It was Easter Sunday. We just finished eating a ham dinner.
The kids were playing on their phones. Mom and my wife, Aline, were talking.
My phone buzzed with a text message that changed my life for the next two years.
The assistant manager texted that he quit his job. He followed with a second bomb that everyone quits.
No notice, no negotiations. Just quit.
“Aline, kids, we have to go!”
Off to the restaurant we drove, hoping to calm whatever storm had overtaken the team.
The doors were locked.
The employees were gone and no one answered their phones. The general manager also quit in a follow-up text.
We went to her home first.
She wasn’t there.
Her boyfriend was, but he was enjoying his Easter holiday with a few Bud Light.
He didn’t know anything.
With no staff, we closed the restaurant on Easter Monday to retrench.
Tuesday morning, I cried before leaving the house.
I asked Aline what I had done to deserve this.
Tuesday afternoon an employee asked for her job back.
Two more employees from another restaurant volunteered to help.
Wednesday, another employee called when I hired her mother. She regretted her decision to leave. So I took her back.
By Saturday, the majority of the team had returned except the managers and their family members.
They all tried to apologize for Easter Sunday.
I told them it was forgotten and never needed to be mentioned again.
We lost five employees in total.
13 days after that Easter Sunday text, the business was back on track.
Exhausted and relieved that I had overcome a disaster, I sat in the office with tears rolling down my cheek for the second time in two weeks.
I did it.
The staff was laughing.
The customers were happy.
The next morning, on Sunday, I woke to a phone call from a policeman.
The restaurant was on fire.
I cried again. The pain and work for two weeks was for nothing.
Limited to a small section, the damage was caused mostly by smoke and not by fire.
It was arson.
We had to renovate.
Ten days later, I woke to a phone call from a friend.
The restaurant was on fire again.
Now numb, this is clearly a personal attack.
I’m frustrated, tired, and mad.
I cried again that morning.
Not for anger, not for sadness…
For fear. Someone hates me and wants to hurt me.
What if they know where I live? Is my family next?
Too many thoughts cloud my ability to think.
Similar to the last fire, the majority was again just smoke.
The arsonist wasn’t good at his job or he was trying to send a message.
The insurance adjustor didn’t think it warranted a second claim since no additional damage was done.
The same employees who quit and later came back asked to have a meeting.
They hugged me. They cried. They swore and they asked if I was going to fix the damage.
I reassured them we were going to be better than ever.
Over the next four months, we discussed how we could improve the operation.
We planned a redesign.
We fixed structural problems.
We reorganized the seating plan with more booths.
Sylvia and Sylvia visited every week and photographed the progress.
They called me and were excited about the improvements.
They cried when the renovators found asbestos.
We got through it together.
Five weeks before opening, the new equipment was ordered, the menu boards were designed, the flooring was scheduled to be laid.
Excitement was expanding by the day.
I woke to my phone buzzing.
It was my mom.
The restaurant was on fire again.
I sighed. I thought maybe it’s time to stop crying.
There’s no more time to be mad.
Arriving at the site where my restaurant once stood, I witnessed an excavator knocking down the walls to protect the neighbors.
In front of the mess, on the other side of the street were 40 people watching the devastation.
In the middle of the crowd was Sylvia and Sylvia.
They were crying. Their faces were as pink as their eyes and they were holding each other.
Approaching them, they could only utter, “Unreal”.
Sylvia and Sylvia were two employees who quit on that Easter Sunday.
They returned within a week.
I think of them when we discuss Relational versus Transactional mindsets.
They had all the reasons after the first fire to get a job elsewhere.
But they didn’t.
They stuck it out.
Sure, they left for a week. But that sometimes happens in the fog of disinformation.
They came back and were there for me until the end.
They are Relational employees.
We had a Christmas gathering with the employees. We drank, told stories, laughed, and sighed.
We did not cry.
Three months later, Covid-19 spread across the world.
Planning a comeback, I remembered the lyrics of my favourite song in Mom’s record collection. “You gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run”.
It was time to walk away.
Guilty for quitting,
I felt weak for not pushing forward.
I wanted to punch the faceless coward in the face who had done this.
I also wanted peace.
I couldn’t fight this foolishness any more.
I cried for the two Sylvias.
They didn’t deserve this.
Your relational employees are more important than your relational customers. They will treat your business like it’s theirs. They make your job easier.
Treat them like transactional employees and they will treat you like a transactional boss.