Part of the job of running a restaurant is ordering the food and supplies. The two biggest suppliers when I first started at the Sea Gull were Monarch and Sexton. Today both these companies are part of the giant food distributor US Foods, but they started as independent competitors with their own products and salesmen. The salesman for Sexton was Bob. The salesman for Monarch was Henry.
Henry was the older of the two. He complained about his wife, he complained about being too old to work, he complained about always being on the road, he complained about his competitor, he complained that my orders were too small. In reality, there was only one product from Monarch that was truly important for us. Tomatoes Versatile, one of Monarch’s signature items, was a crushed tomato product sold in No. 10 cans. We used Tomatoes Versatile in many of our sauces and recipes. I tried to make Henry happy by ordering a few other items each week but it was the Tomatoes Versatile that I really wanted.
We used fresh products as much as possible, but we did get some of the ingredients for the menu items out of cans delivered on large trucks. The chef didn’t walk out into the organic garden and pluck all the fruit and vegetables we needed. It simply wasn’t practical. We did have a small garden. I tried growing lettuce and it did well, but I decimated the entire crop one busy Saturday night. We purchased locally picked wild huckleberries and blackberries and rhubarb for our pies when they were in season, but the fruit for the regular pies (apple, peach, cherry, and so on) came in No. 10 cans like the Tomatoes Versatile. We even served canned mussels from Denmark that we purchased from Sexton. It rankled Henry that he didn’t have mussels.
One day, the cook in full panic mode pounded on the door of the house next to the restaurant where I lived.
“We’re out of half the menu because there are no more Tomatoes Versatile!”
“We can’t make the sauces for the calamari, the ground beef Italian, or the two veal dishes. We can’t make the Bouillabaise.”
“Whoa. Slow down. You say we have no more Tomatoes Versatile?”
“Where do you think Tomatoes Versatile come from?”
“From Monarch Foods, and they don’t deliver for two more days.”
“No. I mean where do they really come from?”
The cook gave me a puzzled look. “From Monarch, like I said. Maybe we could get some from Mendosas?”
Mendosas was the local family run market up the block. There were those who said the Sea Gull would close if Mendosas closed because whenever we ran short of something, and that was most of the time, we always ran to Mendosas. I looked at the cook and smiled.
“No, Tomatoes Versatile comes from tomatoes. You know that. Don’t we have a few cases of tomatoes in the walk-in?”
“Yea, I guess.”
“So, here is what to do. Pull out a case of tomatoes, boil the skins off, crush them up and add a few spices and herbs. Now, go back to work. I want everything on the menu tonight. No excuses.”
“Huh. I never thought of that. It’ll work. Sure it will.”
And off he went.
One day Henry came by to take an order. I was surprised that he had no complaints. He went right to his clipboard. He put on a fresh order sheet. He seemed happy, something I seldom saw. I gave him the order. He didn’t ask for more. He didn’t advise me to change the menu to use more of the food items he sold. He didn’t ask if his order was bigger than Bob’s. He was unusually quiet. This perplexed me.
“What’s up, Henry? Cat got your tongue?”
“Nope. I just wanted to get your order before I told you.”
“Told me what?”
“This is the last order you’ll be giving to me, David. I’ve enjoyed calling on you. Truly, I have. Next week there will be a new salesman on the job.”
“You’re retiring? You’ve always told me you couldn’t afford to retire.”
I felt a little sorry for Henry. He had never seemed happy. I knew he was too old to be working. I assumed he had no choice because he hadn’t saved anything. I presumed that’s why he was so grumpy. But, I must have been wrong. He had saved enough to retire. I mean, how else could it have happened?
“I couldn’t retire, but now I can. Wife and I are taking a trip Canada.”
“Yep. I got a call from the Canadian government a few weeks ago. I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure. It seems my father left me some land up there, some land with quite a bit of oil under the ground. The government couldn’t find the heirs and the oil companies wanted to drill so the government let them go for it but insisted the oil companies set aside the royalties in an account for the heirs in case they showed up. I showed up.”
“Royalites? So, you won’t have to live off your savings.”
“Good thing too since I haven’t got any. Those royalties add up to quite a tidy sum and the income will keep coming in for years. The wife and I are going to go take a look at the land, and then we’re going to do some travelling.”
“Gee, that’s great Henry.”
He started to leave. He looked back. He had a sheepish smile on his face.
“You see, my grandfather told my father that he left something for us in the family bible. None of us were religious. We never looked at the bible. After the Canadian government called, I got out some boxes from our storage and found the family bible. Sure enough, the deed was tucked away between the pages. God moves in mysterious ways, David. Well, see ya around kid.”
And off he went.