I graduated from college in February of 1971, Mr. JKE had his motel manager Durrell Dallas ask me if I want to become a management trainee. The restaurant manager had just quit or been fired. Of course, I said yes. I wanted to be a manager. So, I went from being an auditor to a management trainee.
JK, the owner, was my mentor for the years 1970 to 1974. He owned the motel where I worked. JK was in the process of adding five motels to the three he owned. He started as a filling station owner. He was straightforward about what he expected and he would let you know when you failed.
Durrell said we would start in the restaurant, I noticed that most of my training was standing behind the Viking baker oven and shooting the bull. Then after a couple of weeks, I knew why.
Durrell left the company to be the General Manager of the Timme Plaza hotel in Wilmington, North Carolina. Durrell was in JK’s family he married the nice of Jk’s wife. I guess he had enough of JK. Durrell was always nervous, especially when he was around JK.
The day Durrell left for his new job, Mr. JK and his wife, Gladys, asked me to sit with them to discuss their plan with me. They asked me if I thought I could manage the restaurant. Ms. Gladys would be the General Manager and I would manage the restaurant. Of course, I said I could.
This was the beginning of my struggle in management. I knew absolutely nothing about management or the restaurant business. I would figure it out along the way. I did not know figuring out the way would last over forty years. This was as if I had been pushed off the diving board on the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim. I was too dumb to say no. I do know my answer changed my life.
“Don’t worry Jim we will help you,’ Jerry Townsend said this to me the day after I made manager. Jerry was a waitress who worked at the hotel for years.
She was right. I soon learned to ask for help and listen to experienced employees.
As a new manager thinking you know can lead to problems. At the Ramada Inn South restaurant, the cooks placed a list on a corkboard of items they needed for food preparation. One of the first days of being their manager the list had an item listed as “chicken”. I knew where we got chicken. I phoned the supplier. I told the shipping clerk to send me some chicken. He said what size. Damn, I did not know they came in sizes. I did not want to appear to be stupid and replied with an air of confidence, “Oh, send me some pretty good size ones”.
The next day, I came into the kitchen and Flossie, the lunch cook, asked me if I had ordered the chicken. I said I had. She said,” Where are they?” I replied,” in the cooler”. She said she had looked there and she could not find them. I said come with me. I opened the cooler and opened the lid on the box and there was chicken. She looked down into the box and said,” Lordly mercy, Mr. Jim, you know them’s hens”.
I asked her what she meant and she said she needed fryers. She informed me that they should be 2-2 ¾ lbs. I drove to Peco Foods the supplier and got her the fryers.
Another source of knowledge was the salesman that came to the restaurant. I told each of them, “I do not know anything about the restaurant business. But, if I find that you have screwed me I will never do business with you again.” This made the basis of our relationship my ignorance and my acknowledgment of their expertise.
The Ziegler meat salesman taught me about steaks. The Sexton salesman taught me about canned foods. The Empire Seafood salesman about seafood. The Edison Dickel salesman taught me about frozen foods. They told me the price is not always the determination of the best buy.
What I thought was good deals came with a cost to the reputation of our restaurant. For example, I purchased some bacon-wrapped beef filets from Swift at a good price. Grover Jeter, the Ziegler salesman, showed me why I got them so cheap. He removed the bacon and unwrapped the steaks. He explained that the filets were not center cut. They were from the end of the filet and wrapped in bacon to look like center cuts. Then Grover said, “This is not the type of food you want to serve in this restaurant.” He was right.
I took many other actions, created an eleven-day rotating lunch menu, organized the storage areas, made sure we met health department requirements, listened to employees, and asked hundreds of questions. These actions led to the best financial performance the restaurant had up to that time. Also, we increased our sales and customer satisfaction.
I learned that human management is the most important action I took to achieve what we wanted. I learned that humans have feelings, processes don’t. Management is about directing human interactions that generate success.