Friday, August 31, 2012

Do I know you from somewhere?

I never realized how closely associated I was with something until I was no longer associated with it. I worked at Pizza Hut from June 2005 until November 2011. I was there for what I guess were the formative years of my life. Most of my life-changing life experiences from my late teens into mid 20s involve that place in some way.

[Pizza Hut memories in picture form ... counting money ... Robbie changing a light bulb ... Me and Lamar, part 1 ... Me and Lamar, part 2]

I began working as a server at Outback steakhouse in late January 2012. On my first day, mere minutes into my first shift, a co-worker says to me, "Do I know you from somewhere? Where did you work at before here?" I say Pizza Hut. "Oh. I thought I recognized you from somewhere."

I started waiting tables and interacting with customers. The first time it happened out there was more direct. A guy said, "When did you stop working at Pizza Hut?" I talked to him about it for a minute and we shared some stories. Most people though, have the same general inquisitive attitude toward recognizing me: "Do I know you from somewhere?" For the first 3 months, I heard this an average of 2-3 times a week. After that, it slowed down to getting recognized a couple times a month or so.

I thought the final one had occured in June. It was a late Saturday night. A couple came in. I actually recognized the girl from high school. But, she recognized me from somewhere else: "Do I know you from somewhere?" Pizza Hut? "Yeah! That's it! How long have you been here?"

It has now been around 8 months since I have worked at Outback. We're almost at one year since I have stopped working at Pizza Hut. What I am assuming is the last one happened two days ago.

It was late at night. There was only one table left and another server was waiting on them. She realized that I was still there and asked me to come over so she could ask me something. As I approached the table, the lady sitting there studied me for a second: "Do I know you from somewhere?" I recognized her and didn't even question it - "Pizza Hut." Her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, "Yes! I used to see you two or three times a week. I like the beard." At Pizza Hut you can only have a goatee. You wouldn't know that from seeing me at Pizza Hut over the years, as I routinely got in trouble for having a beard.

I guess I'll always be associated in some way with Pizza Hut. That's why I have bittersweet feelings about the closure and moving of the Pizza Hut I worked so long at. For those who don't know, the store beside McDonalds and across the high school has been moved down the street to the Kroger plaza. The dine-in aspect has been removed and they now only do carryout and delivery.

At the end of my tenure there, I was very unhappy. But, before that I made a lot of great friends and created many awesome memories in and around that building. I'll never forget that. But, I'll also never forget how mismanagement and poor decisions led to me being at a very low point in my life and the resentment that I still feel about that.

Percolating in the back of my head somewhere is an idea to write a detailed piece about how Corporate America ruined my passion for the pizza industry. I really did enjoy it for a while. I enjoyed it so much that opening a pizza restaurant at some point in life was a legitimate idea I was considering. But I don't really have that fire anymore for something like that. That corporate mentality of "Here's a sheet of paper that will tell you how to successfully run a business" doesn't work. The mentality of making sure you cut every corner for a profit just ruined whatever amount of goodwill I had built up toward Pizza Hut.

I guess the people recognizing me, mostly the last one the other day, really made me realize that I missed that human aspect of working there. I really enjoyed interacting with customers and being that anchor, that first and last figure they talked to when they came in and left.

I watched a kid grow up at Pizza Hut. That boggles my mind. He's probably 16 or 17 now, but he came into Pizza Hut maybe once a week for six years with his mother. I watched him develop from 11 or 12 years old to almost being an adult. All from seeing him come in and eat pizza. He came into Outback once. I don't know if he recognized me from Pizza Hut, but he definitely recognized me. I walked up to the table and we just stared at each other for a second. It was kind of weird.

That's one thing I enjoy about journalism. It's that one-on-one aspect of talking to somebody, of needing them in order to achieve what you're trying to accomplish.

I'm starting to develop that same relationship with people at Outback. I really don't want to be known as "The Outback Guy," but I guess I'll take it if I have to.

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