My job’s not easy.
When people find out I run a private chef staffing company they say ‘Oh, you’re a chef?’ (no) and ‘That must be fun' (yes). But in truth, life in the world of human resources, even in the fun culinary staffing industry, is pretty routine and predicable. Some days are rich with networking opportunities in conference rooms named Aspen or Promenade and I can be reasonable sure of meeting other well-mannered, sometimes boring, but mostly great people who are also hard-working. And we’re all there doing the same thing: if we make a genuine connection and our businesses can help one another we’re all ears. And if not, we’re all consigned to feigning interest in someone else’s enterprise in exchange for getting to talk about ours. It’s a steep price to pay for wine and appetizers.
But some days I just get lucky.
The other day a networking ‘encounter’ left me feeling dizzy, woozy even – like when you leave a late-night bar and take with you the smell of stale smoke in your hair and the sticky on the bottoms of your shoes from the booze on the floor. Those are the nights that cause you to wake the next morning and think Man, that sure went sideways in a hurry. Thank God I’m home safe in my bed.
How things went sideways.
That afternoon I went into the little Truckee post office and spied a flyer of a business that looked similar to mine. Out of curiosity of my potential competition I noted the number for “Deliver Me Now” (the business advert offered some shopping services like ours) and when I got back to my desk I phoned the company.
On the first ring (that’s a good sign, right?) a gruff-voiced man greeted me. “Hello? HELLO?”
He said ‘hello’ like he was roused from a nap. I heard him yell at a child in the background “Turn down the TV!” His phone etiquette indicated to me that his enterprise wouldn’t be tough competition for HeyChef!, but I decided to follow through with the call and see what I could uncover. Maybe I could do some price comparison, right?
I decided to ask some questions.
“I’m calling to find out more about your delivery services” I said, then paused. Off he went, unconscious of the possibility that I might be a client wanting to hire him, like a whirlwind of hope, inspiration, grand plans and lack of knowledge erupting from his smoke-damaged voice box. For the next 20 minutes I sat with my mouth shut (actually, my mouth dropped further and further open) as this man drew back the curtain on his life story for me.
He told me he has two branches of his business, but I was about to find out there were more. One was shopping for clients and stocking their groceries. The other was food delivery from local restaurants. He dropped names of local chefs who own restaurants in town (I jotted them down so I could drop this guy’s name later over a cocktail at the next mixer with my chef colleagues and see their reactions). He dropped the names of local grocery stores where he claimed managers give him carte blanche when it comes to shopping for his customers. Gee, now I’m starting to question my business standing. I’m pretty sure I’m just one of the 55,000 shoppers that come to our local Safeway on a peak Saturday, and we ALL have carte blanche to shop there, but now I have my doubts because he said he wore a suit and tie when to a meeting with the store manager (Come to think of it, I’ve never done that). He said customers enter their orders with him the night before, so he can shop and deliver the goods to their door in the morning.
And his next words alarmed me.
He said he makes customer deliveries wearing a jacket and cuff links and short pants. He said, ‘And that’s part of the third branch of my business.”
He explained that with the second branch of his business he can deliver lumber and paint to whomever, wherever (but he didn’t actually use the word whomever).
“I don’t know how long you’ve been in town”, he told me, “but this used to be a transient place and now it’s all Aspen-ish. People are really picky and snobby and don’t want to go out and get their own food. If they want KFC at two o’clock in the morning, I’ll get it for them”. (Perfectly logical – the snobbiest clients frequently demand midnight runs to KFC.)
“And I carry a gun because this town used to be all cash n’ carry, but now I can take credit cards straight from the computer I carry in my attaché”. I was truly intrigued how far this would go. So, I let him go on.
I couldn’t have stopped him if I tried.
I relaxed into the conversation, growing more confident by the protection and anonymity the phone afforded me. “The other thing is”, he said without taking a breath, “if they want me to stay at their house after I bring them their groceries I will. I can pour them wine if they want me to pour wine and I like cheeses and know stuff about fine wines, so I can do that. So, the chef thing is another part of my business plan, cause I’m a chef too”.
I baited him. “Do you plan to give up your full-time job to grow this enterprise? What’s your plan for filling client orders on short notice as your business grows?”
“Oh, well I’m retired” he replied.
I was feeling cocky, so I pried. “You sound pretty young to be retired” (I could never get away with this from a human resource standpoint – but I’ve got nothing to lose.) Throwing aside my decorum and standard operating procedures I imagined using my off-stage words instead of my big-girl business words. I’d loved to have said, “Gee, you sound to me like a pot-smoking, couch-surfing dreamer. How are going to stir up the motivation to respond to an on-demand job in a resort town like this?”
Every time he spoke it got worse.
“Well I have a broken back and I’m 46 years old, but I look good. I don’t know if you think I’m sounding over confident but I’m very attractive and I’m in good enough shape to surf the big waves in Hawaii.”
I formed a picture in my mind as he paused to take a breath and then the picture evaporated. “I’m on seizure medication and that’s something I live with, but you wouldn’t know it from the way I look. In fact, that’s one of the other things I want to do with my business. I want to launch it and give 10% of the money of my company (those are called net profits, Dude) to people with seizures like the way people do the Walk for Life thing for cancer. Cause I’m passionate about it and honored to support people who are like me”. He went on to name some people in town I might know who suffer seizures, directly violating their privacy and HIPAA laws. (So, he’s not business savvy, but perhaps he’s got a good heart.) And just like a naïve girl who goes on a second date with because the boy says nice things, I leaned in politely rather than abruptly ending the relationship.
At this point it gets even better (even worser).
“Yeah, that’s why I also deliver pharmaceuticals to people who need them. My gun keeps me safe when I do this, and I want to have a lot of steady clients who need me to do their deliveries. That’s why I deliver in a suit and cufflinks and a tie even though a few years ago in this town people used to laugh at me. But now it’s more sophisticated (wow, he actually used a five-syllable word) so my clients can count on me to look good when I get to their door”. (Did I just stumble upon Truckee’s first chef-slash-marijuana delivery agency?)
I was intoxicated with amusement, so I pressed on.
“Tell me about your prices.”
He said “I charge $20 in the summer and $50 in the winter, plus the cost of the items I’m delivering, and I have a four-wheel drive truck so I can get through the Truckee snow. I can even come to your house right now, I’ll be there in 30 minutes I promise, and show you that I have a business credit card with ‘Deliver Me Now’ written right on it.” I was impressed. And scared. I thought about restricting my caller ID after hanging up.
“Tell me about your experience and work as a chef.”
“Well, I’ve worked on every continent except Antarctica and I can do anything a customer wants. If they want something fancy like… (oh, please, I’m tantalized, what creation are you going to lay on me) ... you know, like lemon chicken – I can totally do that. You know, people make love at night and then get a craving to eat, so if they want lemon chicken at two in the morning I’ll whip it out for them.”
The ‘chef’ actually said “I’ll whip it out for them.”
Did I ask for this information? I didn’t have time to respond. My head was spinning and creating unsavory image.
And then all hell broke loose.
“You know I’m a professional and I also run Excalibur Productions, an escort service. I have long blond hair and gold earrings that look good. They’re not too flashy, but I can tell you that I look really good and if you want we can meet and I’ll bring you my attaché case and show you all my stuff – we’re all drug-free and everything. And I have a picture of me out on the lake on a boat with my shirt off, so you can see what I really look like. I might sound like I’m cocky, but I know what I can do and if we could meet, the sooner the better, we could make our businesses spark together because I have a secret weapon to infiltrate the local area.”
I’m speechless. He continued talking into my ear and I stopped Googling “Excalibur Productions” and got up to wash my hands. I started to feel dirty and I switched gears to form an exit plan from this conversation. My chances of getting safely off this phone call are about equal to the likelihood I could reach my car if I left a bar and had foolishly parked in an alley!
It was time to put on the brakes and set my boundaries.
In my most professional big-girl business voice I said, “I thank you for your time, but your services aren’t a good fit for working with our business and our clients.”
That barely slowed him down. It sounded like he was getting off the couch and pulling on his jeans and belt. Oh, no! “Listen, if we could just meet I can show you everything about my business and this will be the best phone call of my life. Cuz my girlfriend and I were just talking and if we’re not gonna do this we’ve got a storage unit down in Reno and there’s a flea market down there every week and we might sell all our stuff. You know we have this nice new king size bed (I cringed and imagined him patting it as he talked to me) and a new comforter and duvet but we’ve been talking about heading out of here for Hawaii.” Does this phone call really have the power to keep him committed to his business in our town?
I carefully crafted my reply.
“Well, your business plans shouldn’t hang on a single call with me. If Hawaii is calling you, Dude then I applaud you for your passion for life and I thank you for the information you’ve shared with me.” He seemed to pause like he knew the conversation was reaching its end because I wasn’t going to give him my address.
I jumped at the chance to kill his hopes of working with our clients.
“Thank you, Chef Lance. Good bye.”
I hung up and wiped the sweat from my cleavage with a ‘fancy’ lemon-fresh scented anti-bacterial wipe, taking stock of the unlikely conversation I’d just had in my office.
The good news? Our business isn’t threatened by local competition, and I’m not at risk of contracting an STD from our phone interaction. The bad news? I wasted part of my business day and had to take a shower.
And I may never learn his ‘secret weapon’ for ‘infiltrating’ our local area.
Dam! At least I can put this on my blog and warn Tahoe-Truckee vacationers of the dangers of calling just anyone who prints up a ‘Private Chef’ business card. And as a bonus, if my husband feels adventurous, the two of us can take Chef Lance up on his invitation to meet him for a glass of wine and ‘discuss business’ at Billy’s restaurant (would that qualify as a tax deductible ménage à trios?!).
Alas, my husband isn’t keen on networking meetings, but I’d like to insist so I can write a follow up about what’s in Chef Lance’s attaché case. After all, what’s a girl to do when she has a late-night craving for lemon chicken?!
HeyChef! clients never have to worry about inviting the wrong people into their home. We endure experiences like this for you, so you don’t have to.