(Blogger’s Note: Every Friday an excerpt from the soon to be published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant appears in this space.)
Don´t ever forget customer service can never be compromised. When the day has you down, and the week didn´t go as well as expected, the rewards of constant, continual customer service can sometimes be life changing. Excellent customer service will always be rewarded.
We had survived the holidays. Well almost. The incident of the frozen gift basket fiasco had been resolved and with just two hours to go before we closed for New Year´s Eve everything seemed to be in order. Business was slow, but we needed the break. The staff was tired, throughout the holiday season we had increased volume, begun a remodel, and increased the hours of operation.
Minutes before closing, a casually dressed guy in his early thirties walked through the front door. Obviously not from our regular demographic pool, he greeted me with a very enthusiastic "Happy New Year" and briskly walked towards the section of the store that once housed the butcher counter.
Quickly he realized he was in the land of culinary retail. He hadn´t been in the store since the remodel began and although he seemed a bit confused a glimpse of intrigue appeared on his wind chilled face.
Standing at the refinished general store counters from the North Dakota Foothills, I redirected him in my most pleasant new owner voice to the center rear of the store where the newly repositioned butcher section shined.
When he arrived at the counter he asked for the leg of lamb he had ordered for Harris. When Clarence, our part-time butcher handed him his order I overheard Clarence´s voice bellow out the sentence, "That will be $78.53. Pay the nice man at the register." I quivered when I heard the price. Outrageous for a leg of lamb, no matter how great the market.
Although the customer appeared unfazed by the price, I was embarrassed to be the guy in charge of over charging. As the customer and his over priced leg made their way to the front register, I proceeded to walk the store gathering jars of specialty condiments, six French raisin rolls that had been baked fresh that morning at one of St. Paul´s popular Vietnamese bakeries, a loaf of Focaccia bread, and some very pricy S&W Mint Sauce. Not jelly, mind you, but sauce. A special order, I was told by a stock boy, from the grocery warehouse.
I managed to accumulate an armful plus of accoutrements that I thought may ease the pain the price of the lamb was causing me. I had never really been in retail before and felt fairness should be a guiding principle. I figured we were either making a huge profit on the lamb or the person ordering it was definitely over paying for the product.
When Harris found his way to the counter he was inquisitively joyous. While placing the bonus culinary gatherings in his newly printed Crocus Hill Market shopping bag, I asked if he liked the changes we were making at the store. I wanted to alleviate any lamb-leg price discussion. I certainly couldn´t tell him that I felt so badly about over charging him that I was justifying the outrageous tariff, while simultaneously alleviating my guilt by offering him culinary swag. Explaining we were closing soon and it was the practice of the store to give the perishable baked goods to the last customer of the day seemed to have made his. (I followed that policy throughout my restaurant career.)
"Have you been in the store since we began our remodel? I asked.
"No, I ordered the lamb over the phone. There really was no reason to come into the store before. But it looks great. What are your plans?"
I proceeded to share a capsulated version of our future vision. I weaved the fact that Kranston, a fashion executive, had left corporate America and that I was a journalist who enjoyed giving away French raisin rolls, into the story. Revealing that we had no grocery experience, other than power shopping at Zabar´s and Balducci´s as New York residents, intrigued him as did the dream of buying the store and remodeling it in the style of a those New York culinary icons.
This was the Crocus Hill customer of the future. I wanted to fill him with as much information as possible so he would tell his friends. The advertising I was doing, by telling him the story, would be spread, word of mouth, while his family and guests were seated around the leg of the golden lamb, I hoped.
Divulging the secrets of our remodel plan- to develop a grocery store that Ralph Lauren would design if he foolishly traded fashion for food- was a fact few knew. As the elements from our design boards came together, first the ceiling colorization, and then the floor tile, the antique general store counters, all added a segment of a Lauren ambiance. He commented the remodel offered a comfortable feeling to shop in.
Sharing his guest list, for the lamb dinner he said a friend – a writer for Time Magazine — would be at his New Year´s Eve table and may be interested in interviewing us. The correspondent was working on a feature article about executives leaving major corporations in search of a simpler life. He said he would pass Kranston´s name and number on to him. We wished each other Happy New Year and casually claimed we would see each other again.
After locking the front door, I ran to the office and blurted to Kranston what I thought I had just heard. We couldn´t imagine what would happen if we got a mention somewhere in Time Magazine. It could possibly increase volume and get the message out to other neighbors that the market was going through some changes.
Exhausted from the marathon we had just experienced, we locked the store, went home without any of the French Raisin Rolls that normally accompanied us, and had our first egg sandwich New Year´s Eve since our relationship began. Too tired to eat, or even stay awake, we celebrated the New Year on New York time.
We had made it through our first holiday season as grocers. It was time to dream about an article in Time Magazine.