meaningful words is too hard and risky for them. Being wrong and vulnerable is a sign of weakness and not an option. Extremists on all ‘sides’ will always be one of our worst enemies in America.

On Saturday, 1/15/22, proof of Covid vaccination, or tiered vaccine mandates went into effect in Boston, Brookline, and Salem, MA with several other cities/towns considering following suit.

From the City of Boston: 

Starting on January 15, 2022, to address rising COVID-19 cases and encourage vaccination, individuals will be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in order to enter certain indoor spaces in Boston. People working in those locations will also be required to have received their vaccines.

The best way for Boston to stay healthy and support our communities, our businesses, and cultural institutions is for more people to get vaccinated.

Covered businesses are responsible for checking proof of vaccination and posting a notice about the COVID-19 vaccine requirement…

On the days leading up to Saturday, 1/15, several restaurants posted reminders to prospective guests about what would be required for entry.

In response, as predicted, along comes a handful of self-serving, often anonymous, cowardly pack of ‘patriotic,’ assholes attacking restaurants and calling for boycotts of the restaurants communicating what they are required to enforce to operate.

Here’s a sampling:

 

 

The profile from the last tweet states, “…help fight for liberty and religious freedom against totalitarianism and tyranny.” Yup, tyranny… As expected, the engagement on social media became vitriolic and vile. After I supported one restaurant under attack after their facebook post about the mandate, I received this pathetic missive in response:

 

Fuck off, ‘Robyn RM.’

Late last week, on the days leading up to implementation of the vaccine mandate, hateful protesters gathered early in the morning at the private home of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. Boston Globe columnist, Yvonne Abraham was spot on in her assessment on why we even bother with idiots…

At the Mayor’s house, a measure of how low people can go

Excerpts from Yvonne’s piece:

It’s often best to avoid giving odious people air time.

There’s little to gain from engaging with the ugliness that passes for political protest these days.

But the ugly protests outside the Roslindale home of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu are impossible to ignore. The folks protesting the city’s vaccine mandates have been particularly nasty, and personal. They have crossed all kinds of lines.

Critics of Wu’s policies requiring all city employees to be vaccinated, and proof of a jab to enter certain businesses in Boston, have laced their arguments with racism and misogyny: One protester’s sign at a recent public event in Mattapan called Wu, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, a “communist [expletive],” and read, “Welcome to the Peoples Republic of Boston.” {Admin edit, where Yvonne used ‘expletive,’ the protestor’s sign said ‘cunt.’}

In Roslindale, the rabid vaccine resisters have shown up early in the morning, making as much noise as they can in an effort to wake not just Wu’s family, it seems, but the entire neighborhood, joking that they’re the mayor’s “alarm clock.” Their presence is all the more jarring in a progressive city like Boston, where Wu was elected in a landslide just a few months ago.

The protesters’ rhetoric mirrors the poisonous, pandemic-prolonging talking points that have infected millions across the country, a rejection of science becoming a kind of perverted patriotism that is integral to conservatism these days. They parade their ignorance even as hospitals are at their breaking point and public health professionals beg for mercy.

The protesters in Roslindale rail against “forced medicine.” The most vocal of them work in public safety, a field in which their refusal to take the most basic precautions should be utterly disqualifying. They proudly post videos of their disruptions. In one clip posted to Twitter on Friday, Wu’s birthday, somebody in the crowd converging on her car kept yelling “Happy birthday, Hitler!”

Earlier last week, my colleague Stephanie Ebbert heard one protestor say something menacing to Wu, a mother devoted to her two young boys.

“You’re not going to be around for your children cause you are going to be held accountable,” the person said.

Even by the standards we’ve come to expect from these protests, which is to say none, that is despicable. There are human beings in that house, including little kids, and Wu’s mother, who has struggled with mental illness. Imagine how terrifying it must be for a kid to have people show up at your home and say such awful things. It wouldn’t be the first time enraged adults have behaved despicably around children in the city, but one would hope we’d grown as Boston grew more welcoming to people of color.

Instead, we seem to have regressed. Threats, veiled and otherwise, are the currency of public discourse these days, from school board meetings in Derry, N.H., to the office of the nation’s top COVID expert, Anthony Fauci.

The targets of anti-vaccine mobs face an impossible choice: Call out the threats, thereby giving them a bigger platform; or ignore them and risk normalizing the behavior, knowing that one in the mob may actually do them harm. Increasingly, those railing about tyranny are doing more than just posturing, a fact last year’s insurrection made plain.

Wu has gone back and forth, struggling with how best to respond to her increasingly hostile critics. In tweets on Saturday, she called out some of the slurs and said: “To have a chance at healing & building community, we can’t keep normalizing hate.”

Every elected official expects to be the target of protests, particularly in this fractious era. And Wu’s critics have the right to express themselves, no matter how wrongheaded their point of view.

But do they have to be this appalling, this cruel? Can we at least agree that the protests should be confined to public settings, and not the homes of elected officials — of either party — who deserve to feel safe where they live?

Or have we lost the capacity for even that basic decency, too?

[If you want to adhere to the notion that there are still intelligent humans reading, digesting, and responding to articles like that, do NOT read the comments. Your ‘faith in humanity’ will not be restored…]

So many of these comments and actions are disgraceful for Boston and America, but this is who ‘we’ really are. The ignorance under the guise of ‘patriotism,’ the ‘victims’ being ‘oppressed’ by ‘tyranny,’ and the #FreedomFighters fighting for their narrow, incendiary, self-serving version of ‘freedom,’ clearly demonstrates how pervasive hate, divisiveness, and extremism is in our culture, and that SO many people would rather ‘die on the hill’ of their long-ago, established ‘worldviews’ than research, study science and facts, learn, admit they were wrong and change their minds. Civilized society has laws, rules, and social contracts, and consequences when they’re not adhered to. Unfortunately, MANY humans, when left to their own discretion, ‘freedom’ of choice to ‘do the right thing,’ for the greater good, never will.  So embarrassed for Boston and America right now. And no, I’m not leaving, but I will keep speaking up.

On twitter, I responded to tweets like those above with the following:

Researching and supporting the efforts of the Independent Restaurant Coalition is the very best course of action that we can take right now to ensure that our favorite, neighborhood restaurants survive. I can’t emphasize enough how critical this is. This absolutely IS life or death for SO many Mom & Pop shops. For many restaurants, business is absolutely awful right now in the dead of the winter in Boston. The very last vestige of hope for many restaurants to survive is replenishment of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

There is a Day of Action tomorrow, Tuesday, 1/18/22 at noon that I encourage everyone to participate in and spread the word about.

 

Last night, I experienced the vaccine mandate requirement first-hand at one of my favorite spots, Trina’s Starlight Lounge in Somerville, MA. It’s the first time I’ve been inside anywhere knowing that everyone else in the room was vaccinated to some degree. And it felt very good knowing that…

After getting home last night, I saw this post on my Server Not Servant Facebook Group from my friend, Diane Wolf, chef and owner of The Lobster Shanty and Wolf Next Door Coffee in Salem, MA. The timing of this ‘boots on the ground’ insight couldn’t have been better on the heels of an often contentious, extremely difficult weekend for restaurants in Boston and beyond…

Diane is a savvy, seasoned, salty restaurant industry veteran and ‘good people’ who I have a lot of respect for. This poignant post cuts to the core:

You don’t need to go out to eat.

You don’t need to sit at a bar and have drinks with friends.

If you want to, then there are some rules that our society needs you to follow. If you want to drink, you must be 21 years old, and we can only serve you during the hours that our liquor license allows. We require guests to be fully dressed, including shoes and a shirt. You can’t misbehave, or disrupt other guests. You can’t bring a firearm with you if you’re drinking alcohol. You cannot smoke or vape inside the restaurant or on our patio. When you drive here, you can’t just leave your car anywhere, you need to park it in a legal spot or you’ll get towed. Didn’t feed the meter? You’ll get a ticket. Don’t drive if you’re drinking alcohol. If you bring a dog, she can’t sit inside and we need proof that she has had a rabies shot and she’ll need to remain on a leash. What I’m saying is, having rules of engagement in any society is nothing new.

We have the legal right to refuse service to anyone, at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all. But we are not unreasonable, and we would like you to stay. We want you to stay, we are in the hospitality business – but it is a business and there are laws, rules and societal norms that we all must follow to be part of this community. We take community building seriously.

I didn’t need to buy a restaurant.
I didn’t need to get a liquor license.

But I wanted to – so I had to do a few things; I got TiPS certified, ServSafe Certified, went to culinary school (which required me to be vaccinated for MMR, Hepatitis B, Chicken Pox, & Meningitis). I also trained with NEHA (the National Environmental Health Association) and created a HACCP (Hazzard Analysis Critical Control Point) plan to make sure my team handles food safely. I wrote a business plan, took out loans, and sold some personal items for seed money. I applied for a food permit & a liquor license. We had to have health inspection, a plumbing inspection, a fire inspection, and a building inspection just for our occupancy permit. Can’t just hang a sign, need to go before the Design Review Board for approval first. Want an A-frame sign? Need a special permit for that. We must file and pay meals tax to the city and to the commonwealth, monthly. I need three or four different kinds of insurance, a payroll service, a trustworthy accountant, pest control, quality food & liquor vendors, trash, recycling, & compost removal. I must arrange for cooking oil recycling and knife sharpening. Clean that grease trap and snake the drains every quarter. Clean the exhaust hood and have the fire suppression system tested regularly. Train my crew, write a menu, buy plates & glassware, decorate the place, maybe get a couple of TVs, pay for cable or a satellite, maybe a jukebox service and an ATM. (Don’t forget to pay the four different musicians unions if you play a radio or have live music) Buy a Point of Sale system, arrange for credit card processing. Maybe secure a line of credit (or bootstrap it like we did). All this needs to be done before we serve a single burger or pour one beer. The goal is to create a culture and an atmosphere that folks want to go to.

Yeah, you could eat at home – my job is to make you want to come join us and be part of our special community. Do you have to? No. Do I want you to? Yes.

We have done SO MUCH to get this restaurant ready for you, to make it fun, to make it safe – so you can let loose and relax for a while. The least you could do is not give my host pushback for asking you to follow the rules. Rulemaking is well above our pay grade here at our little mom & pop restaurant. Anyone who wants to ‘punish’ a local business for following new mandates from the city or commonwealth is shooting themselves in the foot – because all that will be left are big chains of boring food dished out by large, soulless corporations. If you want to live in a thriving, unique community; a community with heart and soul, do your fucking part. We’re tired of arguing with you, we’d just like to get back to hospitality if you don’t mind.

Don’t like the rules? Stay home. You don’t need to go out to eat.

In the comments, Diane added, A handful of folks in cities with new vaccine mandates want to punish restaurants by boycotting them, I find this infuriating and heartless. If you want small, independent restaurants in your community, you need to support them.

Amen, Diane Wolf. Amen ♥

Subscription to these blog posts is currently free by entering your email in the blue box on the upper-left side of this post. To support the Server Not Servant blog and expedite publishing of the forthcoming book, please click on ‘Support Server Not Servant’ in the blue box on the upper-right side of this post. Venmo: @Patrick-Maguire-32. Please email me about personal or corporate book sponsorship opportunities at patrick@servernotservant.com.

And please consider sharing this post if inspired to do so.

Thank you-Patrick

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Anniversary of January 6, 2021-Donald Trump & #Cult45’s Attack on America and Democracy

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Rules of Engagement

Posted: 1/6/2022

Never Forget. I posted the following on Facebook on the night of January 6, 2021:

Reflections after being riveted to the TV today during the ‘Raid on Democracy’ by Trump’s willfully-ignorant, sycophantic, naïve, manipulated, pathetic thugs/mob who stormed the Capitol and violated American ideals to support their psychotic, narcissistic, criminal demagogue:

-Self-preservation (justifying one’s existence/beliefs) is a strong motivator. Even neanderthal, Soprano wannabes, willing to put themselves at risk, do so for selfish reasons. They formed their insulated, bigoted, hateful ‘worldviews’ long ago. They’re done reading, studying, brainstorming, learning, and evolving. Critical thinking isn’t even in their lexicon, never mind on their radar. Trump has enabled and empowered their latent, suppressed voices of hate, and the Trump cult has given them a forum and a platform to be ‘loud and proud,’ finally. So they heed the clarion call of their demented demigod. That was clearly on display today. Never forget, more than 74 million Americans voted for Trump in 2020. Widespread ignorance will always be pervasive in America, and combating it with education to make progress, will always be a huge challenge.

-In our present condition (especially after today), America IS (not looks like) a ‘Third World Country.’ I’ve always abhorred the notion of being, “The greatest country in the world.” In many respects we are, but in many respects we’re not, and never will be. And that’s ok, we don’t need to be. We just need to strive to be a great, global neighbor. “American Exceptionalism’ is bullshit. Today we were no better than the unstable nations around the world that we’ve always been horrified by.

A few of my ‘live’ tweets from today:

– “Seriously, it’s ridiculous that the National Guard and/or the military and Homeland Security have not secured the buildings by now. There is no excuse for this. The US was totally unprepared, and the delayed response is disgraceful.”

– “Never forget that Donald Trump, Thug-In-Chief, called the mob/scum that stormed the proceedings in Washington to sanction our elections, “special people,” and said, “We love you.” Trump is an absolutely horrible ‘human’ who has desecrated America, again.”

– “It’s disgraceful enough that security was breached, but how is it possible that these thugs have been allowed to occupy these buildings all afternoon?!? Where is the cavalry?”

– “If today’s mob/terrorists were members of Black Lives Matter, marine helicopters would have landed on the lawn and we would have seen a violent, overwhelming show of force in no time. On a day that started out w/so much hope coming from Georgia, I am so fucking angry + sickened.”

– “The rage is slowly giving way to sadness for America because of the sycophantic, ignorant, hateful mob manipulated and inspired by one of the worst demagogues on the planet, Donald Trump. He’s reached another disgraceful low, and America has suffered greatly, again.”

The inauguration can’t come soon enough. Trump has presided over one of the darkest chapters in American history. His inept, incompetent, selfish behavior is beyond immoral and unconscionable, it’s criminal. Justice must be served, sending him to prison for the remainder of his life in order to preserve the integrity of democracy.

Good Night-PM

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Cheers to a ‘Decent’ New Year 2022, PLEASE?!?

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 1/2/2022

Well, that was another hellacious, exhausting year, punctuated by a Covid encore, resembling more of a perpetual ‘purgatory’ than a joyous crescendo. We’re on an unenviable 5-year roll in America. Like many of you, I personally know more people who recently tested positive, than at any other time since the plague’s invasion. Reflections of ‘gratitude’ become more of an important, elusive challenge at the conclusion of years like 2021. I believe there is a just tendency to downsize our grandiose, forward-thinking expectations during these precarious times. ‘Reality Bites’ is more than ever ominous, foreboding, and true…

The clichéd, “Happy” New Year, despite good intentions, reminds me of the unsolicited, “You should smile more!” exclamation from grating, perky humans, without even a patronizing greeting first… And ‘Happy’ is subjective and personal. (I know, ‘issues,’ but I’m a jaded optimist.)

While gathering questionnaire responses for my book and blog, one server replied to “Advice for customers?” with, “Despite all of the requests for big tips, I believe that, more importantly, most servers wish that all of their customers would just be decent humans.” Amen. Bring on a ‘decent’ in 2022…

In that spirit of simplification, I’m sharing the same message here with SNS readers that I did with my 9 siblings on New Year’s Eve:

And a supplement on Instagram; Looking forward to following through on those walks, coffee/tea connections, drinks, BBQ’s, diner breakfasts, ‘breaking bread,’ field trips, and live chats we keep postponing… (Let’s make these happen.) In the recent words of America’s Poet, Amanda Gorman, “Whether we like it or not, we are in this together.”

Speaking of walks, the pic of the bird in the upper left of this post is a Great Blue Heron that I frequently see in the water at Hall’s Pond Sanctuary, a short distance from my home. On New Year’s Day, it was perched in a tree due to the colder water, according to a chatty nature enthusiast I met.

Stan Grossfield, two-time Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist in today’s Boston Globe Magazine, 1/2/22. Fly Me to The Moon: The space race you never knew about: Stan Grossfield’s NASA competition with Walter Cronkite:

In some circles photojournalists are treated like second-class citizens. “Are you a reporter or do you JUST take the photos?” has always annoyed me. Actually, I do both. If there was only one seat, why not send me?

[Sound familiar servers and bartenders?!? “What’s your REAL job?”]

Stan continues: I no longer want to go into space. That money would be better spentsaving our beloved Earth and trying to unite these Un-united States. As the worst epidemic of the past century continues to divide us, I wish we could just take a giant leap forward together, be kinder to each other, and spread some good karma around this beautiful planet we all share. 

Gratitude 2021: Frontline Workers, Scientists, Family, Small Victories, Sibling Safety and Health, #5 #MiddleKidsForLife, Loyal Friends, Generosity, Kindness, Empathy, Compassion, Teachers, Nurses, Doctors, Nature, Journalistic Integrity, Trust, Medicine, #SwimClub, Peace of Mind, Walks & Hope.

To support the mission and expedite the publication of the Server Not Servant book, please consider a contribution on Venmo @Patrick-Maguire-32 (last 4 digits of cell: 5682) or click on “Support Server Not Servant” in the blue box on the right-hand side of this post. Please contact me for personal and corporate sponsorships via email: patrick@servernotservant.com. Cheers-Patrick

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The Legend & Legacy of Tony Russo and Iconic Russo’s Produce Market in Watertown, MA

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 9/28/2021

The accolades pouring in for Tony Russo, his family, and legendary Russo’s Market in Watertown, Massachusetts appear very well-deserved. But there is never a shortage of divergent viewpoints, even when a venerable, veteran icon closes out an extremely successful run.

On 8/15/21, via Russo’s Facebook Page:

To Our Devoted and Loyal Customers,⁣

After more than 70 years working for the family business, Tony Russo is retiring. ⁣

Our business will close this fall.⁣

It has been Tony’s privilege to serve our many wholesale and retail customers for seven decades.⁣

Our business began as a small farm in Watertown more than 100 years ago. Every day at Russo’s – while surrounded by fresh produce – Tony is reminded of working alongside his grandparents on the farm and later, of working alongside his father and uncle at their wholesale warehouse. Their work ethic became his inspiration. Throughout the years, Tony has worked in all areas of the retail and wholesale business including trimming vegetables, driving trucks, loading and unloading trailers, putting up wholesale orders, sweeping the floor, buying produce and overseeing the most subtle details of the retail store. At any time, customers can find him involved in the displays of the fruits, vegetables, flowers, bakery, deli, cheese and garden departments. His days begin around 3:30 AM and end after 8 PM.⁣

Tony has treasured watching generations of families shopping together as they choose their first spring vegetable plants, or the first local apples of the season and as they shop for Christmas trees (with classical music playing in the background, of course).⁣

Tony deeply appreciates and will truly miss the employees who have worked everyday, sometimes outside in the harshest of weather conditions. These employees represent the backbone and the energy of the Russo’s environment, and their efforts will never be forgotten. ⁣

We cannot overstate Tony’s dedication to the world of fruits, vegetables and flowers. We also cannot overstate his dedication to Russo’s wonderful employees, customers, growers and suppliers. And we cannot thank Tony enough for what he has brought to so many people’s lives.⁣

Thank you,⁣
Russo’s ⁣

Thousands of comments, the majority laudatory and congratulatory, followed the gush of reporting. Here’s a small sampling of the media coverage:

Boston Globe, 8/23/21. Sheryl Julian, Boston Globe Correspondent and former Globe Food Editor, Dear Tony Russo ‘The author writes a farewell letter to the owner of Russo’s, the 100-year-old Watertown produce market that will close this fall’

“When we met in the late ‘70s, I had just moved back to Watertown (my father was stationed at Watertown Arsenal when I was born) and had switched my allegiance from DeVincent Farms in Waltham, which grew a lot of its own produce in season, to what was then a tiny A. Russo & Sons, never particularly easy to navigate, where the seasonal fruits and vegetables came from farmers and distributors with whom your family had decades-long relationships…

Years ago, when we were chatting between the produce aisles — you always stopped to say hello to customers if you were on the floor — you told me that sometimes you came to work with a blinding headache because you lived on so little sleep. Yet, in all the years I’ve been shopping at your farm stand, I have only seen you very courteous and gracious to everyone. And I’ve noticed many fussy and grumpy customers. Bravo to you for how you handle them. Someone can be berating you for something they bought that wasn’t up to snuff, and Tony, quite frankly, you should give lessons to other customer service reps on how to offer a sincere apology. Even your own staff never learned to finesse that aspect of the business…

Watertown is very different from the place you or I knew decades ago. Developers have probably been after you for years. Although you won’t discuss it, you sold four parcels of land, which included the market, for $36.5 million, according to Massachusetts Land Records. There is some talk in town that the land may become a biolab. I have no doubt you will help the 240 workers who have made the shop hum all these years find their next jobs…

…You’ve been at this for 70 years. Your energy and curiosity and general good will kept the market fresh and new, and all those generations of families returning.

Just one of thousands who are sorry to see you go, Sheryl Julian

WBUR, 8/17/21,  Magdiela Matta‘After A Century In Business, Russo’s In Watertown Will Close’:

“Local shoppers are in disbelief after learning that Watertown’s beloved market, Russo’s, will be closing permanently this fall. Russo’s began as a family farm more than 100 years ago. Tony Russo has worked at the market for more than 70 years and is retiring, according to a company statement…”

Just as shoppers will miss Russo’s, so will the employees. An employee for 14 years, Marvin Rodas, was notified last Friday about the closure. With the community Russo’s has built, Rodas says that “Shoppers know us even by our first names, a lot of people have even left us business cards and encouraged us to apply to other places.”

Mildred Avila , an employee of Russo’s for eight years, says the announcement was a shock to her. She says “Here, no one treats you badly—none of that.  [Tony’s] been a good boss, but he’s getting older now and needs the rest.”

Wicked Local-Watertown Tab, 8/19/21, Joanna K. Tzouvelis: ‘Russo’s property on Pleasant Street in Watertown sells for $36.5 million’:

“Russo’s, 560 Pleasant St., Watertown, in business for 100 years, announced on Aug. 15 they will closing this fall because owner Tony Russo decided to retire after 70 years. According to Massachusetts Land Records, 4.8 acres of property located at 532-542, 550, 560 and 570 Pleasant St. was sold on Aug. 18 to NewTower Trust Company of Bethesda, Maryland for $36.5 million.

More than 230 will be jobless.

Russo sent a letter to the Town Council on Aug. 13 to notify the town under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, and applicable regulations and state obligations, 239 employees will be permanently laid off beginning around Oct. 12 or within two weeks thereafter or later based on business needs and circumstances…

…The letter states, “We are mindful of the difficulties that this closure and layoff poses to employees and the Watertown community, given Russo’s longstanding presence here. Accordingly, we will make efforts to provide as smooth a transition as possible under the circumstances.”

[The final day of business at Russo’s was actually September 18, 2021. And many of the employees interviewed for the news and newspapers were surprised by the announcement. It appears that they did not receive much more notice than the public did.]

Boston Globe, September 19, 2021, Adam Sennott: Customers make one last trip to Russo’s in Watertown

Christopher Walker, 34 of Everett, said he’s been shopping at Russo’s for about eight years and called the market an institution.

“You’re kind of seeing a great thing go, and you have all the nostalgia from all the times you shopped and the great produce and seasonality of it,” Walker said.

“I just feel for all the people who put in, employees wise, put in all that time and effort in, and I feel like they’re the true heartbeat of this institution,” Walker added. “I’m just curious to know what they’re going to do. It seems like it’s very abrupt. [It’s] shocking.”

Most of the praise in the public comments in response to the features covering the closing of Russo’s echoed this one in the Facebook Group, You Know You’re From Watertown, MA If……  [The original post this comment was in response to was simply, 36.5 Million!!?!?!?!!?!! and included a link to this article in Watertown Tab.

Sparsely sprinkled in with the praise, congrats, and well-wishes were jaded criticisms about development, ‘progress,’ (change in general), greed, and the lingering questions, “What will happen to the employees?” “Will they be taken care of, especially the veterans?” “Will they receive a bonus/severance compensation?” I wondered all of those things.

Here are a few more examples of the replies to the Facebook group post:

Nicole Sapienza: “More condos. Watertown is not the close knit community it once was Too bad.”

[I walked Pleasant Street in Watertown on Sunday, 9/26/21. It’s a non-descript, ‘industrial/business’ stretch of road. Not the best location for condos, in my opinion.]

Elisabeth C. Strekalovsky: “I don’t think we need any more science buildings!”

[‘Science buildings’ and labs are shaping up to be the ‘best use’ of land along Pleasant Street, based on the huge Real Estate marketing billboards currently posted there.]

Laureen Pollard: “I just have to say, put yourself in his shoes and were given this much to walk away, tell me you wouldn’t take it!! Give the guy a break! Would most of you walk away from the highest bidder on your house or sell it to someone for half the price? I’m sure you wouldn’t!”

And this was an interesting, creative comment in the group:

In addition to my comment (Patrick Maguire) above, I added another comment to the Facebook thread:

“It’s a wonderful story. I wonder how it will end for the 239ish displaced (especially long-time, loyal) employees.
Usually when a ‘Mom & Pop’ shop closes, amongst the public outcry of, “Just what we needed, more condos or another bank,” I defend the owners for closing ‘on their terms’ and cashing in their de facto (often non-existent) 401k. [This is especially true for operators who were smart and fortunate enough to own the appreciating real estate they worked out of.]

 I’ve read almost every piece (and many of the comments) on Russo’s closing, including the Watertown News article stating, “The Russo’s market property was sold for $36.5 million to NewTower Trust Company, of Bethesda, Md., according to a report on Wicked Local Watertown.”

I’ve also been emailing and texting local friends and journalists wondering if anyone was researching the angle of the story that many people are wondering about–Will Tony take care of his employees (especially the long-time, loyal staff)? It’s a perspective that’s rarely researched and reported on in detail, including interviews with several employees, not just a small sampling of disgruntled ax grinders. I’d love to hear that Russo’s employees were given ample lead time to plan their transition, and told that if they stayed on through closing, they would receive a bonus based on a creative formula of years of service and hours worked. Hopefully, they’ll receive a bonus and transitional assistance, even if they move on before the final day (some won’t be able to wait).” 

Rather than speculate, I decided to ask Tony Russo. I started by sending a message via the ‘contact tab’ on the Russo’s website. The first message I sent on August 31 was quickly confirmed, but went unanswered. I followed up with 4 more messages on the Russo’s website from September 2nd through September 8th. All messages were confirmed via email. Here is confirmation from Russo’s, and a copy of the fifth message I sent on 9/8:

On 9/14, I also mailed a printed, hard-copy of the message above, and called Russo’s.  After identifying myself and asking for Tony, I was sent to his voicemail where I left a detailed message reiterating the info above. I never heard back from Tony or anyone from Russo’s.

This troubling public (albeit anonymous), comment from ‘Fred’ was posted in response to the article by Charlie Breitrose in the Watertown News on 8/20/21:

I am still trying to obtain a copy of the letter sent to the Russo’s staff. I will edit/add it to this blog post if it’s forwarded to me.

How much money is enough?

I once worked for an extremely privileged, silver-spoon wealthy, oblivious company owner who stated in one of our management meetings, “People aren’t motivated by money.” Bullshit. Obviously, respect, trust, gratitude, and company culture (to name a few) are essential components of employee satisfaction and retention, but competitive compensation absolutely plays a critical role in motivating employees.

It’s very refreshing to learn about companies like Gravity Payments, and Chobani ‘sharing the wealth’ with their employees.

CBS News, 9/16/21: CEO on why giving all employees minimum salary of $70,000 still “works” six years later: “Our turnover rate was cut in half”:

It was six years ago when CEO Dan Price raised the salary of everyone at his Seattle-based credit card processing company Gravity Payments to at least $70,000 a year.

Price slashed his own salary by $1 million to be able to give his employees a pay raise. He was hailed a hero by some and met with predictions of bankruptcy from his critics. 

But that has not happened; instead, the company is thriving…

…Price thinks Gravity’s returns are up in large part because bigger paychecks have lead to fiercely loyal employees.

[So much for the old adage, “You can’t ‘buy’ loyalty.” You can reduce ‘owner’ compensation/profit and more equitably incentivize employees.]

NPR, Yuki Noguchi, 4/28/16: ‘Why Chobani Gave Employees A Financial Stake In Company’s Future.’

 It’s been a good week for employees of Chobani. They learned that they could eventually own about 10 percent of the rapidly expanding Greek yogurt company. That could potentially make millionaires of some workers, if the privately held company is sold or goes public…

…Founder Hamdi Ulukaya’s only experience in the dairy business was that his mother made delicious strained yogurt in his hometown in Turkey…

…Ulukaya — still Chobani’s majority owner — told employees on Tuesday to think of the grants as a pledge to expand the company even more.

“We used to work together; now we are partners,” he told workers at the company’s facility in New Berlin, N.Y.

Ulukaya is outspoken about corporate civic duty. Ten percent of Chobani profits go to charity. One-third of its workforce is made up of refugees. And an employee ownership grant was always part of Ulukaya’s dream plan.

…”One of the hardest things to do for a program like this, is when you have 2,000 employees that you want to participate in it, is figuring out that allocation,” Gonda says. “Obviously, time and role at the company have a huge part to play, but this is a very personal part of the process for Hamdi, and he spent a lot of time going through that.”

The company didn’t disclose details about the allocations, but the longest-serving employees received the largest shares.

Which leads us to the question, When companies like Russo’s realize a hard-earned, significant windfall after selling their business, are they ‘morally’ obligated to share a portion of their good fortune with the people who helped them achieve a tremendous outcome? Or is it enough that they provided stable employment, benefits, and more for the duration of the relationship with their employees? In these instances, are employers indebted to compensate loyal, long-term workers anything beyond what they legally ‘owe’ them? I say, yes. Lastly, aside from the local, state, and federal legal requirements, does a privately-held company owe anyone an explanation beyond their employees?

Every situation is unique, and Russo’s is no exception. Without intimate knowledge all of the personal, family, business, and financial circumstances and details behind the scenes, who are we to judge?  I’m just hoping that the ‘lifers’ got a lucrative ‘shot in the arm’ on the way out the door…

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