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As you may be guessing, the day did not go as planned. Instead, as soon as we got to the bluff, Diablo U-Turn hooked on me and started galloping for home. I pulled the reins but nothing happened, except that she went faster. I screamed. I said “Woooooaaaahh.” Nothing was working. She was hell bent on getting back into that barn.

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“I thanked them but failed to look them in the eye”

For nearly three and a half decades my parents owned and operated a restaurant called Tom’s Pancake House. Not a burger joint, not a steak house, not one of those really posh places you go on your anniversary, just a little pancake house named after my father. 30 different types of pancakes, some waffles, omelettes, coffee, and hot chocolate… yum yum. It was kind of a blue-collar restaurant. But white-collar people liked it too…we had some big names visit us, shhhh… Phil Knight from Nike lived just down the road and loved Tom’s.

My father was born to own and operate that place. When you arrived, chances were that he would be up front with a big friendly smile to greet you. He only ever took Wednesdays off and loved working the busy weekend mornings; they were the bread and butter, or the “pancakes and syrup” of the business.

My sister, Becky, and I cut our teeth on that restaurant business. I started working at the ripe age of 9-years-old (aren’t there laws against that? Haha). Well, at nine, it was only two hours a week. Every Saturday, my mom would drop me off at 11:00AM. I worked a rigorous two-hour shift until 1pm. At noon my dad would bring me an R.C. Cola, do they make those anymore?

What was my job, you ask?

Peeling Potatoes! Yep. Two hours of potato peeling a week. You see we served freshly cooked hash brown potatoes, none of that frozen freeze-died stuff. The old-fashioned actual potato. I was too short to reach the counter so I would stand on an overturned milk crate. Steaming hot potatoes would be rolled out onto the counter for me to peel. I had a paper towel, a paring knife, and a bucket. Then I would place the potatoes on the drying rack. On a good day we would cook five to six huge batches. It felt like mountains of potatoes to a nine-year-old… actually, it would probably feel like mountains to anyone…

If I was lucky, Candy, the prep woman, would help me. I look back and smile, thankful that my folks taught us the importance of a good work ethic. I later moved up to dishwasher, busboy, host, and finally manager by age 19.

At Tom’s we had three business mantras:

Even now when I speak at leadership trainings to Fortune 500 Companies, I still use these same three thoughts.

  1. Meet and Greet the Customer:
    If you walked into Tom’s, you wouldn’t have to worry about seating yourself or wonder where you are supposed to go. We had a 60 second rule: get to the customer and meet and greet them with a smile. For whatever reason that is deeply ingrained in me. I still initiate the greetings in every business encounter. My father held an iron-clad conviction for kindness, appreciation, and being cordial.
  2. Surprise and Delight:
    In food service this is very important! You must deliver what is expected, and then some! I have a sales team presentation based on this mantra called “The And Then Some Attitude.” Wow, in this multi-media, social media, high-tech, low-touch world, what would happen to your business if you gave yourself to “And then Some?” What would happen if we surprised and delighted our clients and customers with more than they were expecting? Treat them like a 10, like royalty and they will say those magic words “I’ll be back.”
  3. Look Them in the Eye and Say Thank You:
    It only happened one time. I took money from a young family checking out. I thanked them, but failed to look them in the eye. My father, ever attentive, spotted me. After rush hour slowed, he took me aside and admonished me to “look them in the eye.” This was a second-generation customer I had been serving and I needed to treat each person that came in like royalty. He taught me that we need to appreciate each of our customers! Even as a 19-year-old kid, that lesson really sunk in.

I slip occasionally, like we all do, but not often. My daughter had a serious project in college a few years ago and said that the number one lesson she learned from her parents was the value of appreciation. Look people in the eye and tell them thank you.

Speaking of appreciation… I want to make sure you know that I appreciate you, my readers! I appreciate you! You matter to me!

Feeling thankful and craving pancakes…

Thank you for everything, Dad!

You matter to me,
Steve Gutzler

“Dad, if we are going to do it, let’s go to sixteen-hundred feet!”
If you have been to the Caribbean or parts of Mexico, you are quite familiar with Para-sailing. From the beach it looks peaceful. The colorful sail gliding through blue sky being pulled by one of those Miami vice speed boats. Awesome. Let’s do that!

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