If you’re lucky enough to experience great success in your career, you wonder what the conditions and influences are that impacted your path. It wasn’t till many years into my career that I realized my dad, from age 7 through my early 20s, was responsible for all that I would accomplish in the world of business and much of life.
My dad was born in Crete and came to the U.S. when he was 7. His goal was to be his own boss and, like many immigrants of that generation, “have a better life and take advantage of all America had to offer”—and he succeeded.He hopped off the boat at Ellis Island, went to school and worked in restaurants from his teenage years. He eventually owned and ran the Spinning Wheel Diner and Cocktail Lounge in New Brunswick, NJ. In the 1950s, roles were clearly defined, and my dad worked 70+ hours a week, while mother cooked, cleaned, and managed the home and 4 children ranging from 1-16 years of age.When he was home he was eating, sleeping or falling asleep in a recliner watching sports. He seemed to always be functioning in a state of exhaustion but tried not to show it.
He managed a staff of 40 in a business that operated 24 hours. (In those days, in the industrial northeast shift work meant people ate all hours of the day or night, so if you ran a restaurant it behooved you to stay open 24/7.) The few hours he was awake at home, he’d talk endlessly to my mom about what was going on at the business, constantly interrupted by waiters, cooks, vendors calling our house (no texting/ emailing or cells then) with a variety of issues only he could resolve.The pelati (“customer” in Greek) wants to see a clean, professional serving and operation, if he’s having a lessons in Assertiveness & Sales Acquired While Living with Pop meal or if he is taking his family to Sunday dinner,” a lesson in itself indicating that your appearance makes a statement about you and your character. Most days he’d come home to eat no matter how late. My mother was an excellent cook and made elaborate meals every day—roasts, grilled dishes, baked treats—all with Greek flair and all amazing.Pop would sit down and review the day at the Spinning Wheel Diner, no matter how late. A lesson I learned: To pelati(service rules for the customer): Sunday were my favorite day. My mom and I would go to a quick church service,
Then to Sunday lunch at the Spinning Wheel Diner— where Pop, crisply dressed and sparkling with pride, would seat us at the family table.After a pat on my head, he’d run back to seat his usual Sunday families.Anyone with a small child was handed a jumbo Mars candy bar (“a little something for little Bobbie”).Little Bobbie grinned from ear to ear, thus confirming he’d be well behaved through the meal, anticipating the Mars bar.Bobbie’s parents were happy, would be back next Sunday, and Pop had a happy repeat customer at the cost of a 25-cent candy bar. Lesson: Every staff member’s position is important and contributes significantly. If it were a slow day midweek, Pop never sat down.If the dishwasher was full and clean, he’d empty it.
If the expensive terrazzo floors had crumbs or dirt, he’d start sweeping, wipe the counters, fill the sugar bowls, shine the napkin holders—nothing was too menial for him.When I asked him, as president of this enterprise, dressed in white shirt and gray blazer embroidered with his name on it, why was he doing these menial tasks that were the responsibility of others, Pop would retort angrily, John Paitakes with his wife Helen Paitakes. Estiator – July 2015 25 1) You never sit idle at work,2) The better the place looks, the better impression you make, 3) I’m making a point that every job is important and we are all in the success of the business together.Respect your employees’ efforts and don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do. After a family finished their meal, he’d always go up to them and ask is everything was good.If they didn’t order desert, he might send over a piece of complimentary freshly baked apple pie. “Jimmy [the house baker],” he’d say, “just took this out of the oven. I thought you might enjoy a taste.” (Pelati, the customer, is the most important person to the salesperson.)
The story Around 9 years of age, I realized many of my pals were getting a weekly allowance for various trinkets, candy, cokes, to have their own money for whatever.I was used to just asking for things on an “as needed” basis with not much resistance. But, peer pressure rules, so I approached my mom with the idea.She didn’t think it necessary but gave me the ok to ask Pop. So I practiced in front of the mirror a few times, worked up the nerve to ask for 50 cents per week (remember it’s 1960). My best bud Frank was getting 25 cents. With nothing to lose, I approached him one evening while he was emptying his pockets in the bedroom, a nightly ritual with loads of coins, a wad of dollars and various other trinkets.”What are you going to do with the money?”he asked in his intimidating tone.”I’d like a mirror for my bike. Or, buy a coke without having to ask for money…you know what I mean, Daddy?” I said, trembling inside but trying to convey great confidence.
Smiling, he handed me $3 and said, “What the heck can you buy with 50 cents!Here, $3 will be your allowance every Wednesday.” Wow, I think, that went really well.(Sales training has begun unbeknownst to me at the time.) On the few days he had off, my dad enjoyed a day at the horse races.One day, prior to leaving the house he asked me to give him two numbers.My favorite number was three, so I told him three and three. I forgot about it and went about my 9-year-old life playing with my best friend the Atlantic to better his life at age 7, worked his way up through the ranks of diners and restaurants to own and run a very successful business that grew under his astute management to 40 employees, father of 4 who literally (economically) took care of a big family that included children, in-laws and his own parents. His vote of approval and confirmation of me being “lucky” was a basis for self-confidence that was further enhanced later that night when he mentioned very casually that many good things had happened in his life after I was born.
The restaurant had taken off, he was able to take my mom on some great vacations and was a well-respected entrepreneur of the community.Of course many of these events were simply coincidence and timing.But no matter, he said I was lucky….it must be true. Since my dad wasn’t a big talker. The things he said to us kids had great impact and stuck with you. My selfconfidence soared. Seven or eight years later he sold the business.I was finishing up the local community college and got offered an entry-level position in NY media. My mother was very nervous to let a naive 19-year old take the train into Manhattan every day and encouraged me to seek something closer to home in very boringNJ.Pop was thrilled for me and the experiences I could have in NY and said: “Go for it.”Thanks to his support, I took the job, and it was, as promised, an amazing experience in the entertainment industry dining in 5-star restaurants, meeting celebrities and having the time of my life. I married, moved to Florida with my husband, had a son and reset my career towards media sales. To be successful in sales requires tenacity, perseverance and tremendous self-confidence.
I learned all those things listening to Pop. It’s worked out beautifully for me. I credit Pop for all the success I’ve had these last 25+ years.Listening to his business stories were the seeds of management lessons, dealing with people and setting an example of how to work both hard and smart.His generosity and ability to share his success were a joy to be around and though he’s been gone for many years, I think about him every day. Some lessons in business and life really are never out of date. How you treat your colleagues, customers and employees will always dictate how successful you are.
Even more important, what your children hear from you and how you treat them will dictate who they become. My son and his beautiful wife and son live in Manhattan. I visit often and walk my little grandson along the Hudson.They have successful careers and are able to enjoy all that life has to offer. How proud Pop would be to know all his dreams have come true.As he must’ve envisioned it on the boat to Ellis Island. I’m nearing retirement and have investigated some nonprofits I’d like to work with.One I’m particularly interested in is Global Volunteers working in Crete with children who want to learn English.I participated in their program in 2013 and will try another trip in 2015.It seems like a great way to give back and make a positive impression in a child’s life.Maybe give them a little extra self-confidence the way my Dad did.