Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Second Chance Cafe

By Mark W. Danielson

Recently, my wife and I were having breakfast in a nation-wide café when I commented to our waitress how nice it was that every customer was cheerfully greeted when they came in. Our waitress, who had been very attentive and friendly, commented that they would lose their job if they didn’t. She said they could get away with less than perfect service, but there was never an excuse for not greeting a customer. This reminded me of Disney’s philosophy that every employee is on stage when they are working, and that their personal life had better not affect their performance while in the public’s eye. I only know of one other restaurant that greets its customers with such enthusiasm, and it’s in Osaka, Japan. That doesn’t say much for the rest of the restaurants.

Now, while this greeting is noteworthy, it’s not the basis of this article. Not by a long shot. What makes the Second Chance Café interesting is that everyone working there has had problems in the past. Problems, as in having criminal records. Oh, my gosh—you mean I was served by an ex-con? Not only was I served by one, but she was one of the best waitresses I’ve had in a long time. She was also the one who revealed the story behind the Second Chance Café.

You see, the founder of this restaurant chain emigrated from Cuba, arriving in the US with only nine bucks in his pocket. Today, he is a successful businessman who is willing to give those who had a brush with the law a chance at a new beginning. Make no mistake, he reinforces that if his employees revert, he will be the first to send them back to jail. But from what I have seen, I doubt he has had many problems because these employees work together like a band of brothers and sisters. You don’t see this at many eating establishments.

I have heard several similar stories about emigrants arriving with virtually nothing and becoming successful business managers. My wife’s grandfather was one of those, arriving from Slovenia, and establishing a successful restaurant in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. I recently ate at another establishment founded by a Slovenian who immigrated to Canada. Such people as the employees at the Second Chance Café and these entrepreneurs not only reflect well upon themselves, but they inspire characters who might otherwise be missed. I’m thankful to learn about these untold stories, and will most likely use such characters in future novels.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I enjoyed your article, Mark. I learned recently that my favorite restaurant hires cooks from CAC, a halfway house for former penitentiary inmates. Someone has to hire them and nearly everyone deserves a second chance.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I am reminded of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. How after enduring 19 years of hardship during the French Revolution only cast him aside when freed. When the Bishop of Dione takes him, Valjean repays his kindness by stealing from him. Valjean is astonished when the police drag him back and the Bishop not only lies to save his life, but adds two precious silver candlesticks to the silver cup Valjean had stolen. Valjean never forgot that act of kindness, and turned his life around, saving the life of a young girl named Cosette. In a sense, the Second Chance Café does for some people what the Bishop did for Valjean. It provides an opportunity for them to prove themselves and interact with people; a chance to demonstrate that while they made mistakes in the past, there is still innate goodness in them. While not everyone carries this trait, many more do, and I am grateful to see that this opportunity exists.

Anonymous said...

Where in Slovenia was your wife's grandfather from? The "old" Yugoslavia was my favorite place when I was doing a lot of traveling.
Pat Browning

Mark W. Danielson said...

Hi Pat,

Sorry it's taken so long to respond, but I'm in Kazakhstan now and being 12 hours off of Denver time makes it hard to connect sometimes.

Here's what Lyne wrote regarding your question. Hope it helps.

“Here is what I could glean, and there are some erroneous assumptions on the part of the family. I hesitate, for instance, to tell my mother that my grandfather is not Serbian, but he actually hails from Bosnia-Herzegovina. True, it borders Serbia, and who knows how those mountains were partitioned in those early days, but this is what the current map shows. We do know that he spoke a Serbian dialect. I have no information on either of his parents, but the landscape might indicate that they were shepherds of some sort. My mother remembers something being said about goats, so possibly they were goat-herders. He hailed from the town of Trebinje, in a valley called Popovo Polje. The town was settled by Slavs on the remains of a Roman town. In the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire took hold of these territories, and they were held under Ottoman rule for centuries. I could elaborate, but it would fill a book.

My grandmother, on the other hand, hailed from Kortula (now designated as Korcula), which is off of the Dalmatian coast in the Adriatic Sea. My mother remembers "Baba" telling her that they could see the boot of Italy from where they lived. Amidst the Mediterranean climate and the proximity of Italy, they probably shared similarities with the Italian culture. My mother tells me that my grandmother Jacica (pronounced Ya-kit-sa) was raised Catholic, and she remembers holy processions through the streets with effigies, crosses and lit candles. The cottage where she was born and grew up was probably a stones throw from the beach. About fifteen years ago, my Aunt Midge was fortunate enough to visit our family still living in that home. She described it as a sturdy cottage built from stone and a thatched roof. The bed that Grandmother Jacisa was born in was still in the house, preserved.

Cooking was not done in the house, but outdoors, under an arbor covered with grape vines. The yard was a combination kitchen-vegetable garden. We do not know whether this branch of the family still remains in the ancestral cottage, but I’d like to think they are still there. When my Aunt Midge returned from this voyage, she copied the family photos for all of our descendents so there is a visual record that ties us to this place. A search of our family name (Batistic) confirms that they are still in the area, as landowners and restaurateurs. It seems that Korcula has become a tourist destination for Europeans.”

You can check out this beautiful island on http://www.ikorculainfo.com