The recent firing of 73 year old veteran Joe Koblenzer, a Cracker Barrel host in Sarasota, Florida, for giving away a corn muffin has really left a bad taste in my mouth. A few of the other “writeups” that happened to Mr. Koblenzer–drinking a fountain drink without paying for it and giving away a cup of coffee. Seriously!? We always had free soft drinks and coffee at the Subway and then TGI Fridays I worked at while in college! It wasn’t that long ago! These Cracker Barrel people are nuts, pardon the pun!
Joe Koblenzer (Fox News Sarasota)
Our companies, Peanut Free Planet and Allerrific give away samples with every order placed on our respective websites. Many of the samples have a retail value close to or over $1.00 each. The Cracker Barrel muffin that he gave away to the homeless person might have a retail value of $1.00, but my guess is that cost them about $.10 to make. And if they are like any other restaurant, many are thrown out every day. Many.
Having operated Peanut Free Planet and Allerrific for nearly 8 years, my wife Heather and I have found that hiring people over 40 has its benefits. They have often held many positions, have a greater perspective on the business, its customers and vendors than a younger person because of their age, and generally are just better employees.
Quite frankly, we don’t get any homeless people at our door. But I know we did occasionally when I worked as a host at TGI Fridays in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, 1989 to 1991, as a college student. We did occasionally give food to people while reminding them that we could not do this on a regular basis and that they needed to seek help from one of the shelters or food banks in the downtown Indianapolis area. Our managers knew what was going on, they always did. We utilized common sense and discretion in doing anything we did. One of the other things our 20 something hosting crew had to do was make certain that accidentally overserved guests did not attempt to drive away in their vehicles. Several times we had to grab our managers who at the time seemed so “old” in their late 30s and early 40s to utilize their wisdom and experience to “convince” the guest that calling a cab was in the best interests of everyone.
Why do I tell you this? Because working as a restaurant host, you see a lot of things. You have to use judgement. You have to utilize your brain. My managers had bigger issues to deal with while running a Franchise of the Year that had 3.5 million in revenue. In the end, things like giving a bit of food away just did not matter. We had bigger fish to fry and everyone knew it from the owners Sanford “Sandy” Levinson and the White Family (billboard and hotelier fortune) who made certain that we had a great benefit package in addition to our wages, down to the dishwasher, if you consider a dishwasher low man on the totem pole. Sandy was (is) one of the hardest working, kindest and best businessmen I ever had the pleasure of working for and the same goes for the White family. They did not have to offer what they did to us, but they did it because they knew it made us a better organization. Dishwasher “Toe Man” as he affectionately had been nicknamed for years, was a Navy vet. I don’t think many knew his real name. He ran his “post” with great efficiency and put up with no one. He was a really nice guy too. It took over a year, but manager Vivian Farris finally convinced him that there was life beyond dish washing, and began to see to it that he received training to work on the line in the kitchen.
“Toe Man” was a lot like a lot of vets that I have met over the years–kind, caring, generous, no BS when necessary, and hard working. I believe a lot of them exhibit those traits because their perspective on life is deeper than most. Working in a restaurant or anywhere else is not a battle ground and although tempers flare occasionally just like in any environment, no one is facing death in the dish room unless they fail to put the silverware from the table they bussed into the soaking container. That could temporarily make them a “POW” of sorts, but it would be quickly forgotten. More to accomplish. More to do. Another crowd to seat and feed.
Back to Peanut Free Planet and Allerrific, we give away samples for events all the time. We don’t know if the people receiving them will ever become customers. We have special requests for samples that meet certain allergen needs. We have no way of knowing what will come of it. We have special requests for a lot of things. As a business owner, I don’t even want to know about it, because in the end, it just doesn’t matter. Too much to do. More to accomplish. Another order to ship.
My former TGI Fridays general manager Mike Bruner was known for being able to function on as little as 4 hours sleep a night and maintain his chipper personality. He was well liked and respected by nearly everyone who worked for him. He also had the illustrious duty of being the “convincer” out in the parking lot with the occasional overserved guest, along with a few of the bigger servers to assist the guest in getting into the cab without falling down.Thankfully that happened only a few times a year, but I still remember it 25 years later! I am certain he would not have hired the Cracker Barrel general manager who chose to fire 73 year old veteran Joe Koblenzer as a manager. He would not have even hired the person as a dishwasher. Joe Koblenzer, on the other hand, sounds like he would have been a great host.
The preceding post was and is the opinion of Brian Selwa, President of Peanut Free Planet. You can follow along with stories about food allergies, related matters, and other matters on Peanut Free Planet Facebook, Peanut Free Planet Twitter, Peanut Free Planet Pinterest and Peanut Free Planet Instagram and the Peanut Free Planet Indiegogo Campaign