The Saratoga Sun -

Horrible Bosses and Goodfellas


I met a new manager not long ago at one of my favorite places to visit. We had not met before, but I knew the owner and some others working there. This manager made me walk away from our encounter in disbelief after ten minutes.

Parting words shouted at me, “I don’t like your attitude.”

Okay, that is a good way to inspire a customer not to want to come back, which is what I was at this point.

I am not any longer.

I remember telling my staff when I had my restaurants, if a problem happens with patrons, take care of it immediately and treat the customer with every courtesy, even if they are a pain.

My reasoning: “Do a good job and that customer will tell one person. Make them unhappy, they will tell ten people. Do the math.”

This person obviously hasn’t learned that lesson.

The Good

That started me thinking about how much I like my position at the Saratoga Sun and how much this is due to my boss, Keith McLendon. The respect he shows me makes me want to do a quality job. We have our moments of tension occasionally, but he always listens to my point of view. That counts a lot to me.

I decided to add up how many good versus bad bosses have been a part of my life.

I should note, I have been working since I was 15 and I have had lots of jobs all over the world.

Some positions have been upper management in corporations and other work had me scrubbing toilets and mopping floors as part of my duties.

Speaking of toilets, one of the biggest influences on my work ethic was my boss at a youth hostel in Waikiki, Hawaii. She was an 82-year-old Japanese woman who had been a science teacher before taking over two excellent hostels when her husband died. Mrs. Akau had a policy of no matter how high you were in the hierarchy of management (or even an owner like herself), you cleaned bathrooms in the hostel once a week. She told me there was no job a manager should not be willing to do if you asked an employee to do it. I worked for this lovely woman for two years.

My other boss in Hawaii, (I always had two jobs while living there) was a bar owner. She told me to not be scared of going to new places and experiencing things that made me stretch my comfort level.

Damn if I didn’t embrace those words.

She was from Johannesburg, South Africa, before apartheid had been dismantled and was fervent believer in democracy. Uta could be tough if I screwed up, but loved me like a son and made me want to be a better person. I worked for her almost two excellent years.

In Noosa, Australia, I worked for an outstanding man. He offered me a job soon as he met me. Palmers was a high class, tropical, casual venue that had a long history of being one of the best places in town. Noosa at that time, besides having some of the finest surfing beaches, was home to nine of the top 20 restaurants in Australia.

My first night as a bartender, Palmers was having a huge dance party and the place was packed. No employee really knew much about bartending. It is probably why I got the job the day before. I had worked in a lot of huge nightclubs in Asia prior to living in Australia; where I was used to being brought in for special events. So I had no fear of being in a bar I didn’t know and serving a lot of people ... even if they were Aussies.

We killed it. This wasn’t pulling beer either. This was cocktails. The night ended and Sean, the owner, yells, “Give it up for Mike, mates.”

All the employees started clapping. It felt excellent. Sean told me something, I treat as one of my mantras: “If you don’t learn something new in the day, it wasn’t a successful day.”

Words I live by.

In Saratoga, I was lucky to work for some excellent people too.

I worked for the Campbells at the Hotel Wolf. It was my first exposure to a family-run business. I don’t think I have to sell people who know the Campbells how great it was to work for them. Then there was the McIlvaine family at the Lazy River Cantina.

Scott McIlvaine will always be on my list as a boss to emulate.

It was during the Chariot Races and the place was packed. Teresa Hart and I were working hard, but it was not out of control. The owner of some old beer company (Schlitz, I believe) was buying rounds and tipping us $50 to a $100 per service. Unfortunately, he was getting drunk and being uncivil to way too many people.


Cut off a guy throwing big money to the bar and bartenders and stop him from making the atmosphere uncomfortable—or pretend it wasn’t happening.

The guy ordered a round for about fifteen people, with Scott sitting next to him. I said no more alcohol for him but would make the other drinks and give him a non-alcoholic drink. He freaked out, but I was adamant.

He looked to Scott and asked, “Are you going to let him do this to me?”

Scott replied, “It’s Mike’s call.”

The guy stormed out. The bar went quiet and suddenly Scott stood up and shouted to the entire room, “Now that’s a bartender.” The party went on.

I say, “That is a boss.”

The Bad

Did I ever have a bad boss in Hawaii? Hell yes. My first bartending job was at actor Tom Sellick’s bar called the Black Orchid. When I got the position, everyone I knew made a huge deal out of it. I remember being trained and was told, “You are a Black Orchid boy. That means something in this town.”

I lasted eight days. I saw my general manager using cocaine in the walk-in and, after coming out, start screaming at employees. He liked me, but I couldn’t stand watching him treat people the way he did. We got in a confrontation when he slapped a bar back because the kid dropped a tray with empty glasses. I found the place insane and walked out that night with him yelling I would never work in Honolulu again.

The next day I got a job working for Uta.

Pierre, a French owner of an exclusive restaurant in Noosa, hired me because it would give his place “flavor” to have an American. The guy was the epitome of arrogance. I have French friends and him being a jerk is not a French trait. He used me as his whipping boy constantly. “The American did this, the American did that.” Pierre wouldn’t let me answer the phone because I was American. When he promoted me to bartender from server, I was expected to be barista. We had over two dozen coffee drinks, all having to be made individually. He would berate my slowness, telling me I wasn’t a “real” bartender. To this day, I hate making coffee on expresso machines. It was one of the most miserable six weeks in my life. It took all my willpower to go to work and face this man knowing I would be demeaned in some way.

Then one night I decided to go to Palmers for a drink because it was a beautiful bar and Sean hired me that night. I gave Pierre my notice and he wouldn’t take it. He told me I would come crawling back in a month.

He was wrong.

The Ugly

I have had a few bosses that looked good for a while and then just turned.

In Washington D.C. I was looking for a part time job while working on Capitol Hill. I walked into Timberlakes, talked to the manager and he asked if I could start right then because two of his servers were sick. It was busy but I handled it. The manager stopped me once and called me a “stud waiter.” The night ended and I asked to fill out my paperwork He said I could do it when I worked next and he would call me. He never called. I heard restaurants did this in Washington D.C., but this was my first exposure.

I have had owners of companies (all have been foreign) say they couldn’t pay me because they ran out of money.

I realize I was being used.

This has caused me considerable financial distress when it happened.

I have been exposed to managers who constantly try to instill fear in their staff as a way to make them work. I hate these types of people.

In Asia, I saw these people a lot. Not all were Asian, although there were some. Many were ex-pats who believed Asians to be inferior, so they needed to be treated this way.

Prejudice is ugly and I am repelled by people in control who get away with it. Probably my experience with Pierre makes me like this, because it really sucks being on the receiving end.

Let the credits roll

I have owned two restaurants and a publishing/production company, so I know what it is like to be an owner of businesses. The good influences who came into my life I hope made me into a boss that was fair, decisive and caring.

I also hope I was never like the jerks who had no clue on how to treat workers.

In closing this movie-structured diatribe, I have to thank Keith, who suggested it.

I wouldn’t have thought of it.

There you go. My new learned thing for the day.


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