The Lucky Break


Today I take you back to February of 2011.  I was 24 years old, and even though I was a successful District Manager for a Dunkin Donuts Franchise in the suburbs of Rochester, I was enjoying the twenties lifestyle so much, that I had to work two other part-time jobs to support it and that box of a studio apartment that I passed out in.  Once in a while.

I had just found out that I was going to be a father and I hadn’t quite figured out what my next move was.  Like I said, I was working two other part-time jobs.  One being a bar back and cook at a local sports bar,  I was a bit overqualified for that position but I really enjoyed working there and for the couple that owned it.  And the other was a stint on the line at my current full service restaurant company.

I was hired with the company for the first time in late 2004 and though I had transferred and left employment from this company on three separate occasions, I always seemed to wash back on their shores in a moment of need.  Whether it was their need or my need depended on the situation.

Now, when it comes to my career.  I always have seemed to be in the right place at the right time.  “God protects fools and drunks” Anthony Bourdain once said.  And this occasion was no exception


Shortly after returning to life on the line that January, I remember how pissed off I was when I was scheduled against my availability to work the garde manger station on random Sunday afternoon.  That’s just a fancy term used to make a salad preparer sound more important, which these days depending on your restaurants concept can be very important.

Sunday afternoons were not in my availability and I sure as hell hadn’t worked that salad station in years.  Hell, I didn’t have a clue what half the preparations were.   But I showed up for the shift without complaint like the good soldier I was.   And there he was.

The “he” I’m referring to was none other that the Monopoly Man himself, the Regional Director.  He indeed bore a striking resemblance to Rich Uncle Pennybags from the famous board game and today he was going to change my life.

He and I locked eyes immediately.  Did the GM schedule me on this shift on purpose so that I would be here when he was here?  If so…well played sir.  I had worked with this RD before in many different restaurant locations and we had a great history, but I hadn’t seen him since I had left to gain management experience with another company.

And after hearing about what I had been up to lately and my son on the way, he inquired if I would be interested in getting into full service management.

The rest is history.  I few rides east,7795fdea050dd0849fbdf50e7bd76fc8--luck-of-the-irish-irish-luck to Syracuse in the winter for interviews and assessments, my POS Lincoln barely making the journey, and it was a done deal.  I relocated to Syracuse in March for Manager Training and my climb up the corporate ladder had begun.

Making it all happen

One thing thats different about me this year is that I certainly don’t have very much “idle time”.  

My Resolutions keep me busy from sun up to so sun down almost every day.   Trying to make time for work, time to exercise, time for others, time to be silly, time for projects can be very exhausting.  No different from anyone else.

To make it all happen I have to use all favorite time management techniques.

1.  Plan each day in advance – used to have every 15 Minutes planned out but that made me more stressed because of all the unpredictability of life.   Now I just jot down a rough outline of what I want to accomplish the night before.

2.  Delegate – if you are lucky to have people working under you.  Delegate anything that can be done just as good or better to someone else.  This frees you up to focus on the tasks only you can or should handle

3.  Follow the 2 Minutes Rule – anything that can be done in 2 min or less do right away.  Saving large chunks of time for big projects. 

4.  also follow the 5 second rule – see my previous article for more info on this

5.  Set a quitting time – decide in advance when you are going to stop working then do something relaxing. 

6.   take a day off once a week.  

5 Principles To Live By  To Find Happiness In Your Restaurant Job

I am now in my 15th year in the food service industry.   That is half my lifetime and all of my working career.   I have worked in pretty much every position available.   From Dishwasher to General Manager.  I have also work in customer service and sales… Horrible fields.    At the beginning of the year I found myself well…Not as happy as I should be. Life in restaurants can wear your down it you let it.   So I set out to find ways to boost my Happiness.  

Whether you’re a restaurant lifer like me, working your way through college, or just laying low while you look for a “real job”    (huge insult to career people).  There is no reason why the restaurant grind has to be a miserable one.  

Here are five principles that you can try to live by if you find yourself in this business.  
1.  Show Up

Physically show up.  On time.  Get your self and your station ready to go.     Don’t show up 5-10 minutes late.  You will find yourself behind and stressed out, not just you… Your team as well.  

Mentally show up as well.   As hard as it can be check your personal dilemmas at the door you must find a way.  You will be a liability to yourself and your team.   

And maybe you should think about putting off  the indulging of certain substances until after work.  Just saying…I don’t know many circumstances where they led to improved work performance.  
2.  Lighten up

Take the job seriously…But don’t take yourself too seriously.    Get to know your teammates and be amused by them.   Have fun while getting the job done.  

“Have a sense of humor about things…You”ll need it”. Anthony Bourdain

3.  Prepare  yourself for the worst

Saying that the restaurant is unpredictable is an understatement.  As bad as things get…And they will get bad, the shift is going to end, the doors will lock, the tickets will stop coming.    

Stay calm.  Stay positive.   This will pass

4.  Accept that life is not fair

“Be prepared to witness every variety of human folly and injustice.” Bourdain 
5.  Take Time Off

I know it’s very difficult to get time off in the industry, regardless of your title.  Work with your boss to find the appropriate times so you can better your work life balance while being fair to your team

 At the very least…Take one day off a week and two weeks off  a year.   Cover for your teammates…They will (should) do it for you.

Another School Break in the books.  

Technically, the school vacation isn’t over until Sunday.  But I count Friday as the beginning of the end.   On these breaks, my modest family restaurant turns into Chuckie Cheese.   With wild kids coming in droves.  Running through the aisles, going in the bathrooms and crawling under the parishions to lock the stall doors, and finding other ways to cause mischief.    It’s part of the business and my restaurant team shares the mentality of “the more the merrier.” Since, in the casual dining industry you have to fight for every customer to survive.   

The constant pounding of restaurant life takes it toll on everyone’s mind and body and I for one am looking forward to taking some time off.  But that won’t happen until Mid May.

  I couldn’t find the coffee urn this morning… No matter I will heat  and ladle my coffee from the Soup warmer.   “Please Sir…May I have some more”

I shouldn’t complain…It could still be snowing.  But I’m tired of it’s being so dreary out.  

This tree in my front yard is going down

I hate ricotta and I hate zucchini but this zucchini lasagna that my wife made was actually really good

I did have a little time in between the rain to get out and walk the Chittenango Creek Walk that I came across earlier this week

Getting Everything You Want


Today was the day to give semi annual reviews  to my assistant managers and no better time for a literal interpretation of my February Resolution to Give Positive Reviews.   

It was a difficult year for  my team.  Full of a lot of change, trials, and tribulations.   But through the ups and downs of the review process I was happy to tell both of them how proud of them I was.   

As good as it felt to say that to them, I came to the realization that it’s more important for them to grow in the company.   It’s also important for my growth.  

This quote from the late Zig Ziglar says it all

Of course  as a manager I have always knew that but this year it’s time to put it into action.  

Leaving the Franchise

March 20th

Summer of 2008 was a real low point in my life.

I had just broken up with my girl friend.  The whole reason I was in Rochester to begin with.   I had just walked away from my kitchen manager job over a disagreement with my boss to become a lowly assistant manager for a very popular quick service concept.  You might have heard of it…America tends to run on it.

I have just rented the grimiest room in a boarding house in the worst area of the city. (At one point all four of my tires were slashed because I didn’t give this dude a dollar.)   And now I’m standing at the cash register  to buy soap and my card was declined.  All my other 7 credit cards were maxed out.  All I have was a $400 check in my pocket from my first week as a manager of my own coffee shop after being recently promoted.

Almost completely broke with a mountain of debt as they cashier took my soap and groceries and put them in the “return cart” I realized how far I had fallen.  How did it get so bad?  Story for a different time.  But as I walked out empty handed I realized now was the time that I had to dig myself out.

Things didn’t get better right away.  I think it was shortly after that I had to surrender my car plates after my second lapse in insurance.   I slept in my office chair for 10 days.

But slowly I was able to get my store sales up over prior year.  More and more every week.  It was very real management success that  showed real tangible results.  I put in long hours to get my entire team on the same page.  Often being the first to arrive and the last to leave.

Soon I was granted a promotion as a District Manager.  I took on overseeing one store at a time while running my own until the point came where I took over 7 restaurants and that became my full time job.  I was your typical millennial manager.  Always plugged in.  Always working.  Always available.  But always working on other projects and concepts.  I worked in the kitchen/bar back at a sports bar, I worked as a consult for an energy supply company, I worked for Chili’s, as well as returning to my old restaurant a couple of times.

Things were going great.  But when I learned that I was going to become a father in early 2011 it was time to re-evaluate things.

I have nothing but great things to say about the owners of the Franchise.  They were always good to me.  They never said they would do something for me and fail to do it.    But they fact of the matter was this:  They were business men first.  And they saw a young kid that didn’t know any better that would work his heart out for peanuts.   This was confirmed after I gave my notice.  When I saw a listing for my job on Career Builder with the starting salary 15,000 more than I was making.   What influenced my decision to leave the most wasn’t just the base salary, but the room for growth.  I didn’t work for Dunkin Donuts.  I worked for the Franchise Company.  Within that company just like any privately owned company, there is only so much room for personal growth.  I was 24 and already as high as I could go for any foreseeable future.

It was a great time.  It shows first hand how the refusal to be outworked led to success while being able to dig myself out of the gutter.   But now it was time to pack it up and head to Syracuse were I didn’t know anyone and failure was not an option.





The Ides of March – 3/15

The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. ”  Jim Morrison

People in the North East were still digging themselves out while the restaurant is open for business.   Absenteeism was rampant in my kitchen this morning which gave me a long time alone.   Your mind can’t help but wonder.

I spent a lot time thinking about my persona and how it evolved over my years in management.   The one I had to create to not thrive but just to survive as an introvert in an extrovert world.

I would like to say that I am a kind , warm-hearted individual.   A confidant that anyone could lean on.   At least, that’s how I remember myself growing up and in my early days as a cook.  .

I know the role I play now…A cold, sarcastic, and driven manager.  On the surface my employees might think that I couldn’t give a damn about them.   Some of the more quizzical , can see right through that.    Please, Understand that the job does require a bit of firmness otherwise you become a rug for everyone to walk on.

When I leave work I can leave that persona at the door…But do I?  Or do  I spend so much time playing that role that it becomes my reality?  Reminds me a little of a different industry.

I’m a big professional wrestling fan.  Not so much of the storylines nor the matches themselves.  But of the backstage stories and the psychology of it.   The life of a WWE wrestler is very grueling.  250 -300 days a year you are on the road a new city every day.   You work sick and hurt.   And all this time you are away from your family.

In Brock Lesnar’s bio Death Clutch.   He describes what the late Curt Henning once said to him about the wrestling business.  He told him to “get in…To get out”.  To always have an exit strategy.  What would happen is that a Wrestler would hold on and play their persona for so long that they would lose theirselves to it.   They would hang on for so long that they would lose Their faith, their families, and all they had left was their character.

Not saying the restaurant business is a anything like the life of a professional athlete.  But it does make me think.  How I don’t want to waste everything I have.   Which is one of the reasons I started the Happiness Project in the first place.

Although I know it’s unfair I reveal myself one mask at a time. Stephen Dunn