One of my favorite restaurants of all time is The Olive Garden. And it isn’t because of their delicious Italian food, awesome salad dressing, or unending spaghetti bowls, either. Those things help, but they aren’t the real reason
It is because I met my husband Chef there, and because my all time favorite restaurant story about Chef took place at The Olive Garden right after 9/11.
Besides being one of the absolute worst days in America‘s history, I had the added pleasure of having jumped over a couch in my living room, while drunk, during an argument with Chef, and crushed my heel to pieces. Fodder for another day, my friends. So, while recovering from surgery, my doctor and I watched the unfolding horror that the news media kept plastered all over every channel. It was horrific. My sister E and I had eaten at the World Trade Center restaurant at the top of one of those towers the year before, and all I could remember was that my ears had actually popped in the elevator as we made our way to the top. Random, I know, but I think my brain was refusing to process the terror I know those poor people had to have experienced.
Add to this little misery was the fact that Chef’s sister works at the Pentagon. So, when that building was hit, my family was freaked out, to say the least. Turned out she wasn’t there that day, but it was a long few days before anyone knew that. All in all, it was a bad experience for us.
At that time, Chef was working as a restaurant manager for The Olive Garden in San Antonio, Texas. It was located near the busiest mall in that city, which meant the place was always crowded, and you never went there without knowing you were going to have to wait for a while for a table.
About two weeks after 9/11, Chef was working in the kitchen, managing whatever Kitchen Managers manage, and there was a Front of the House restaurant manager taking care of the front of the operation. Business was plugging along just fine, until a little episode turned that entire restaurant upside down.
San Antonio has a lot of visitors from Mexico, usually the more wealthy upper class. Situated by some of the most expensive stores in the city, it wasn’t unusual to have Mexico’s Upper crust come into the establishment. And on this particular day, some Nationals, as they are called in Texas, had stopped by for a little refreshing Italian food. Coming up the steps, an American elderly man held the door open for them, and they, unassuming and completely oblivious, walked through the door, up to the hostesses, and put their names on the list for a table. A completely benign occurrence, right?
Well, the elderly man’s daughter and her two teenage kids, saw the polite act of the elderly father, and were incensed that, out of courtesy, the Nationals didn’t stand aside and allow the elderly father and his family put their names on the list first. And as they sat on opposing sides of the lounge — the Nationals clueless, and the American family fuming, a resentment began to form. Angry whispering and evil eyes were directed towards the Nationals, who simply didn’t notice these pesky Americans at all. Grudges were taking root.
About half an hour later, the hostess called the National family, and guided them gracefully to a seat towards the back of the restaurant. And because resentments and grudges had been formed, that simple act pissed off the American family, and the old man started feeling like he was having a heart-attack. The daughter freaked out, and aided her father down to the floor, loosening his tie and shirt buttons, and causing a general panic in the lobby. Hostesses started panicking a little loudly, mainly because they are twelve years old, and in all the commotion, the two teenage sons, Spawn of the American Daughter, decided that the Nationals were going to pay for causing their grandpa to have a heart attack, and they went running through the restaurant looking for where the Nationals were seated. Once located, they began to yell and insult them, in English. The Nationals obviously didn’t speak English, and they were confused, and angry, thinking they were being robbed.
It was a perfect storm. Because of the obvious, shell-shocked atmosphere of our country right then, and because hostesses kept yelling 9-1-1, as they ran around uselessly, every one in the restaurant assumed they were being attacked by terrorists. Chaos ensued. People went running out of the restaurant, into bathrooms, or dodging under tables. The front house manager was one of the ones hiding in the girl’s bathroom leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. It was a each-man-for-himself moment, that’s for sure.
All the drama finally dribbled into the kitchen area, and Chef, curious, went out to figure out what the hell was going on. People were terrified, including the Nationals hiding under their table, with the American Daughter and her spawn screaming that they had killed their father/grandfather.
Even before really figuring out what had happened, Chef yells in a loud voice, “Everyone shut the fuck up!” Every person in the place froze. He points at the American troublemakers and says, “You keep your mouths shut and get away from this table.” In an effort to explain her side, American Daughter starts babbling about her dad, to which he asks where the old man is. When she indicates the lobby, he tells her, “Get over there by him, keep your mouth shut, or I swear to God, I’ll drag his dying ass outside so he can die in the parking lot. If he doesn’t die from the heart attack, he’ll die from a heat stroke!”
Compassionate to the end, that one.
Slowly, people started righting their chairs, and some semblance of order was being restored. The crazy little manager from the kitchen seemed to have things under control again. People were beginning to laugh nervously.
Until some bilingual table-neighbors told the Nationals what the American Spawn had been yelling at them. Then, their pride completely violated, The Nationals decided to take the fight to the lobby, where the paramedics were administering their services to the old man. Chef had to break up a physical fight between National Wife and American Daughter.
Finally, with the old man tucked safely in the ambulance, American Daughter, her spawn, and the National Family all found themselves unceremoniously dumped outside the front door, barred from entering The Olive Garden ever again.
As the atmosphere finally began to ease, Chef then went looking for the manager who should have kept all of this under control in the first place. Where did he find her, you ask? Why, standing on a toilet seat in the women’s bathroom behind a locked stall door, of course.
That’s why they get paid the big bucks, folks.